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Gender Activism Goes Digital in Kenya - Here's How

With activism now largely online, hashtags have become a popular tool of social change in the digital age, influencing discussions online and bringing forth the grievances of diverse groups across the country.

In the past decade, the conversations started by hashtags such as #MyDressMyChoice and #WeAre52pc have catalysed physical protests demanding that the rights of women are recognised and acted upon.

The latter manifested in a petition to the Chief Justice to dissolve Parliament in 2017 for failing to implement the two-thirds gender rule. The petition has since been co-signed by the Law Society of Kenya, who re-ignited the process late July.

Nationwide Strike

#LipaKamaTender is another hashtag that comes to mind as a nationwide strike by health workers under the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union umbrella gained momentum regarding the state of their employment in 2017. Low pay and unfavourable working conditions resulted in a 100-day strike that culminated in a Collective Bargaining Agreement with the government.

As recent reports would reveal, these needs are yet to be met, but the conversation spurred by the hashtag endured as one of the hallmarks of healthcare-based activism.

The most recent one is the #covidmillionaires, which followed an exposé by NTV on the massive corruption in government institutions that led to sale of supplies, some donated, set aside to fight Covid-19, in the process enriching a few unscrupulous individuals. Angry Kenyans took to Twitter using this hashtag to condemn the blatant theft, demanding that those behind the atrocity be arrested and charged.

But we can't talk of the rise and rise of online activism without mentioning online feminist activism. Shaking the digital table is a task feminists in Kenya have taken upon themselves as they agitate for women's rights countrywide via online platforms.

Spur Social Change

A recognisable voice is that of Dr Njoki Ngumi, a writer, feminist thinker and director of the NEST Collective. Her Twitter threads are just one of the ways in which she performs her activism. By identifying teachable moments and documenting her thoughts, Dr Ngumi has used her platform to lead important conversations that eventually spur social change.

A long-running digital protest under the hashtag #MyAlwaysExperience is one of the more prominent demonstrations of her candour. The protest, which highlighted the substandard state of the Always brand of sanitary pads, was escalated to Procter and Gamble, drawing the involvement of Nairobi Woman Rep Esther Passaris. Its apogee was Kenya Bureau of Standards' investigation of Always pads.

In the recent past, this group of women who relentlessly amplify issues affecting their gender have been belittled as "keyboard warriors" by men and women alike, and rained upon by ad hominem insults for discussing issues such as body politics and female representation in government.

Feminists Movement

Yet the feminist movement on Twitter remains relentless in its battle for the safety of women, using their voices to challenge the status quo.

Building communities for women to share their grievances online and sparking these conversations is a task that activists such as Aisha Ali, known as bintiM on Twitter, have taken in stride since the dawn of the Digital Age.

Ms Ali, a writer, has used her platform on the site to educate the public on various feminist topics from as early as 2011, participating in initiatives such as The Atieno Project and Weavers, a social media campaign that sought to highlight matters related to gender-based violence in 2014.

She is also part of a collective known as #WeAre52pc, collaborating with women such as Marilyn Kamuru, who describes herself as an unapologetic feminist on Twitter to continue the conversation on the two-thirds gender rule that calls for gender equity in public office.

With a following of about 11,900 people, Ms Ali continues to advocate for community-led development with the Mama Hope collective, a cohort of 12 women from Kenya, Guatemala, Uganda, the United States and Tanzania.

However, due to rampant online abuse against her over the years, her account has remained private, seemingly as a shield from the digital pitchforks that often come her way during the often controversial debates on women's rights.

As social media becomes a popular source of news and an arena for public opinion, advocacy for women's rights digitally continues to take center stage as a new and peculiar trend to watch.

Source: Nation


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