When Harassment of Women Moves to the Internet

The digital world reinforces some of the gender inequalities. UN Women reports that “a large gender gap persists in technology and innovation, despite recent improvements. Women and girls are underrepresented in industries, academia and the wider tech sector.” Women hold just 22% of AI positions. Furthermore, among the 20 largest global technology companies, “women will make up 33% of the workforce in 2022, but hold only one in four leadership positions. Women inventors make up only 16.5% of inventors listed in international patent applications worldwide.” 37% of women do not use the Internet. 259 million fewer women have access to the Internet than men, even though they represent almost half of the world’s population. Moreover, while it provides many opportunities for women, the digital world poses many challenges, including in the form of online harassment that will further affect the digital gender divide.

Online harassment does not have a single definition and varies between jurisdictions. Cyberbullying generally refers to the use of information and communication technologies by an individual or group to cause harm to another individual. The Council of Europe identifies three types of online and technology-facilitated violence against women, including online sexual harassment, online stalking and psychological violence.

According to the Council of Europe, online sexual harassment includes: “online flashing – or sending unsolicited sexual images – sexual comments, sexual defamation, sexual defamation, impersonation for sexual purposes and glamour, as well as sexual and gender-based trolling, flame , mob attacks; image-based sexual harassment such as creepy snaps (sexually suggestive or private photos taken without consent and shared online). upskirting (sexual or private photos taken up the skirt or dress without consent and shared online) Image-based sexual abuse (non-consensual image or video sharing, or non-consensual intimate image – NCII – or revenge porn); Deepfakes; recorded sexual assault and rape, including “happy slapping” (whether broadcast live or distributed on porn sites); threats and coercion such as forced sexting; blackmail; threats of rape; incitement to commit rape.”

Among other things, psychological violence here means “online sexist hate speech and incitement to self-harm or suicide, verbal attacks, insults, death threats, pressure, blackmail, revealing someone’s former name against their will for purposes of harm).

A study of 51 countries revealed that 38% of women had personally experienced online harassment. “Only 1 in 4 reported it to the relevant authorities and almost 9 in 10 chose to limit their online activity, thus widening the digital gender gap.” These trends have only worsened during the pandemic. Another study, from the Pew Research Center, states that “women are more likely than men to report being sexually harassed online (16% vs. 5%) or stalked (13% vs. 9%). Young women are particularly likely to have experienced sexual harassment online. 33% of women under 35 say they have been sexually harassed online, while 11% of men under 35 say the same. While the Pew Research Center data is for the United States, it paints the contours of the global situation.

The Council of Europe’s Gender Equality Strategy 2018-2023 stated that Evidence also shows that social media in particular is subject to abusive use and that women and girls often face violent and sexual threats online. Specific platforms that act as carriers of sexist hate speech include social media or video games. Freedom of expression is often used as an excuse to cover up unacceptable and offensive behavior. As with other forms of violence against women, sexist hate speech remains underreported, but its impact on women, emotionally, psychologically and/or physically, can be devastating, especially for young girls and women.” Such online harassment will only add to the digital gender divide.

As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, it’s important to look at ways to address the digital gender divide to make sure women and girls can make the most of opportunities. However, as many aspects of our lives move online, so does the harassment many women and girls experience. The digital world is not a safe place. While forms of online harassment are constantly evolving, it is important to find ways to address these new challenges.

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