Tshegofatso Senne

Image via Pollicy’s artworks

Research is an important tool which can be used to engage and empower people, but if it is difficult to understand or inaccessible,  it can be seen as daunting by the people it should be helping and reaching. Pollicy aimed to break down this barrier and utilise more creative ways of sharing the data that they collect from their research. 

Neema Iyer is the founder and executive director of Pollicy. Pollicy is a civic technology organisation working at the intersection of data design and technology. There are 3 main streams of work that they do, the first one being data capacity building. They do training to try and get people ready for new emerging technology, like machine learning, artificial intelligence and data visualisation. The second pillar is building data tech products using available data or data that they collect to help people in different ways such as improving service delivery and how people access information. The third and final pillar is research on the data ecosystems which focuses on things such as data governance, digital rights and digital freedoms. She said:


Gender-based violence in the physical world and online, continues to be a threat to the happiness, stability and growth of women across the world. Feminist scholars contend that when studying technology and gender, it is essential to note that technology and gender are not mutually exclusive but  “co-produced”. Technology and gender relations do not exist in a vacuum: technology is shaped by the environment it exists in; it serves the purpose it does because humans built it in that way; the social structures that dictate gender relations also govern technology. Technology and gender dynamically influence each other.

Before being selected as an All Women Count-Take Back the Tech grantee, Pollicy had previously done a project with the Association for Progressive Communications’ (APC) Feminist Internet Research Network (FIRN) which looked at the lived experiences of women across the African continent. This research was done in 5 different countries, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Senegal. They believe that if we start having these conversations about what feminist AI is or what the feminist digital future looks like, there first needs to be an understanding of where we are coming from, what is the experience for women currently and once that is established, it is easier to then map out where it is we want to go. 

In their research, they found that:

  • 28% of African women had experienced online gender-based violence
    • 36% sexual harassment,
    • 33.2% offensive name-calling, 
    • 26.7% stalking and 
    • 14.8% purposeful embarrassment. 

The good thing is that the research was done in 2019, before the pandemic hit. So this grant allowed them to focus on putting together the artwork, the illustrations and the content. While the global pandemic posed a challenge for many initiatives this year, Pollicy was built with the intent of always having it be a remote organisation and as a result was less hard-hit by the pandemic lockdowns in Uganda. Oddly enough one could say that Pollicy staff were well-positioned for such a calamity.

With their research conducted Pollicy felt like another phase was necessary. As the FIRN project demands academic-quality research,  the team wanted to make their findings accessible to people in non-academic settings.

Their project sought additional resources to do a dissemination campaign. They wanted to find different ways to share their data because they have a pretty big data set.  Accessible artworks, animated gifs and infographics were created to bring attention to OGBV and showcase the research findings in a digestible format. Pollicy’s data has also recently been used in consultation by the Feministing While Africa group to the parliament of South Africa responding to the Domestic Violence Amendment Bill. 

Each of the countries researched were featured in an easy-to-understand snapshot of the research findings. Pollicy developed a social media communication plan with key partners where 40 posts were created for Facebook and Twitter and these garnered 330 450 impressions, over 10 000 engagements and 453 retweets and 617 likes on Twitter. They also ran a campaign to amplify their messaging to ensure that it reached  relevant stakeholders. This was done with a PR agency and the project had a lot of traditional press coverage such as blogs and newspaper articles from all over the world namely, Daily Monitor, Biztech Africa, The Independent, The Observer, amongst others.  

The team loved the fact that there there was an active community that was proud of the work. They got a lot of good comments, people reached out to say they liked the quality of the research and the social media campaign that was put out. Neema shared that there are people using the report for research and it is benefiting people in different spaces. They’d love to have more people asking for the data and for more information so that similar research can be done and there can be a bigger baseline so that they can really have a footing of where they are and where they want to go. 

Neema says that in general, especially in Uganda there is a stirring movement with the 16 Days of Activism and you can see that online violence is a consistent theme. Other grantees’ work has also fed into this activism. She thinks that it’s really great that there’s funding available to do this kind of work that is being done in different and creative ways and that ‘Take Back The Tech’ is a great network. Neema finds it inspiring to see what other people are doing and to be a part of it. There is an interest to see what opportunities this opens up for Pollicy. For example, they have already received interest to do the research in other countries in Africa in the MENA region. 

This work is great and beneficial to the community because Pollicy has put in the work to make this data set. They want people to have it and to use it in whatever advocacy they do. 

Reflecting on the work her team has been able to do with this project, Neema had this to say,

This grant enabled us to use art as a form of love and understanding to make our data and information more accessible to the communities that we work with. We wanted as wide a range of audience to interact with our findings, to use the data when presenting to governments, to technology companies, to fuel their own advocacy campaigns across their countries. We have noticed our research cited many times in online gender-based violence work and this makes us feel like we have accomplished our goals in collecting our own data, sharing our own stories and continuing to use the evidence to advocate for our own rights, needs and wants in digital spaces. We need to dream our own African feminist internet and decide what that looks like.