During its 72nd Ordinary Session held from 19 July to 2 August 2022, the African Commission of Human and People’s Rights (African Commission) adopted a Resolution on the Protection of Women Against Digital Violence in Africa (ACHPR/Res.522(LXXII) 2022). In the Resolution, the African Commission notes with concern that women are constantly at risk of violence online and that a majority of the women who access the internet have been subjected to some form of harassment, while States continue to have gaps in their legal frameworks to protect women against digital violence. It acknowledges that online violence occurs through cyberstalking, unsolicited sexually explicit content, doxing, cyber-bullying, and the non-consensual sharing of intimate images. The Resolution, therefore, sets out to ensure that human rights are equally protected in the online realm as offline.
The Resolution reiterates the definition of violence in the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol) as including acts that cause psychological or economic harm or threats to undertake arbitrary restrictions on or deprivation of fundamental freedoms. It also reminds Member States of the right in article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (Banjul Charter) to receive, express and impart information within the parameters of the law.
Recalling the guarantee of every woman’s right to dignity, freedom from exploitation, and protection from all forms of violence in the Maputo Protocol, the Resolution further reminds Member States of the Declaration of Principles of Freedom of Expression and Access to information in Africa, which places a duty on Member States to take positive steps to ensure that women and other marginalised persons can enjoy their rights to freedom of expression and access to information by imposing sanctions for the harmful sharing of personal information.
The Resolution calls on Member States to:
- Review and adopt legislation that will counteract all forms of violence by including digital violence (cyber-harassment, cyberstalking, sexist hate speech) in the definition of gender-based violence;
- Conduct research on digital violence against women;
- Raise awareness through programmes targeted at boys and men about the causes of digital violence against women;
- Close the digital gender divide by empowering women with digital technology education;
- Facilitate the cooperation between law enforcement and service providers to identify perpetrators and gather evidence for online harms;
- Protect women journalists from digital violence by repealing overly wide surveillance laws that perpetuate their vulnerability;
- Implement gender-sensitive policies when handling cases of digital violence against women.
The African Commission Resolution on the Protection of Women Against Digital Violence in Africa can be accessed here.
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