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UNFPA campaign against gender-based digital violence

It’s the year 2022. People ride electro cars, have been to space multiple times, and travel all around the world. Yet despite all the major developments, violence against women is still present to some degree in every country.

In light of the ongoing protests in Iran, people tend to associate gender-based violence with the murders of women and their oppression on a governmental level. It is undoubtedly the worst appearance that gender discrimination can take. However, violence can take multiple forms, and not all of them are as visible as blatant assassinations.

UNFPA (the United Nations Population Fund) has started the 16 Days of Activism campaign, the main theme this year is Activism to End Violence against Women & Girls. From 28th November to 12th December case workers, female activists and talented young people from various UN countries will come together to discuss the ways to protect women’s and girls’ rights and help them achieve their professional and life goals.

 As part of the campaign, UNFPA will also be conducting a forum under the title ‘The Virtual is Real’, where special attention will be paid to digital violence which is often overlooked. The widespread technological inventions made it easier for women to get educated, have access to important information, and communicate their problems.

However, it also facilitated the lives of their attackers. Digital violence may present itself as cyber harassment, revenge porn, sextortion, hate speech, threats of sexual assault, and other crimes which can potentially lead to the worst one of all: murder.

The famous case of Hana Kimura, a young Japanese wrestler who killed herself due to cyberbullying, led to a worldwide revision of laws. Her bullies (those that were identified) were fined 80$, which created a huge backlash about it being too little a price for a human’s life.

The time has come to take online violence seriously and pass special legislation to ensure online abusers are punished enough. However, even if laws are made, punishing the abusers is still a challenging job. The Internet provides a lot of freedom in terms of creating fake accounts, erasing digital traces, hiding location through tools like VPN, and other things.

It’s hard to take a cyberbully to court if you can’t find them. It is therefore advised that tech companies implement certain technologies that could trace these people online while at the same time not exposing any sensitive data about other internet users.

Still, the necessary measures against online bullying are not expected to be taken swiftly enough. Even gender-based violence and domestic abuse legislation are yet to be implemented at the EU level, leaving it to be decided by every member state on its own. With limited resources, it is no wonder politicians focus more on the real world instead of its cyber counterpart. More global cooperation is needed to ensure a faster and more efficient approach to the problem.

The fight against online violence, just as it happens with offline one, gets even harder because many victims choose not to report these crimes. According to UNFPA, 40% of women around the world have experienced gender-based violence themselves and 85% know other women or girls who did. In the EU as of the year 2020, every 10th woman experienced some form of cyberharassment. Yet only 40% percent of the victims allegedly report these breaches of their rights.

One of the reasons for that is the victim-blaming tendency which is still common in society. Sexual harassment victims are found guilty of being assaulted because they were wearing revealing clothing, walking alone at night, going to parties, and so on. Instead of support, these women get unprecedented backlash and that stops them from wanting to share their painful experiences.

The same is just as true for cyber harassment victims. In some cases, the reason may be the fear of their assaulter or stalker finding out about the plan to report them to the police and take revenge. Even if it’s a person the victim doesn’t know in real life, there is always fear they will track them down offline via profile photos and location tags.

There is little way around these issues with the Internet still being a relatively underexplored and unsafe territory. The only real solution right now seems to be stirring important conversations with girls and women and encouraging them to be brave and open when it comes to harassment and assault cases.


Image by rawpixel.com on Freepik

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