Women are being punched through the screen in staggering numbers as online abuse reaches epidemic proportions according to the United Nations Broadband Commission. Almost three quarters of women online have been exposed to some form of cyber violence, and the United Nations has urged governments and industry to work harder and more effectively together to better protect the growing number of women and girls who are victims of online threats and harassment.
The sheer volume of cyber ‘Violence Against Women And Girls’ (VAWG) has severe social and economic implications for women’s status on the Internet. Threats of rape, death, and stalking put a premium on women’s emotional bandwidth, take-up time and financial resources including legal fees, online protection services, and missed wages. Cyber VAWG can have a profoundly chilling effect on free speech and advocacy.
The forthcoming Cyber Health Summit aims to enable workplaces to become informed of the scale of the problem and what they can do to ensure employee safety and wellbeing. It’s everyones problem and it must be addressed.
Complacency and failure to address and solve cyber VAWG could significantly impede the uptake of broadband by women everywhere; without action, an unprecedented surge of 21st century violence could run rampant if steps are not urgently taken to rein in the forms of online violence that are escalating unchecked.
The direct and indirect costs to societies and economies are also significant, as needs for healthcare, judicial and social services rise and productivity goes down with the sense of peace and security required for business to thrive. In short, Cyber VAWG is everyone’s problem and a solution must be found.
The UN paper Entitled ‘Combatting Online Violence Against Women & Girls: A Worldwide Wake-Up Call’ notes that despite the rapidly growing number of women experiencing online violence, only 26 percent of law enforcement agencies in the 86 countries surveyed are taking appropriate action.
This is despite millions being affected globally, with as we have seen by the above figures most countries still failing to effectively address the problem and, enterprise oblivious to what is occurring in everyday life for their female members of the workforce, including whilst at work. This raises productivity, safety, human rights and major duty of care issues.
The U.N notes that cyber VAWG already exists in many forms, including online harassment, public shaming, the desire to inflict physical harm, sexual assaults, murders and induced suicides.
The rapid spread of the Internet means that effective legal and social controls of online anti-social and criminal behaviours continue to be an immense challenge. And in the age of the social Internet and ‘anywhere, anytime’ mobile access, cyber violence can strike at any time, and can relentlessly follow its targets everywhere they go.
“In this paper we’re arguing that complacency and failure to address and solve cyber violence could significantly impede the uptake of broadband services by girls and women worldwide,” said ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao, who serves as co-Vice Chair of the Broadband Commission, alongside UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova. “The Net is an amazing resource for personal empowerment, and we need to ensure that as many girls and women as possible benefit from the amazing possibilities it offers.”
Key findings of the paper include:
- Women in the age range of 18 to 24 are uniquely likely to experience stalking and sexual harassment in addition to physical threats.
- One in five female Internet users live 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.
- Cyber VAWG puts a premium on emotional bandwidth, personal and workplace time, financial resources and missed wages.
“Violence against women and girls is never acceptable anywhere, no matter whether it is committed on the streets, in the home, or on the information highway,” said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark. “To achieve sustainable development for all, we must build a world where women and girls can live their lives free of violence and fulfil their potential as valued and equal members of society.”
“Online violence has subverted the original positive promise of the internet’s freedoms and in too many circumstances has made it a chilling space that permits anonymous cruelty and facilitates harmful acts towards women and girls,” said UN Women’s Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. We want to reclaim and expand the opportunities it offers. That means recognizing the scale and depth of the damage being done – and taking strong, concerted steps to call it – and stop it. Abuse online is still abuse, with potency and very real consequences.”
The paper presents a set of Key Recommendations, proposing a global framework based around three ‘S’s – Sensitization, Safeguards and Sanctions.
- Sensitization – Preventing cyber VAWG through training, learning, campaigning and community development to promote changes in in social attitudes and behavior.
- Safeguards – Implementing oversight and maintaining a responsible internet infrastructure through technical solutions and more informed customer care practices
- Sanctions – Develop and uphold laws, regulations and governance mechanisms to deter perpetrators from committing these acts.
The paper argues that rigorous oversight and enforcement of rules banning cyber VAWG on the Internet will be an essential foundation stone if the Internet is to become a safe, respectful and empowering space for women and girls, and, by extension, for boys and men.