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Cyber Bullying Affecting Women and Girls in Malawi

In this analysis, Chikondi Mphande explores the profound impact of cyberbullying on women and girls in Malawi, delving into the psychological, emotional and physical toll it exerts.

Chikondi is focusing on a 25-year-old woman whose intimate photos were maliciously shared online and to her father by a man who was then her boyfriend, leading to profound humiliation.

As revealed in her investigation, the young woman's life has been irreversibly altered. She now grapples with shattered self-esteem and depression and has even contemplated suicide.

Despite the boyfriend's arrest and conviction for the unauthorized dissemination of explicit images, his release occurred within a few weeks of imprisonment, adding complexity to the victim's struggle for justice.

"He took my naked pictures and sent them to my father and on social media platforms, it was painful," recalls 25-year-old woman whom we shall name Mercy.

She is one of the victims of cyberbullying in the country, a distressing ordeal orchestrated by her then-boyfriend whom she trusted deeply.

Despite her love for him and the belief that the affection was mutual, Mercy found herself captured in her life's most harrowing experience at the hands of the very person she had placed her trust in.

The distressing turn of events unfolded when, for the second time, the boyfriend requested financial assistance from Mercy.

Reminding him of the outstanding debt from a previous loan, she expressed her hesitations.

Frustrated by her response, the boyfriend retaliated by sharing intimate, nude pictures of Mercy on social media platforms and sending them to her father.

"It was a painful experience; my father had last seen my nakedness when l was a baby. I am now 25. It was so cruel of my boyfriend to send those pictures to my father. It is also painful that a lot of people on the Internet saw my naked pictures. l was depressed, so much that l contemplated suicide. He violated my rights," said Mercy.

Based on the provisions of the Electronic Transactions & Cybersecurity Act, Mercy reported the matter to police.

Section 87 of the Electronic Transaction & Cybersecurity Act states that:

“Any person who wilfully and repeatedly uses electronic communication to disturb or attempts to disturb the peace, quietness or right of privacy of any person with no purpose of legitimate communication whether or not a conversation ensues, commits a misdemeanour and shall, upon conviction, be liable to a fine of K1,000,000 and to imprisonment for twelve months.”

Mercy’s then-boyfriend was arrested and was later sentenced to pay a fine of K400,000 or serve eight months in jail.

The convict failed to pay the fine. He was however pardoned after spending just a few weeks in prison.

Mercy described this as painful: "I am so disappointed with what happened; he was not punished for what he did to me. This will discourage women and girls from reporting cyberbullying cases," added Mercy.

Mercy’s father describes what happened to his daughter as pure evil.

"It was very bad and disgusting for him to send naked pictures of my daughter to me. Such men deserve stiffer punishment. It is unfortunate that the justice system failed us; they released this man after spending only a few weeks in jail. We are disappointed," said Mercy's father.

Mercy says since the incident happened, her life has been altered. She finds it difficult to associate with friends and other members of society as she thinks people are now judgmental on her.

Mercy's traumatic experience resonates with numerous women throughout the country.

In Lilongwe, another victim named Chifundo revealed that the leaking of her nude pictures on the internet was an intensely painful ordeal.

Adding to her distress, close friends took the lead in sharing the images across various platforms, exacerbating her misery.

"It was a painful experience. My friends were in the forefront sharing my nude pictures on different platforms which affected me. l was failing to get out of the house; l was depressed - my business was affected, people were pointing fingers and laughing at me. l survived because of my family support otherwise l could have died. Men who are doing this should be given a stiffer punishment,” said Chifundo.

Chifundo's sentiments are echoed by another girl, Memory, whose nude pictures were exposed too.

"It was my worst moment after my nude pictures were shared on social media. My daily life was affected, so too my work was affected. It is sad that my real friends were not there for me. They were in the forefront sharing my nude pictures. l will never forget and something needs to be done to end cyberbullying in Malawi," says Memory.

According to National Police Spokesperson Peter Kalaya, cyber bullying is a serious offence in Malawi but most victims do not report such cases due to lack of knowledge.

Kalaya pleads with all victims of cyber bullying to report such cases to police.

Winnie Botha, Public Relations Manager for Plan International Malawi, expresses deep concern over the persistent cases of cyberbullying and online harassment targeting girls and women in the country.

Despite the implementation of the 'Free to be online campaign' by Plan Malawi, Botha notes a concerning increase in such malpractices.

"It is unfortunate that some men continue to leak nude pictures of women and girls on popular platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter. There is a need for collaborative efforts among stakeholders to eradicate cyberbullying in the country,” said Botha.

Habiba Osman, the Executive Secretary of the Malawi Human Rights Commission, highlights the emotional and psychological harm inflicted on women and girls by cyberbullying.

Osman expresses disappointment at the lack of serious action to combat this issue and notes that the absence of stringent punishment for those leaking explicit content perpetuates the malpractice.

She advocates for robust measures to protect the victims.

Daud Suleiman, the Director General of the Malawi Communications Regulatory Authority (MACRA), says there are ongoing efforts to establish new laws on cybercrime, electronic evidence and cybersecurity.

These initiatives aim to enhance the protection of individuals when they navigate online spaces.

The pervasive impact of cyberbullying, online harassment and abuse is underscored, with the recognition that it stifles the voices of girls and women, diminishes self-esteem, hinders their potential for success and restricts participation in social spaces.

It is evident that the battle against cyberbullying in Malawi requires the imposition of stricter punishments on offenders when reported, emphasizing the essential right of women and girls to be free online.

 

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