These Unsafe Streets

Illustration depicting online harassment and violence | Illustration by William Musonda Katongo AKA Lord Wapi

BY THEO MUBANGA

It could be the frustrations that came with the pandemic, or it could be that it has always been this way, and we just never took it seriously. Alternatively, it could be that we have failed in raising our boys that have turned into right men. I have noticed that the bullying and tearing down of women on Zambian social media increased last year. Social media was once a safe haven for most people – a place to take a break from the stress of day to day life. However, it has become a jungle of hateful trolls, bullies and misogyny, with their prey being the Zambian women. In the past months, we have seen daily posts by men thrashing women who choose to study to be nurses, citing that it is the easiest thing to do after they are tired of being “prostitutes”. This particular post brought an uproar on the Zambian Facebook platform from women and men alike and was eventually pulled down.

It is not uncommon to see once vibrant women “take a break” from social media platforms. I recently discovered that most women who spoke up after a few of my rantings online have been feeling afraid of being vocal on social media in case they are the next target of malicious trolls. This begs the question, should a woman not feel safe anywhere? We are already unsafe on the streets of our villages, towns, cities… and the place where we could find refreshing entertainment turns into a place of punches and wounds. Should it also turn into a place that will break us down into therapy seeking former shells of ourselves? 

Social media was once a safe haven for most people – a place to take a break from the stress of day to day life. However, it has now become a jungle of hateful trolls, bullies and misogyny, with their prey being the Zambian women.

With the lack of access to readily available mental health care services in Zambia, I wonder what self-care methods the ordinary Zambian woman is using to nurture her mental health. Does the newly passed cybersecurity bill protect the ordinary citizen from online gender-based violence (GBV) that may seem mundane to the ordinary eye? Do the perpetrators of online violence even know the impact of the mental stress that they put their victims through? Are they aware of how fragile the mind can be? 

I would like to see something done about the welfare of Zambian women. I would like to see them safe on the physical as well as the virtual streets. I would like to see the Zambian menfolk held accountable for the misconduct they display whenever they feel like, knowing full well they will get away, sleeping peacefully, oblivious to the fact that they have smashed an individual’s self-esteem and confidence. I would like Zambian women to be able to own their virtual space, to be able to bask in the streets of social media without feeling the need to bow down to the fear of being trolled, and tramped down by the vicious words of little boys who were not raised right to take their place as men in society. I just want the streets to be safe.