UNESCO calls to combat online and offline violence against women and girls

73 percent of women have already been exposed to, or have experienced, some form of online violence. Online violence against women exists in many forms, including online harassment, public shaming, sexual assaults and induced suicides. In the European Union, 9 million women -some as young as 15 years old- have experienced online violence. In response to these worrying trends, the Broadband Commission Working Group on Gender launched today a report titled ‘Combatting Online Violence Against Women and Girls: A Worldwide Wake-Up Call.’

On 24 September 2015, the United Nations Broadband Commission’s Working Group on Gender released its report on combatting cyber violence against women at United Nations Headquarters in New York. UNESCO’s Director-General, Ms Irina Bokova, serves as Co-Vice Chair of the Broadband Commission alongside ITU Secretary-General, Mr Houlin Zhao. The report aims to mobilize the public and private sectors to establish concrete strategies aimed at confronting the threat posed by cyber-violence.

“Violence against girls and women – offline as well as online – is an affront to individual dignity, a violation of human rights and a barrier to development. Cyber violence is complex – our action must be equally multi-dimensional” said UNESCO’s Director for Gender Equality, Ms Saniye Gülser Corat, on the occasion of the launch of the report.

The report highlights how online violence against women has caused the Internet to become a “chilling space” that permits anonymous cruelty and consequently impedes the freedom of women to participate in the uptake of broadband services. This has led to a call to reclaim and expand the freedoms offered by the Internet.

The report emphasizes the need to address complacency and hostility towards the issue of cyber-violence. Despite the rapid spread of the Internet, law enforcement agencies have largely responded inappropriately to the threat of cyber violence against women. One in five female Internet users lives in countries where harassment and abuse of women online is extremely unlikely to be punished. In many countries, women are reluctant to report their victimization for fear of social repercussions. The report warns that without effective legal and social controls of online anti-social and criminal behaviors, online violence will continue to grow as a threat to women. The report sets out three key recommendations for establishing a global framework to counter online violence. These are:

  • Sensitization – Preventing cyber violence against women through training, learning, campaigning and community development to promote changes in social attitudes and behavior,
  • Safeguards – Implementing oversight and maintaining a responsible Internet infrastructure through technical solutions and more informed customer care practices, while ensuring the respect of other freedoms and rights,
  • Sanctions – Develop and uphold laws, regulations and governance mechanisms to deter perpetrators from committing these acts.

The report contends that the implementation and enforcement of these measures will ensure that women and girls have an equal platform to participate in online activities. The inclusion of gender equality as a stand-alone goal in the Post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals demonstrates the significance of gender equality as a developmental tool in itself. UNESCO therefore commends the report’s recommendations as a timely reminder of the importance of gender equality to sustainable development.

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