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In commemoration of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2024, the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and Pollicy jointly organised a webinar, Gendered Disinformation during Elections in Africa. With over 19 African countries preparing for electoral processes in 2024, the event provided a vital platform to analyse the intersection of disinformation and gender, spotlighting its impact and exploring strategies for mitigation.

Moderated by Phillip Ayazika, director of programs at Pollicy, the discussion marked a departure from traditional commemorations of World Press Freedom Day, delving into the issue of gendered disinformation amidst electoral landscapes. Elections, often tense and volatile, serve as fertile ground for disinformation to thrive, as recent events in Nigeria and Senegal have demonstrated. Despite the commendable efforts of organisations such as Pollicy, CIPESA, and Article 19 in combating disinformation, substantial gaps persist in understanding the nuanced dynamics of gendered disinformation within electoral contexts.

The webinar convened a diverse array of regional experts, civil society representatives, human rights defenders and researchers. These included Irene Mwendwa, executive director at Pollicy; Monicah Amoding, former member of parliament of Uganda; Nompilo Simanje, Africa advocacy and partnerships lead at International Press Institute (IPI); and Angela Minayo, program officer at Article 19. The four speakers scrutinised the state of gendered disinformation, its impact on women’s political participation, legal and regulatory frameworks, and actionable strategies for countering disinformation during electoral cycles.

Gendered disinformation poses a formidable obstacle to women’s political engagement, dissuading potential female leaders and undermining democratic principles. Recognising this challenge, APC’s ongoing project, Placing the gendered in disinformation, is dedicated to confront the subject in question through diverse avenues, such as research, policy advocacy and public awareness campaigns.

Peace Oliver Amuge, Africa regional strategy lead at APC, spoke about various issues including APC’s recent report, Placing “gender” in disinformation, engagements with the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, regional discussions and side events like the 76th session at the UN General Assembly which marked the formal presentation of the Special Rapporteur’s report on freedom of expression and gender justice. She emphasised the importance of addressing gendered disinformation and highlighted its detrimental impact on freedom of expression, especially for vulnerable and marginalised communities. “Gender disinformation is a critical issue that APC is committed to tackling,” she said. “It not only perpetuates gender-based violence online but also stifles civic space,” she remarked, adding it threatens democratic values and women’s rights globally.

Bonita Nyamwire, research manager at Pollicy, reiterated these views, adding that “at Pollicy, we firmly advocate harnessing the potential of data and technology to transform the delivery of government services to our citizens. However, we are also mindful of the widespread influence of gendered disinformation on women’s rights and political engagements.” 

Nompilo Simanje from the International Press Institute (IPI) spoke of the obstacles encountered by women journalists and politicians in countering gendered disinformation amidst elections. Discussing IPI’s initiatives, she noted, “Through our monitoring endeavours, we have observed instances of threats to journalists’ security and gender-targeted assaults on journalists both in the virtual and physical realms. Election periods pose particularly challenging circumstances for female journalists, marked by heightened threats and diverse manifestations of online gender-based violence, including the propagation of gendered disinformation.” She expanded on IPI’s strategy of equipping women journalists with skills to defend themselves against online attacks and to establish peer support networks. “The ramifications of online gender violence and directed disinformation efforts extend to the psychological and emotional well-being of female politicians and journalists,” she noted. She also pointed to the necessity of gender-disaggregated data to support advocacy efforts for online safety among marginalised communities. “We need to establish cross-border solidarity among diverse nations and communities to effectively confront this challenge,” she emphasised.  

Monicah Amoding, the former Ugandan MP, shared her firsthand  perspective on the widespread prevalence of gendered disinformation in politics. She elaborated on the challenges faced by women politicians, stating, “I know two out of 10 women go through this, and that’s being conservative. For women in politics, it’s a daily reality – almost expected – and unfortunately, we’ve grown accustomed to it because it’s become part of the landscape.” She spoke of the varied impacts of gendered disinformation on women’s leadership and political involvement, highlighting the urgency of finding remedies to assist women in surmounting these challenges. 

Irene Mwendwa, executive director at Pollicy, cautioned that we must stay abreast of the most recent community standards of digital platforms. She spoke of the necessity of implementing additional protective measures, particularly in relation to synthetic media, counterfeit images, and AI-driven information manipulation. Pollicy’s research in Uganda and Kenya revealed that despite equal access to digital tools, women still face disadvantages, particularly due to online abuse. In the context of the Kenyan election, Mwenda observed that some 18% of female candidates encountered various types of online violence and that in Uganda, and at least of 6% of women endured such abuse before they assumed official roles. “This online violence doesn’t only affect the candidates’ behaviours but also influences voting patterns and perceptions of women’s involvement in politics,” she remarked.

Pollicy has been engaging with local communities to understand their experiences and has been incorporating this knowledge into their advocacy efforts. They have collaborated with organisations like to analyse online abuse patterns and breaches, highlighting the need for clear guidelines on the use of synthetic media and AI in elections. “Our efforts are focused,” added Mwendwa, “on providing evidence that can inform legal reforms and pressure platforms to take action against online abuse.” 

Angela Minayo from Article 19 Eastern Africa provided valuable perspective on the legal frameworks concerning gendered disinformation in the region. “Article 19 has worked on misinformation and disinformation for a long time, advocating approaches that counter these phenomena while upholding freedom of expression,” she explained. She outlined trends in existing legal frameworks across several countries in Eastern Africa, stressing on the broad nature of legislation aimed at tackling disinformation.

“In Kenya, for example, we have the Computer Misuse and Cybercrimes Act, which criminalises the publication of false information,” she said. “While not explicitly addressing gender disinformation, this legislation can be interpreted to encompass content that discriminates against protected groups.” Similarly, Tanzania and Ethiopia have laws prohibiting the publication of false information, albeit without specific references to gender. 

Minayo noted that while most countries in the region have some form of legislation addressing disinformation, the enforcement of these laws often veers towards suppressing free speech rather than combating gender-based attacks. “Across the region, it’s not merely a lack of laws, but rather a question of whether these laws are gender-sensitive,” she remarked. “Many existing frameworks provide governments with tools for digital authoritarianism and stifling critical voices, instead of protecting vulnerable groups such as women politicians facing gender disinformation campaigns.”

She also highlighted the shortcomings of current legal approaches, noting their failure to meet international human rights standards, and their tendency to impose severe penalties and administrative procedures on journalists and online platforms. “In addressing gendered disinformation targeting women politicians during election cycles, strategic partnerships with organisations focusing on electoral governance are crucial,” Minayo concluded. “By working collaboratively to develop more gender-responsive electoral frameworks, we can better protect the rights and dignity of women in politics across the region.”

In the subsequent audience discussion, Mwendwa discussed the consequences of internet restrictions in various countries that can hinder the visibility of online hate speech and influence how women journalist engage with digital platforms during elections. She noted that gendered disinformation not only affects women politicians and journalists but also extends to other key players in the electoral process such as judiciary officials. Ben Phiri, former minister and member of parliament of Malawi, echoed this sentiment, highlighting the wider ramifications of misinformation for all individuals involved in the political sphere. Drawing from his tenure as a former cabinet minister in Malawi, Phiri stressed on the cruciality of resilience and mental health assistance for women encountering cyberbullying and harassment, alongside advocating for legislation that robustly safeguards individuals from gendered disinformation.

Former Ugandan MP Amoding shared how she has countered gendered disinformation as a woman in politics by being resilient, countering narratives by continually providing facts against spreading information. She reiterated the importance of empowering women through sensitisation, training, and continuous advocacy for improved laws. She called for a concerted effort to tackle cyberbullying and harassment, emphasising the pivotal role played by organisations such as APC and Pollicy in providing support and resources to political candidates.

In his closing remarks, Phillip Ayazika of Pollicy underscored the importance of platform accountability models specifically designed for the African context. He called for collaboration between African governments and civil society organisations to formulate legislations and standards that effectively tackle gendered disinformation in the region.


Mundië Jessica Uiras is a communications and marketing strategist and a dedicated digital rights advocate. She is an UNLEASH Global SDG Talent, raising awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the need for accelerated action. She is also a fellow of the African School of Internet Governance.