The Hidden Consequences of Digital Violence on Women
Despite the growing prevalence of online gender-based violence against women and girls, this issue remains insufficiently researched, undefined and unaddressed. Moreover, limited awareness of this type of digital violence is creating unintended consequences that are exacerbating an already significant, gendered digital divide. Women are facing greater barriers to developing their digital skills due to the fear and intimidation caused by this violence, hindering their participation in the digital economy. As Mexico begins to build its digital economy, it is essential that leaders in both the public and private sectors take a closer look at the deep-rooted inequalities that are perpetuating this problem, say leaders at UN Women on International Women's Day.
“The digital divide has become the new face of gender inequality, which has become compounded by the push back against women and girls that we see in the world today. That is why the work of this 67th Commission on the Status of Women could not be more timely nor more critical,” says Sima Bahous, Executive Director, UN Women.
Violence against women and girls in digital contexts is not a new phenomenon, but it has rapidly escalated in the shadows of the COVID-19 pandemic as women’s lives shifted online for work, education, access to services and social activities, reports UN Women. In these digital spheres, the most common forms of violence toward women and girls are misinformation and defamation, cyber harassment and hate speech, reflecting a similar pattern of violence against women and girls in the physical world. Ultimately, at the root of these attacks is an attempt to assert dominance over women and girls who challenge patriarchal stereotypes or promote gender empowerment. Consequently, women in public roles, including women's rights activists, human rights defenders, politicians and journalists, are commonly targeted by digital violence.
Furthermore, persistent gaps in data suggest that the prevalence of gendered violence in digital contexts is even more significant than reported, underscoring the urgent need for greater research and attention to this issue. To fully understand the scope of the problem, it is essential to conduct a more comprehensive assessment of data, including data that highlights the disproportionate targeting of women with intersecting identities. The impact of digital violence on women's health, wellbeing and safety must also be better researched, as is data regarding the barriers gendered violence creates for women's political participation and leadership, its contribution to professional stagnation and lost macroeconomic productivity, and its role in exacerbating the digital divide. By addressing these knowledge gaps, it is possible to develop more effective policies and interventions to prevent and respond to digital violence against women and girls and promote greater gender equality in the digital world.
“Women and girls are 27 times more likely to experience digital violence, of which only one in four women report to authorities. Digital violence that leads nine in 10 women to limit their digital presence to avoid these aggressions, further contributing to an existing digital divide,” says Csaba Kőrösi, President, 77th session of the UN General Assembly.
The current legal framework addressing digital violence against women and girls lacks clear and consistent definitions, and often fails to keep pace with the rapidly evolving nature of technology and the different forms of violence that can occur in digital contexts. Attempts to incorporate cybersecurity protections into internet safety legislation have been limited in scope, and may be unable to fully address the complexity and nuances of digital violence. As such, it is crucial to ensure that women and girls are involved in shaping legislation and policy decisions related to digital safety, so that their voices and experiences can be taken into account.