Digital Shelter

Confronting Online Abuses Against Women #IWD2021

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  • 82 Somali women share their experiences of being shamed, harassed and abused online in a recent crowdsourcing survey conducted by human rights defenders at Digital Shelter.

  • The survey highlights Facebook as “the worst platform to be a girl” in Somalia, with 57% of respondents experiencing abuse on a Facebook-owned platform (Facebook, Messenger, WhatsApp or Instagram).
  • To raise awareness of the challenges faced by Somali women online, the award-winning poet, activist and digital storyteller, Zahra Abdihagi Mahamed releases her new audiovisual poem for Somali- and English-speaking audiences, titled “Without Fear”.

This International Women’s Day we are all being invited to #ChooseToChallenge gender inequality. Digital Shelter is taking this opportunity to challenge the online abuse experienced by Somali women.

In December 2020, Digital Shelter carried out a crowdsourcing survey asking Somali women to share their experiences of online shame, harassment and abuse. 82 women responded with stories ranging from having accounts hacked, to receiving indecent images from men and even blackmail.

Such online harassment is as frightening as street harassment, yet, as one respondent in the Digital Shelter survey put it: “This kind of thing is not even considered abuse in our society, which is disheartening.” As a result, Somali women’s voices are suppressed and even silenced online, with a third (34%) of the survey’s respondents confirming they now spend less time on social media.

Today, Digital Shelter launch a campaign that includes:

  • The results of their crowdsourcing survey, which paints a picture of the nature and impact of online abuse experienced by Somali women.
  • Zahara Mahamed’s new audiovisual poem, “Without Fear”, inspired by the Somali women’s stories and is available to read and listen to in both Somali and English.
  • A free ‘Digital Security Calendar’ for Somali women to download, ensuring they receive regular reminders to check up on the digital security of their online and social media accounts.

More information about the campaign and the online abuse faced by women in Somalia can be found on

Zahra Abdihagi Mahamed, award-winning poet and executive director of Somali Storytellers, says:

No woman should be put in a situation where she is ridiculed and shamed — especially online, where information travels very far and abuse continues to grow more and more each day. It is mentally and emotionally disturbing.

Abdifatah Hassan Ali, co-founder of Digital Shelter, says:

This campaign is vital because we want online spaces to be open, safe and inclusive for all. We need Somali women to be able to openly express their views without being challenged and without being harassed.


Bronwen Roberston, Director at Data4Change, says:

At Data4Change, we strive to fill the data gaps on issues affecting underrepresented and marginalised groups, so we were delighted to collaborate with Digital Shelter on this project. The survey data that we collected with Digital Shelter sadly proves we have a long way to go to ensure the internet is a safe and secure space for Somali women. However, we hope that by raising awareness of this issue and equipping women with tools to enhance their digital security, Cabsi La’aan can play a part in bringing about a brighter future where women no longer censor themselves online.

Ashnah Kalemera, Programmes Officer at CIPESA, says:

Across the continent, various discussions continue to reiterate obstacles such as unequal access to finance, education, and tech devices that inhibit many women in Africa from participating in the digital society. For the women able to overcome the initial obstacles, there are increased threats of violence and harassment online. Dedicated efforts from the government, as well as civil society, the tech community, academia, and the private sector, are required to address these challenges and CIPESA is pleased to see the work of Digital Shelter in this regard.


Key facts from the survey:

  • 82 Somali women shared their stories of online abuse.
  • 68% said they have experienced online abuse more than once.
  • 57% said their abuse had taken place on a Facebook-owned platform.
  • 43% noted they are now more cautious about what they say online.
  • 34% said they spend less time on social media.
  • 7% have deleted their accounts as a result of online abuse.

Text, images and videos are available to view and share here.

About Cabsi La’aan

Cabsi La’aan is Somali for “Without fear”. Cabsi La’aan was designed and developed by Digital Shelter and Data4Change. Digital Shelter is among 13 civil society organisations who were successful in applying for the African Digital Rights Fund run by CIPESA (Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa). The African Digital Rights Fund included the opportunity to receive data skills training and work on data-driven projects with Data4Change.

About Digital Shelter

Digital Shelter is a local initiative founded in 2018 by a team of human rights defenders in Somalia. Their aim is to expand the digital civic space in Somalia through capacity building, research and advocacy programs aimed at empowering citizens on digital safety, digital rights and inclusion while at the same time advocating for internet freedom. Visit for more information.

About Data4Change

Data4Change is a UK-based non-profit, they create data-driven projects aimed at solving some of the world’s most pressing social and political challenges. Visit for more information.


This project was carried out in the context of the Africa Digital Rights Fund with support from the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA). Since inception, CIPESA has positioned itself as a leading centre for research and analysis of information aimed to enable policy makers in the region to understand ICT policy issues, and for various multi-stakeholders to use ICT to improve livelihoods. Visit for more information.


This Article was written by Abdifatah Hassan Ali, co-founder of Digital Shelter, he can be followed on Twitter: @IamAbdi5

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