When the Cyber West Summit took place in June, we had the opportunity to speak to Simon Carabetta, Project and Engagement Coordinator at the WA AustCyber Innovation Hub who said that cybersecurity is everyone’s responsibility and not just an IT issue. And Simon hit the bullseye with this statement as in the current digital climate, cybersecurity has indeed become every individual’s responsibility especially women. In 2020, as more people get online for work and studies, women and girls worldwide experienced a surge of violence and abuse online.
While we acknowledge the truth in this statement, we also need to admit that sometimes certain tiers, class, group, and demographics get left out for various reasons. In an article published by techbuild.africa, it pointed out that digital security training are often invite-only sessions geared towards career women like journalists and human rights defenders. So what can be done to effect change?
Well, two organisations, Pollicy and Paradigm Initiative, are looking to change this perception with the launch of their new interactive fiction game, Digital Safe Tea. Through this game, the two organizations hope to reach thousands of African women from all walks of life with lessons and tips on how to keep themselves and their devices safe both online and offline.
How It Began?
A portmanteau of ‘digital safety’ and ‘tea’, Digital SafeTea, is based on the storyline of three characters: Aisha, Goitse and Dami, who are based on different models of African women. As players step into the world of these three characters, they are faced with digital threats like zoom bombing, impersonation, and even Non-Consensual Sharing of Intimate Images (NCII) which is often referred to as ‘revenge porn’.
Once presented with a scenario, players are nudged to pick their response to the threat from available choices, as a way for them to get to the next stage of the game. As players weave through the maze of threats, they are presented with lessons on how to navigate such threats in real life. Players are also directed to sites and toolkits where they can get further learning on their desired topic.
The game style is heavily reminiscent of the ‘pick your own adventure’ type of children’s books, which Pollicy founder and Executive Director, Neema Iyer, says were an inspiration to her when designing the game.
The stories are set in colorful backgrounds that are packed with references to the African cities the characters are set in. On one illustration, players can spot a reference to Nigeria’s Feminist Coalition (FemCo). The game is available in English, Kiswahili, and Luganda, which are some of the widely spoken languages in Africa. French and Pidgin English will be added shortly.
The game builds on Ayeta, a proactive toolkit for African digital rights actors, which is an initiative launched by Paradigm Initiative earlier this year.
A Timely Change for Women
Against this backdrop, one can see the huge gap that games like Digital SafeTea could fill by arming African women with information on digital security. Digital SafeTea comes at an opportune time as conversations on women’s safety in digital spaces are being held worldwide. A study by Pollicy in 5 African countries also found that 29.2% of their respondents did not know where to turn to for information on online safety and security.
However, it is important to note that the onus of online security should not remain with women alone. Technology companies need to improve how they respond to online Gender-based Violence (OGBV). Recent developments on this include an announcement by Facebook, Google, TikTok, and Twitter at the just concluded UN Women Generation Equality Forum in Paris on their commitment to tackling OGBV.
At the same event, Facebook announced their Global Women’s Safety Expert Advisors group which Pollicy’s Neema Iyer was selected to join.