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Technology isn’t slowing down, so neither can we

Technology facilitated gender-based violence is real and a pressing concern, escalating with rapid technological advances.

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Tags: CSW68, Technology-facilitated gender-based violence, TFGBV

Last year’s Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) at the United Nations in New York brought a glaring spotlight on technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV). TFGBV is an act of violence by one or more people using information or communications technologies against a person based on their gender. Think of sextortion (blackmail by threatening to publish sexual information, photos or videos), sharing intimate photos without consent, doxxing (publishing private personal information) or newer forms like sexual deepfake videos.

This focus at the annual CSW meant that TFGBV dominated discussions surrounding the all-important outcome document. Rutgers and the Generation Gender partnership took this issue to heart, diving into research across seven countries.

Despite a new priority topic grabbing attention at this year’s CSW, TFGBV persists as a pressing concern, rapidly escalating amidst the lightning pace of technological evolution. To confront this alarming trend head-on, ABAAD, Equimundo, Rutgers and Sonke from the Generation G partnership organised an event during this year’s CSW titled ‘Is Technology-Facilitated Gender-Based Violence Real?’

Our aim? To demonstrate that TFGBV is real and unite individuals from diverse backgrounds and organisations to ensure it remains at the forefront of discussions and actions. 

Impassioned pleas

Gathered opposite the iconic United Nations Headquarters, the venue filled to capacity. With moderation by Kinda Majari from ABAAD (Resource Center for Gender Equality in Lebanon), five passionate speakers took the stage. Nina Jane Patel, Abishiag Wabwire, Sandra Khalil, Ayesha Mago (SVRI) and Dawn ignited a collective sense of urgency and determination to effect meaningful change. Here is an account of some of their words.


Is technology facilitated gender-based real?

Nina Jane Patel, co-founder and President of Research & Safety at Kabuni, started off with her insights and own personal experiences with the reality of online violence and challenged the notion that TFGBV isn’t real. “New technologies are being generated on a daily basis. Offering new innovation and new mediums for human connection. But it also brings challenges we cannot ignore. The severity of online abuse is often if not always underestimated or dismissed and deemed as not real.”

She also made the stark comparison to victim blaming when speaking of the comments she received after sharing her experience of sexual harassment in the Metaverse. “There are large amounts of misinformation and comments, such as ‘don’t choose a female avatar’, ‘just take the headset off’ or ‘don’t use virtual reality’, which I believe are equivalent to ‘don’t wear that dress’, ‘don’t look at that man in that way’, ‘you were asking for it’.”

“We’ve accepted that when we enter our digital worlds that we will be subjected to misogyny, abuse and that it is inevitable every time we login. This digital violence seeps in and it affects all aspects of our lives. We continue to be conditioned that this behaviour is acceptable. However, accepting this behaviour is no longer an option.”

Research shows that our brain and physiological body responds to digital environments and experiences just as we do in the physical world. Our brain is not advanced enough to differentiate between what is physical and what is virtual. A threat is a threat and our bodies will respond.
Nina Jane Patel
Abishiag Wabwire FIDA Uganda

Patriarchy and misogyny have migrated to online spaces

Abishiag Wabwire, project coordinator at the Uganda Association of Women Lawyers (FIDA-U), showed examples of how the root causes of gender-based violence remain the same for TFGBV and  that laws seemingly there to protect victims actually do the opposite. “Uganda is one of the few African countries that actually has a law against TFGBV. However, patriarchal standards and the cyber law that should protect victims are instead being evoked to oppress them and upholding patriarchal standards.”

“In a study conducted by FIDA Uganda, respondents expressed that patriarchy and misogynist tendencies migrated online, where men still assert entitlement to women’s bodies and women’s attention.”

Abi emphasized that CSOs have the responsibility to raise awareness on what TFGBV is so that especially victims understand what is happening to them. “We need to conduct more public awareness sessions so that they know that violence online is still violence and that they can seek redress from the law enforcers. Getting legislation on this will be difficult especially since the law makers do not understand this. CSOs should be ready to rigorously hold the duty bearers accountable so that these cases are handled with the importance that they deserve.”

Sandra Khalid - All Tech is Human

The intersection of tech and society

Next to speak was Sandra Khalil, Trust and Safety Lead at All Tech Is Human. Sandra strongly emphasized that although a person might not actively be online themselves their personal network or abuser maybe and in this was you can still be a target for TFGBV.  “There is also a misconception that tech is limited to digital spaces but it goes into the offline world. This is not tracked or measured. It’s a real concern of responsibility because you want to be able to track where a harmful interaction may have originated, could be online and then jumps into an offline behaviour. A lot of traditional GBV scenarios like harassment and stalking show up very differently online – tech now tremendously proliferates and perpetuates the harm. It now also comes in large volumes and in a number of nefarious methodologies.”

This is why it’s important to take a holistic approach when combating TFGBV, with a focus on trust and safety solutions, survivor services and support. We need a culturally responsive shift of our norms on the Internet.
CSW68 TFGBV event

Fourth industrial revolution

Dawn, gender-based violence advisor at UNFPA concluded the event: “We are living in the fourth industrial revolution. We are in change. We have the capacity, the ability and the opportunity to influence a revolution. The stories of the people enduring and fighting against TFGBV remind us of our collective responsibility to foster a safer, more inclusive digital and technical environment.”

“Let’s take the drive forward that creating a safer digital space is not only a technical challenge but a societal imperative that demands action from all of us. As individuals, as communities, as policy makers and tech companies alike. Each step we take to educate, legislate and innovate against TFGBV lights a beacon of hope for those affected.”

In the spirit of collaboration and resilience, I challenge you, each of us, to become that ally in this fight. Speak up when you encounter violence, support those who are courageous in sharing their stories and speaking in truth to power and contribute to building digital platforms where respect and dignity prevail over hate and harassment. Two words: get involved.
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For more information the Generation Gender partnership research: Decoding technology facilitated-gender based violence: a reality check from seven countries, visit this page and sign up be amongst the first to receive a copy of the report.

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