Safe Spaces Online go hand in hand with psychological safety to the online community. Mental health plays an important integral role in our daily welfare. The World Health Organization (WHO), has defined “Mental Health” as a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with normal stresses of life work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. One can equally be negatively affected psychologically offline as well as online making it one of the key drivers of the “Gender Digital Divide” And that is why as Women at Web we advocate for safe spaces online and against online gender based violence, it also addresses the factors and attributes that could affect Mental Health.
The age variant of those affected by mental health in the society ranges from young to old age, and while we do not have segregated data for the online community, there is one on a general perspective. For instance, the Statistical data shared recently by Mwananchi newspaper on 27 th of April of 2021, showed that In Kilimanjaro, the number of patients suffering from Mental Health has increased from 8,691 in 2019 to 12,152 in 2020, mostly ranging from 16 to 44 year old’s.
With the increase of internet users in the country with around 25 million people as stated by the Tanzanian Communication and Regulatory Authority (TCRA), an increase of very young people having access to the online space without proper Digital Literacy and a variety of Social Media Platforms; also increases the chances of online harassment, bullying and violence. This inevitably increases the number of Cyber bullied victims and thus an increase of self-censorship, depression, anxiety and self shaming and a digital step off of some of the victims.
One of Women at Web Tanzania approaches towards project implementation is the focus of a psychological support to the cyber bullied and harassed victims. We have already been successful in our focus of Peer to Peer Support and Mentoring meetups that gave a support system to cyber bullied victims. This involves Social Media Activists and Influencers (mostly women and a few men) facilitated by a certified Mental Health Expert with an approach to mental wellness guidance to participants.
On the 15th of November 2019 we initiated a Peer to Peer support group gathering for cyber bullied victims. The participants were young women/men and some victims of online harassment and cyberbullying. The idea was to provide a safe space for victims to share their stories and be supported by their fellow peers but also get the right mental health care on how to deal with the trauma. From this group an initiative and movement called Jeshi La Dada was born. The movement’s goal was to offer guidance to the harassed victims and thus mobilized themselves to come to aid and defend online harassed victims. The group opted to use the WhatsApp platform to mobilize and alert one another of online abuse going on in the Tanzanian digital spaces, as well as going as far as taking actions of reporting the abusers to the digital platform moderators.
From the session, the discussions gave way to understanding the signs of Cyber Bullied Victims who suffer from mental health who, are more likely to,
- Develop a low- self esteem
- Have a social exclusion habit, they withdraw from family, friends and community.
- Have poor academic and work performance, like finding an excuse to stay away from school or away from the place they are working.
- Develop a self-loathing habit which can lead to one harming themselves by overdosing, injuring oneself or commit suicide.
- Have depression and anxiety
Way forward from the session (being part of the solution)
Women at Web Tanzania and the participants agreed to being part of the immediate solution on how we can improve and enhance means that also plays part to enhancing digital participation of Women and Youth online with the following resolutions.
- The newly formed movement to be supported and equipped in being online patrol and police for cyber bullied victims.
- The movement needs to interact and offer emotional support to bullied victims to address the issue of wellness and psychosocial safety and be the number one reporters of all abuse relevant to social media
- To work closely with the victim’s family or friends who can be of help when it comes to emotional support
Women At Web Tanzania’s plea to the government and stakeholders is to enhance more initiatives that would advocate on mental health, safe space on the internet, have mental health stations for the cyberbullied victims and develop a tracking data specifically for recording such cases of abuse or cyber bullying for future research. We are still working hard on mobilizing resources and supporting the Jeshi la Dada movement while providing consistent support to the online community.