Urgent action needed to combat online violence against
women & girls, says new UN report
Millions affected globally, but most countries still failing to effectively
address growing problem
New York, 24 September 2015 – A new report released today by the United Nations Broadband Commission reveals that almost three quarters of women online have been exposed to some form of cyber violence, and urges 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 report 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.
Entitled ‘Combatting Online Violence Against Women & Girls: A Worldwide Wake-Up Call’, the report was released earlier today at an event at United Nations Headquarters in New York by the Commission’s Working Group on Gender, which is co-Chaired by UNDP Administrator, Helen Clark, and UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Working Group members, which also include representatives from the tech sector and civil society, hope the report will mobilize the public and private sectors to establish concrete strategies aimed at stemming the rising tide of online violence against women.
Without concerted global action to curb the various escalating forms of online violence, an unprecedented surge of ‘cyber violence against women and girls (cyber VAWG)’ could run rampant and significantly impede the uptake of broadband by women everywhere, the report contends. It 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 report 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 report include:
- An estimated 73 percent of women have already been exposed to, or have experienced, some form of online violence.
- Women in the age range of 18 to 24 are uniquely likely to experience stalking and sexual harassment in addition to physical threats.
- Nine million women in the European Union’s 28 countries alone have experienced online violence as young as 15 years old.
- 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 report 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 report 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.
You can watch an on-demand webcast of the launch event at: http://webtv.un.org
Download a free copy of the report along with Report Highlights in all six UN languages:
Broadcast-quality video soundbites in English, French and Spanish are available at:
Broadcast-quality audio soundbites in all three languages can be downloaded at: https://soundcloud.com/ituproduction
Photos of the report cover and the launch event are available here.
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ITU is the leading United Nations agency for information and communication technologies, driving innovation in ICTs together with 193 Member States and a membership of over 700 private sector entities and academic institutions. Established in 1865, ITU celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2015 as the intergovernmental body responsible for coordinating the shared global use of the radio spectrum, promoting international cooperation in assigning satellite orbits, improving communication infrastructure in the developing world, and establishing the worldwide standards that foster seamless interconnection of a vast range of communications systems. From broadband networks to cutting-edge wireless technologies, aeronautical and maritime navigation, radio astronomy, oceanographic and satellite-based earth monitoring as well as converging fixed-mobile phone, Internet and broadcasting technologies, ITU is committed to connecting the world. www.itu.int