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Research exposes normalization of gender-based online violence against women in Ethiopia

(Photo: GenderIT.org)

Addis Abeba – A study released by the Centre for Information Resilience (CIR) has documented the widespread technology-facilitated gender-based violence (GBV) targeting women who participate in public discourse in Ethiopia.

The multi-part research combined interviews and analysis of social media data to examine the forms, motives, and impacts of online abuse against women.

The report’s first component interviewed 14 prominent Ethiopian women in media and civil society roles about their experiences of harassment and abuse online. According to the accounts gathered, the abuse often reflected existing gender stereotypes and discrimination against women’s public roles.

“The comments were malicious, criticizing my work, appearance, and gender,” one interviewee stated, adding she felt “harassed, devalued, and started questioning my self-worth.”

In its second part, the study analyzed over 2,000 social media posts across multiple platforms and languages. Facebook was identified as the primary platform for such abuse, with women reporting harassment across all social media channels, both private and public.

A recent report by the Ethiopian Media Authority has revealed the threat posed by the proliferation of hate speech and false information on social media platforms.

The report identifies Facebook as the primary platform for text-based hate speech, whereas hateful content on Telegram was predominantly disseminated through a combination of images and text.

The research by CIR found that misogynistic hate speech targeting women frequently employed gender stereotyping, mockery, and suggestions of inferiority rather than explicit threats or aggressive language.

“Gendered abuse is so endemic that it has become normalized to the point of invisibility,” the research stated. 

The data indicated hate speech intensified when gender interacted with other identities like ethnicity and religion, increasing during periods of conflict in regions like Amhara and Oromia. Overall, the report’s findings suggest current societal biases enabling gender-based discrimination have migrated online and manifested as rampant technology-facilitated GBV.

The research underscores the real-world consequences of online abuse. Over 78% of the interviewed women reported experiencing fear or anxiety due to the abuse they faced online.

Some women had their reputations damaged, while others withdrew from online discussions and platforms to protect themselves. Many also described psychological issues such as trauma, depression, and stress as negatively impacting their social, family, and professional lives.

Alarmingly, the study also revealed instances of online abuse leading to offline violence. Several women recounted incidents of physical assaults and arrests, with one interviewee having to flee the country due to threats to her physical safety.

To address this issue, the CIR has developed a lexicon of over 2,000 inflammatory words used in abusive content, aiming to assist social media platforms in content moderation across Ethiopia’s numerous languages.

It called for government policies, civil society initiatives, and technology company efforts to better combat online gender-based violence and promote safer digital spaces for women’s public participation. AS

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