Queer advocates in Uganda demand free and safe online spaces

Sandra Kwikiriza, executive director of HER Internet

Queer and feminist Ugandan advocates have just concluded a two-month Twitter and social media campaign to build awareness of their right to freedom of digital speech and expression and the need for safe spaces for expression for all online.


From the African Human Rights Media Network
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Ugandan queer and feminist activists are calling for safer spaces for marginalized women, including lesbian, bisexual, and queer womxn, to meet and organize online. (Photo courtesy of HER Internet)

By Joto La Jiwe

The campaign was organized by HER Internet, a feminist organization that advocates for the digital rights and internet freedoms of communities of structurally silenced womxn, focusing on LBQ womxn, with funding from Internews.

(The word “womxn” is an alternative spelling of the English word “women” that isn’t based on the word “men”.)

Participants in the campaign were encouraged to post under the hashtags #SpeakFreelyTypeFreely and #SeeSomethingSaySomethingUG.

In a joint statement issued at the end of the campaign, they call for all stakeholders to speak with a united voice and to do their part to create a free and safe internet.

Deborah Leticia Akumu, a public health specialist, female sex worker and queer feminist, says that safe online spaces are particularly critical at this time because the safety and privacy of marginalized womxn are increasingly coming under attack.

“The time has come when their safety must be prioritized,” Akumu says. “I’ve been in some of the Twitter spaces where people have been organizing, and we have had intruders coming in to get our information, to hear how Leticia introduces herself because they have seen a poster that says Leticia is a Q, is an SW, things of that nature, and we lack safe spaces. I am happy that we are trying to build that momentum to make sure that online spaces are very safe for silenced womxn.”

HER Internet also organized a physical meeting which brought together stakeholders under the theme “Understanding the Digital Right to Freedom of Expression: Opportunities and Limitations for Structurally Silenced Womxn.”

In both on the online and physical engagements, the Founder and Executive Director at HER Internet, Sandra Kwikiriza, emphasized the importance of collective organization to protect the digital right to freedom of expression.

“What is important is that we must use our collective power to create an online environment that is safe for all of us regardless of our differences in gender, sexuality, choice of work or disability,” Kwikiriza says.

Structurally silenced womxn tend to self-censor when it comes to how they express themselves online, out of concern for their own safety and wellbeing, which most people do not have to contend with. Threats in digital spaces can lead to real-world dangers for marginalized womxn.

Kwikiriza says there is need for online spaces that allows especially womxn and girls to freely express themselves, as opposed to adding an extra burden on them to conform just to the status quo.

“How are we taking down barriers that make it hard for them to be free online?” she says.

According to Samantha Ainembabazi, a social media influencer, Ugandan laws like the Computer Misuse Act and the accompanying Amendment are good on paper, but history shows that these laws can be wielded against the very people they were meant to protect because they are vague and subject to misinterpretation.

“I would say that unfortunately as law in Uganda goes, Its cons still outweigh its pros,” Ainembabazi says. “Most of the times what happens is we do not know what we’re dealing with. We don’t know the laws and so people can easily use them against us. If we actually do go back and read…we can navigate the Internet safely.”

 

Joto La Jiwe, the author of this article, is a Ugandan correspondent for the African Human Rights Media Network. He writes under a pseudonym. Contact him at info@76crimes.com.

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