By Gift Briton

The online world is becoming a new frontier for gender-based violence (GBV) in Kenya, with nine out of ten young adults enrolled in tertiary institutions witnessing such violence, a recent study reveals.

The study was conducted by Collaborative Center for Gender and Development (CCGD), in collaboration with the University of Nairobi Women’s Economic Empowerment (WEE) Hub and supported by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TF GBV) is an act of violence committed by the use of digital media against a person based on their gender.

Almost four in ten young adults interviewed have experienced TF GBV personally, the majority of whom (64% of victims) are female students. Moreover, male students were identified as the top perpetrators of TF GBV, with personal conflicts, revenge, jealousy, sexual desires and online anonymity as the top triggers of TF GBV.

CCGD Executive Director Masheti Masinjila

“Female students are the primary targets of online attacks such as online defamation and non-consensual pornography, with a lasting psychological, social, and economic impact on those affected,” Masheti Masinjila-CCGD Executive Director remarked during the launch of the study in Nairobi.

Several speakers stressed the importance of awareness creation and collaboration to combat TF GBV to ensure that digital and online spaces are safe for everyone.

Over 723 students across three tertiary institutions in Nairobi: the University of Nairobi, Zetech University, and Kabete National Polytechnic participated in the study.

The institutions surveyed reported the existence of disciplinary measures to combat TF GBV. Nevertheless, low awareness among students of these measures, coupled with a failure by many to recognize online violence as a specific form of gender-based violence continue to impede efforts to address the issue.

Furthermore, qualitative data collected from various officers within the country’s justice system, including the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (ODPP), the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI), the Police, and the Judiciary shows that law enforcement and justice institutions are struggling to keep up with the evolving forms of TF GBV, mainly due to serious resource limitations.

UNFPA Representative Anders Thomsen

“Digitization is a global megatrend with great potential for achieving the development goals. We must work together to make technology and digital spaces safe and equitable for all,” said UNFPA Representative Anders Thomsen.

X, formerly Twitter, was identified as the social media platform with the highest prevalence of TF BGV at 18.4%, followed by WhatsApp (17.0%), Facebook (16.8%), Telegram (14.2%), Instagram (14.2%), and TikTok (13.7%).

“The findings from this study underscore the urgent need for targeted interventions to protect young people from technology-facilitated gender-based violence,” said the University of Nairobi WEE HUB Research Fellow Valarie Udalang. “We are committed to leveraging this research to advocate for policies and programs that effectively address TF GBV within our higher education institutions.”

Online defamation and non-consensual pornography were found to be the most common forms of GBV against female students, while male students mostly experience online defamation and cyberbullying.

The researchers have urged the need to develop guidelines for preventing, detecting and responding to TF GBV, which should be updated regularly to enable victims to have diverse options for support and resources.

Institutions should plan and implement student-centred awareness campaigns, sensitization forums and open talks to raise awareness about TF GBV and strengthen support networks for students and knowledge sharing on effective measures to mitigate TF GBV in tertiary institutions, including enough counselors.