By Kruah Thompson
The United Nations, in collaboration with UN Women, UNFPA, and with support of the French Muskoka Fund, has unveiled a pioneering initiative to confront the escalating issue of online violence, targeting women and girls in West and Central Africa.
According to a press release jointly issued by UN Women and UNFPA, the region faces a multitude of challenges, including conflicts, epidemics, and natural disasters. Regrettably, these challenges disproportionately impact the vulnerability and enduring poverty experienced by women and children.
This pressing concern, according to the release, is compounded by the prevalence of harmful practices and multiple forms of discrimination that hinder women’s social, economic, and political empowerment.
“Shockingly, nearly 70% of those living on less than a dollar a day in this region are women, and two-thirds of non-literate adults are females, further exacerbated by the limited access women have to education, information, and resources, the release says.
It indicates that women and girls in West and Central Africa often encounter a stark digital divide, limiting their access to technology and rendering them especially susceptible to online violence. Such forms of violence inflict profound harm on women’s human rights and contribute to their economic exclusion, emphasizing the pressing need to address this issue.
However, the hackathon initiative in question is specifically designed to combat Gender-Based Violence, inviting young people aged 18 to 35 residing in West and Central Africa to propose innovative technological solutions.
It extends a warm invitation to individuals aged between 18 and 35, living in West and Central Africa, to submit pioneering technological solutions.
These solutions should either work towards preventing and addressing various forms of violence against girls and women or combat online violence.
Prospective participants are urged to submit their projects through the dedicated Hackathon website (www.hackathon-vbg.org) before the deadline of November 17 2023.
Dr. Maxime Houinato, UN Women’s Regional Director a.i. for West and Central Africa, emphasized the urgent need to bridge the digital divide and establish a secure digital environment that empowers women and girls. This, he underscored, is paramount for advancing their education, healthcare access, and economic opportunities.
Dr. Sennen Hounton, UNFPA’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa, stressed the critical nature of promoting digital access for girls and young women.
“This not only unlocks avenues for education and employment but also acknowledges the emergence of new challenges such as online violence.”
He underscored the interconnection between the demographic dividend, the battle against violence targeting girls, and digital access, all of which according to him, contribute to the creation of more equitable and secure societies.
“This initiative aligns seamlessly with the recommendations stemming from the 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW67). These recommendations advocate for the adoption of zero-tolerance policies against online violence, the design of safe digital spaces, and the reinforcement of digital education and research to combat such violence”, he said.
UN Women, as the United Nations entity devoted to gender equality and women’s empowerment, is leading this global efforts to accelerate progress in meeting the diverse needs of women and girls across the world.
UNFPA, on the other hand, serves as the United Nations agency responsible for sexual and reproductive health, striving to ensure that every pregnancy is desired and every birth is safe. Editing by Jonathan Browne