High-profile women such as journalists and politicians are regular targets of online gender-based violence, especially when it is weaponised as a tool to intimate and silence. Gifty’s story illustrates the power of courage and resilience.
Gifty* is a broadcast journalist in her early 30s who lives in Accra. She has always been driven by a desire to improve the lives of others in her community, and uses her radio show to share stories related to service delivery, political corruption, and other sensitive issues that affect the lives of people. In high school she discovered the power of the media, when a local female reporter’s efforts and spotlight on sanitation issues in Gifty’s neighbourhood led to improvements and commitments from local authorities – something the community had not been able to achieve by themselves. From that moment, she knew that journalism would be her future.
Even though Gifty’s life is more comfortable now than the environment she grew in, she is still confronted on a daily basis with inequality and poverty. Her community does not have a health facility or a basic school in the area. Each morning as she drives to work, she sees school children walking several kilometres to go to school. Even though she sometimes picks and drops some of them in school or closer to their schools, she is not able to help them all, and this weighs on her. As she passes through the community each day, she becomes even more fired up to talk about the socio-economic and political issues in the country.
Inevitably, and sadly so, her criticism of those in power, who are failing to meet the needs of the people they govern, have led to attacks and intimidation. While some listeners call into her radio station, others attack her on her social media platforms and personal mobile phone And, arguably because she is a woman, these attacks are not focused on her political views. Gifty faces body shaming, rape threats and insults. The personal nature of these attacks make Gifty feel particularly unsafe, and, although for the most part the perpetrators hide behind anonymity, Gifty knows that they are real people, with the capacity to hurt her even further, and she has, at times, been too scared to sleep in her own house, knowing that she might be found.
It would be easy for Gifty to retreat into self-censorship – and this was her initial response to this abuse. But then she remembered another inspiring story – about another courageous woman. The story was about a female politician who was aspiring to be the secretary of a ruling political party. In her campaign, she also faced attacks and intimidation, but took control of the situation, identified her attackers, mapped out strategies to outsmart them, and eventually won the position. It might have been fiction, but the message was powerful enough to encourage Gifty to continue fighting – especially as she realised that her silence would mean silencing the issues she had dedicated herself to championing for her community.
So Gifty has claimed back her power. She initially sought help through the few official channels open to her in order to report and block her abusers, but says that platforms have done very little to help. So she went to the police, both to bring her abusers to book and to ensure that she is better protected in the future. She has highlighted this issue at government level too, pushing for better protections for women and children. And amid all of this she has also found professionals who can offer her psychological support, and teach her techniques and tactics for increasing her resilience.
Gifty also knows she is not alone. This is a phenomenon far too common among female journalists, and she has reached out to a support network of others who have faced similar experiences. She is hopeful that with the support of her allies, she can continue to express herself freely and initiate public discourse. She is also hopeful that she will continue to inspire change for other female journalists and female activists.
*name changed to protect identity