Zambia Women Parliamentary Caucus chairperson Prof Nkandu Luo has lamented that social media in Zambia is not used for any meaningful development apart from people gossiping about who is sleeping with who and discrediting female leaders.

And Prof Luo, who is also Higher Education Minister, wonders how social media users have named her a prostitute when she is a distinguished professor; adding that such haters will need to be sternly dealt with.

Meanwhile, former LAZ president Linda Kasonde submitted that only real abuse of social media will need to be dealt with, as people’s liberties to freely express themselves need to be respected.

Giving a keynote address at a programme for call to action on cyber bullying against women leaders at Pamodzi Hotel, Sunday, Prof Luo said she had observed that Zambians used social media for gossip and insulting female political leaders.

“For those of us in parliament and politics, time has come for us to call for legislation because in other countries there is legislation that deals with cyber bullying and we can’t accept it. Appreciate that this is going to stay, social media, but it has to be used responsibly. As minister in charge of education in this country, who is promoting even ICT, I would like us to use it responsibly. I would like us to use ICT for development and not for destruction. I have also been analysing how much is on social media that is educative, I have also been analysing what is on social media that is developmental and the answer is zero! The Zambian social media does not discuss development. The Zambia social media does not discuss educative topics. It is about who did what, who is dressed in what, who is sleeping with who, who is found in the bush, we can’t!” Prof Luo exclaimed.

“As a country, we need to bring that to an end. This is a country that is yearning for development. This is a country where we should now be looking at the topics that are important for moving the country forward. The government has done its part, we as citizens also need to pick up and say ‘well, if we are going to industrialise, what is it that we are going to do?’. If we are going to diversify in agriculture, what are the things which we should be discussing on our platforms? Those of us who are doing well in seed multiplication, how do we share that information, those of us who are doing well in cassava growing, how do we share that information, there is never anything like that on our social media, unfortunately. So if it is here to stay in Zambia, it has to take a different form. And the form should first of all depart from insulting female political leaders.”

And Prof Luo wondered how social media users had named her a prostitute when she is a distinguished professor.

“Women parliamentarians on social media have been referred to as prostitutes. In fact, I recall reading something, ‘why does Professor Luo always talk about prostitution, working with TASINTHA, is she a prostitute? Where have you seen a professor who becomes a prostitute for goodness sake? Do people understand what this is all about? Because I cannot earn money so use my body to earn money? And if you are a professor and you haven’t made it in life, then forget it!” she said.

“There is a big distinct difference because they want to bring you down and not even celebrate who you are, they will liken you to something that is negative and yet someone is just helping to lift the lives of the other women out of the hazardous situations to be who they can be also and be counted. And we can’t continue as a country like this, time has come for people to celebrate women. Unfortunately, in Zambia, one of the platforms where we are abusing democracy is on social media and we believe as a country that social media, or democracy is about bullying others through insults, through images that they don’t identify with and then when we now stratify for the cyber bullying, it is the political leaders that are abused more than anyone else. And again when we stratify for gender, it is the women that are abused and all of us seated in this room have been victims of cyber bullying one way or another.”

And Kasonde said only real abuse of social media would need to be dealt with, as people’s liberties to freely express themselves need to be respected.

“In terms of cyber bullying, as I mentioned I myself have been a victim and I think that it is important to address it but also to do so in a manner that does not curb people’s rights to privacy and freedom of expression so there must be a way of doing it in a way that does not create harm in itself and cause people to be censured where they shouldn’t, only real cases of abuse should be tackled,” Kasonde said.

“What makes cyber bullying much more dangerous is that because people feel that they are anonymous, they feel that they can say things on social media that they wouldn’t be able to say to your face, terrible things and it really dehumanises not just the victims but really the perpetrators. On whether women get more of the abuse, just as an example, in the last US presidential election Hilary Clinton received three times more online abuse than her male colleagues so there are actual statistics and I don’t think Zambia is unique. I am sure if a study is done in Zambia you would find pretty much the same sort of thing,” Kasonde said.

She also highlighted the need for men to join the cause if cyber bullying against women.

“Also, I think it is important that we need male champions to celebrate this cause. I mentioned the campaign that civil society had done on sexual bullying and I recall that we received a lot of support from for example honourable Vincent Mwale who was key to see the vice is curbed. This is something we can’t change without the men and so I am happy to see a few men in the audience and those supporting this cause,” said Kasonde.

“And we hope to see political parties take ownership of this process as well because without the leadership in political parties that create an atmosphere of zero tolerance against sexual bullying, cyber bullying and just actual attacks by cadres on other political parties or within the party itself, we need to see that stopped and condemned in no uncertain terms in all political parties.”

And a ZICTA cyber security specialist Chewe Mutale revealed females were victims in 90 per cent of cyber bullying cases which the authority dealt with so far.

Meanwhile, Zambia Police supervisor of cyber crimes Prince Kalala urged women to be careful what kind of material they shared with their boyfriends, warning that it could be used against them if they decided to aspire for leadership positions later in life.