Photo designed by Mareez Girgis Photo designed by Mareez Girgis

Cybersexism is virtual, yet real and harmful

Tue, Dec. 5, 2017
CAIRO – 5 December 2017: “One in ten women has experienced a form of cyber violence since the age of 15. The risk is highest among young women between 18 and 29 years of age,” according to facts published by U.N. Women on the occasion of the “16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence” campaign running from November 25 to December 10. The facts on online violence against women (VAW) and girls were based on the European Union (EU)-wide survey on the issue conducted in 2014.

The technology-based violence against women and girls is a gendered abuse targeted at women and girls using the information communication technologies. It is usually called cybersexism or cyber violence and includes various forms of malicious behaviors, like sharing embarrassing or brutal content about someone, data theft, insult, hate speech, stalking, emotional harm, blackmail, nonconsensual use of photography, child pornography, electronic surveillance and violent threats, including rape threats. This type of harassment usually aims to embarrass, scare, humiliate, threaten, silence or force someone to do an action against their will.

“Since the mid-1990s, the internet transformed from being a military safety net to civilian internet in a revolution that led to internet being an integral part of people’s lives,” according to Forbes. This revolution brought technological and societal change into our daily life. Women’s rights activists and feminists realized that the internet, specifically social media, can be dangerous platforms of abuse and violence against women and girls. These activists sent several worldwide wake-up calls that just because online violence against women is virtual, it doesn’t make it any less real or harmful. They also spot light on the importance of ensuring that this public space is safe and is an empowering haven for all people, including women and girls.

Cyber violence is a symptom of the deeply rooted gender inequality and serves as a means to further deny women and girls from their human rights and from exercising their full potentials. As violence against women and girls remains one of the widest-spread human rights violations ever – with one in three women experiencing some form of violence in her life time – the increasing reach of the internet, the rapid spread of mobile information and the widespread use of social media has led to the emergence of cyber violence against women and girls as a growing problem, with significant economic and societal consequences globally.

This form of violence negatively impacts women’s status on the internet and in real life, as it puts a burden on their emotions, affects their freedom of speech and self-expression, and limits their right to full participation and their right to safety and privacy. It also takes up time and financial resources, including legal fees, online protection services and missed wages if the woman decided to prosecute the perpetrator.

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Photo courtesy of Amnesty International

In 2015, a study by the U.N. Broadband Commission for Digital Development demonstrated that 73 percent of women and girls are exposed to some form of online violence. The U.N. commission called on member states to mobilize the public and private sectors to follow concrete strategies that stem the rising of online abuse directed at women and girls. It advised all states to adopt strategies that define and forbid expressions of cybersexism, whether it is written, action or images of hatred directed at a person based on their gender, color, disability or any other traits. The commission explained that these strategies should have zero tolerance on violence against women and girls, including cyber violence, and should also promote penalties for these acts, including fines and/or imprisonment.

Moreover, the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) examined and analyzed more than 1,000 reported cases of technology-based violence from seven countries from 2012-2014, and it shared the following results:

 “Women 18-30 years old and younger are the most vulnerable online.”
 “40 percent of cases are perpetrated by someone known to the survivor.”
 “There are three general categories of women who experience tech-based VAW: someone in an intimate relationship whose partner became abusive; a professional with a public profile involved in public communication, like writers, researchers, activists and artists; and a survivor of physical assault, often from intimate partner abuse or rape.”

 “Consequences of cyber violence included emotional harm that impedes women’s full participation in online life with 33 percent, harm to reputation with 18 percent and invasion of privacy was also mentioned by 18 percent of the examined cases. While 11 percent of cases reported physical harm, which means the internet is used to facilitate violations and violence.”

 “Facebook with 26 percent and mobile phones with 19 percent are the platforms where most violations were reported.”

 “In less than 1/3 of the cases reported, action has been taken by the service provider.”

 “Less than 1/2 of the cases reported to the authorities have been investigated, and 49 percent of cases were reported to authorities.”

Addressing technology-based VAW requires recognition that it is a real form of gender-based violence and abuse that entails collective and sustained efforts from individuals, communities, private sector and government to stop the perpetrators. Just like in offline violence, families tend to restrict women’s and girls’ access to the internet if they complain of violence, which leads to women and girls refraining from telling anyone what they might be facing. This fact is very much similar to families restricting women’s and girls’ mobility for “protection” reasons.

There is a pressing need to recognize that offline and online violence are not separate, and there is a need to develop proper policies that identify online violence as a real threat and barrier to women’s and girls’ freedom to exercise the full range of their human rights. Moreover, social media companies should take responsibility and take proactive steps to ensure their platforms don’t support and enable violence against women and girls online.

Finally, women and girls deserve to live free from all forms of violence, whether it is physical, domestic, sexual or online.

This article is part of Egypt Today’s campaign “Break the Silence ... Say No to Violence” marking the 16-Day campaign of activism against gender-based violence GBV from November 25 to December 10.

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