Digital and Online Security for Women Journalists- A WACC Project

The Internet is essential for journalists for news distribution, interaction with audiences and sources for news as well as a pivotal resource for researching on stories. Despite its significance, the Internet has also been used as an avenue for attacks against journalists, not only because of their journalistic work, but often because of their gender. Technology Assisted Violence against Women (TAVAW) exists within a context similar to what happens offline.

In May 2016 during the World Press Freedom Day, AMWIK in partnership with Article 19 and the support of Deutsche Welle Akademie launched a Women Journalist’s Digital Security survey. You can access the survey here. The survey gives an in depth view of online security issues which women journalists face in their line of duty. According to the survey, approximately 7 out of 10 female journalists in Kenya have experienced online harassment in the course of their work. The research also looked at existing mechanisms to protect women from the risks they face, as well as gaps, which prevent the administration of justice against online perpetrators. The survey recommends investment in social, legal and practical tools which media practitioners, particularly women can use to protect themselves from online bullying.

In a bid to raise awareness on the situation of online violence against women journalists in Kenya, and increase their skills and knowledge in tackling online harassment, AMWIK in partnership with the World Association of Christian Communicators (WACC) implemented a grant titled ‘Raising Awareness on online violence against women through media’ in 2017. The initiative is supported by funds from Waldensian Church’s Otto per Mille (OPM).

The grant set out to generate evidence through research to inform media and policy advocacy and legal reforms to include online safety for women, capacity build journalists and social media managers in news rooms by enhancing their knowledge and skills on online safety and phone security for women. It also sought to sensitize the public on online violence against women through social media campaigns.


Updated Survey on Online Violence against women journalists

In the project, AMWIK conducted a research that sought to build on findings of the previous survey and generate evidence on new trends of online violence against women in Kenya, the policy gaps in internet security against journalists, and whether the proposed cyber security laws such as the Cyber Security and Protection Bill, 2016 have provisions aimed at safeguarding women’s participation in the digital environment. The 2017 updated research revealed that the number of journalists being attacked online is steadily increasing. It specifically showed that women journalists “are targeted for being women, for being journalists and sometimes, for being women journalists.”  The study used case studies in Kenya as part of the collected data on online violence against women. Notable forms of online violence identified included online content that took the form of hash tags, photos, memes and video edited graphics to show nude characters. It also highlighted that women on the screens bear trolls, and online abuse usually uncalled for.


A sample of one of the case studies in the updated survey of online violence against women journalists

The survey also looked at the policy gaps that exist in addressing online and mobile phone safety threats for women. In its findings, the rights of women are protected in the Constitution of Kenya 2010, statutes and subsidiary legislations, policy documents, common law, judicial precedents and International Instruments ratified by Kenya.

Further, the draft Kenya ICT policy 2016 notes that cyber security has become a national priority that calls for the articulation of new and integrated and comprehensive strategies for addressing it. Kenya’s Cyber Security Strategy and the National ICT Master Plan 2014-2018 also identify cyber security as a national priority, but does not address online violence against women. Despite these policies, the report by AMWIK indicates that the policy and legal framework is still weak in how it attempts to deal with online or technology related offences committed against women.

Whereas some of the existing laws can be used to punish some of these offences, the challenge remains that a host of the new cyber offences will not be prosecutable. There are also gaps in capacity of law enforcement to effectively coordinate responses, investigate, collect evidence and prosecute these new offences.

AMWIK further disseminated these report findings as part of information sharing to ensure women journalists and their male counterparts as well as media houses, government officials and the public are aware of the dangers facing women engaging online. A media dissemination forum held on 1st August 2017 brought together 41 participants who included both male and female journalists, social media managers and communication lecturers in Kenyan universities to discuss findings of the baseline survey carried out in April 2017. The forum also sought to have participants particularly journalists share their own experiences of online violence and how they dealt with it.

Journalists trained on digital safety practises

In the WACC project, AMWIK also conducted training for journalists in Kisumu and Mombasa Counties respectively. The two two-day trainings sought to sensitize journalists on online violence against women. Using key findings from AMWIK’s updated baseline survey on online violence against women, the trainings sought to give journalists key online/digital security tips that they need to keep in mind and adapt as they engage online. A total of 22 participants, mostly female journalists from the two regions attended the trainings.

Participants during a group discussion in one of the AMWIK training on digital security for women journalists












As a result of the two trainings, all the 22 journalists reported increased awareness of the online security threats they faced. They indicated that going forward, they would be cautious especially on issues they posted on social media. They also said they would be more mindful of their surrounding and prioritize issues like creating a strong password to beef up their online safety. Notably, they considered training other journalists on how to protect themselves while working on the internet.

Media Monitoring Report on media coverage of online violence against women journalists

The project also carried out media monitoring of online coverage of technology assisted violence against women journalists in both mainstream and online media channels. The report explored the nature, type and context in which women journalists find themselves as targets of online violence in Kenya. The research similarly sought to establish the type of coverage and make recommendations to inform future patterns of media coverage of online violence against women journalists.

Report findings showed that majority of female journalists receive a high percentage of negative reports than positive, citing their personal relationships, appearance and dressing and their acquisition of property as main topics leading to their coverage.  A few reports depicted the female journalists in a positive light and attributed the coverage to their prowess in the journalism profession. There was little mention of online violence in mainstream media channels making the reporting only done on online platforms.

The media monitoring report researcher presenting findings to key stakeholders















The report gave importance to the need for frequent sensitisation programmes to orient women who work in the media on private versus public life to help them avoid displays of public ridicule. It further recommended training women journalists on how to keep a more prominent professional presence in their media work and their involvement as social influencers to empower women – highlight narratives about entrepreneurship, professionalism; successful social statuses among others.

Media Dissemination Forums

AMWIK further organized media dissemination forums to share both the updated survey and media monitoring report findings with journalists, social media managers and other key players in the media industry. AMWIK held three dissemination forums in Nairobi, Kisumu and Mombasa. The three dissemination forums acted as forums in which AMWIK was able to share their key findings with stakeholders who are involved in the process which included women journalists, social media managers and editors. The forums enabled AMWIK to capture real time feedback from the stakeholders which enriched the project and ultimately the media monitoring report later on conducted during the project. The forums also acted as forums for male journalists to pledge their support in fighting against online violence against their female counterparts

Way Forward

There is need for women journalists and social media managers to be rigorously trained on digital security tools to further equip them to fight against online harassment. Key to this is also the sensitization for female journalists on how to conduct themselves professionally in the online space. AMWIK hopes to use the data collected in the two WACC reports to further generate concrete evidence for the intervention of government and policy makers to create legal frameworks to report, prosecute and convict perpetrators of online violence against women journalists.