Advocacy statements

Digital violence against women: a human rights issue

  • Date / 2021
  • Location / Turkey
  • Relevant Institution / Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe

Humanists International

Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting (SHDM) I on Media Freedom and Gender Equality

8 – 9 March 2021

The phrase “online violence” encompasses everything from misogynistic insults, attacks on a woman’s appearance and character, to death threats and explicit rape threats, trolling, and invasions of their private life through acts like doxxing.

Online attacks against women are most pronounced when it comes to minorities, such as transgender women and women of colour. Women that speak out on topics relating to politics, gender and feminism are also particularly targeted with attacks that can be orchestrated, intimate and highly sexualized.

Violence against women is ingrained in our way we interact with one another online. I’d like to address the links between this culture of online violence and the rise of right-wing populism around the world, which as a political art form really specialises in demonisation of the media, aggressively misogynistic narratives and reinforcement of strict gender stereotypes.

One obvious example are the links between online, Trump-supporting, far right communities on sites like 4chan and 8chan, which were the breeding ground for numerous coordinated sexist harassment and trolling campaigns like #Gamergate, which targeted outspoken women via the Internet.

Outside of the U.S context, the situation in Turkey serves as another example of the links between populist politics and violence against women.

The Turkish government frames secular women’s organizations as opposed to the values of “Turkish society”. Support for women’s rights is seen as a threat to the conservative regime, and women who are perceived as liberal feminists are deemed as “terrorists”, and can be subjected to arbitrary arrest, mistreatment and torture. In January, Habibe Eren and Oznur Deger, two journalists from the feminist news agency Jin News were detained, along with 19 other women, while covering a political rally.

At the same time, Turkey also has one of the highest rates of impunity for domestic violence and femicide, as well as pervasive online harassment against women.

Is it possible that narratives of gendered violence from the State are being normalised and replicated in the ‘private’ sphere?

Overall, the explosion of digital violence is enabled by cultures in which women are shut out from systems of power and deprived of their rights and agency from the top-down. The cumulative effect of this violence is to negate women’s equality, their freedom of expression, and their ability to participate in public life and democratic debate.

There’s been an emphasis during this conference on the collection of data. If I may, I would encourage all bodies – including the OSCE and UNESCO – researching this issue to gather data on how anti-gender populist movements are facilitating online violence through the normalization of discriminatory rhetoric and their rollback of women’s rights.

Thank you.

Suggested academic reference

'Digital violence against women: a human rights issue', Humanists International

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