‘Internet far from being a safe haven for commercial sex workers and LGBTIQs in Zim’, reveals research

By Tafadzwa Muranganwa

HARARE-A research project by a Zimbabwean  digital rights  expert Koliwe Majama  has revealed that violations and stigma on sexual minorities are  rife online as they are   offline despite the internet being an enabler of social inclusion.

Majama on Monday  launched her research findings under the title ‘The pitfalls of internet as a development tool ,  a study of the politics of internet use by gender and sexual minorities in Zimbabwe’  which  establishes that these communities are  increasingly  accessing the internet actively mainly  on WhatsApp  and Facebook but  there is still a backlash from the society  online.

The research says the sexual minority groups bemoan the physical and emotional violence they endure and   lists hate speech and bullying as the most online  violation against commercial sex workers and the LGBTIQs (Lesbians Gays Bisexuals Transgender Intersex and Queers).

“Offline they said they were exposed to physical and emotional violence, harassment, hate speech and shaming and the top five online violations in order of frequency from the discussions that were undertook  are hate speech, cyber-bullying , stalking, hacking and self-censorship,” according to the research.

Majama said because of these, some members of these communities fail to participate on online public discourse for fear of reprimand, insults   and labelling.

“Most times, both the sex workers and LGBTQ said they failed to engage in public discourse because of fear of being shamed,” she said.

Galz Communication and  advocacy officer Tash Dowell whose organisation together with Katswe Sistahood collaborated with Majama  in the research says most  of their members are no longer on Facebook while some have resorted to using pseudonyms.

“We have a number of our members who are no longer using Facebook because of the vitriol spewed  them while others have decided to open accounts using pseudonyms ,”revealed Dowell who is also a digital security trainer.

However, the internet craze has also come in handy is some instances to these vulnerable communities.

A revelation in the research shows that mobile money transfer has cushioned the commercial sex workers from non-payment by men who would have solicited their services.

“Mobile money transfer services provide a shield against clients who refuse to pay   as the fee is demanded upfront and in other instances a deposit before any meeting or arrangement is made,   ”states the 28-page   report.

Most members of these sexual minority groups can’t freely access public health services owing to stigma and discrimination but the coming in of the internet has eased their woes.

“Both groups shared experiences of the difficulty of accessing services at public health facilities and they cited a Facebook page which they say is now their resort to get health tips and information on sexually transmitted infections (STIs),”the research cites.

Among her recommendations Majama says there is the need for strengthening of   existing laws to decriminalize sex work and homosexuality to realise online rights

 “Participants stated that the existence of laws and policy that criminalised sex work and a lack of clarity in national policy on the status of the LGBTQ community affected respect of the groups’ freedoms online and   recommended the broadening of sections of Zimbabwe’s draft Cybercrimes and Cyber-security Bill on discrimination online, hate speech, bullying and privacy breach to classify marginal and vulnerable groups.

There were also recommendations on the inclusion of specific clauses on anti-discrimination online on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity,”  .

Koliwe Majama’s research which was supported by Counterpart International   is available at https://koliwemajama.co.zw/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Pitfalls-As-A-Development-Tool.pdf.