UN Women and partners help promote women’s online security through webinar series


Author: Alexandra Håkansson Schmidt

Social networks and smartphones can be addictive and sometimes harmful. This posed photo was taken in Bangkok, Thailand, on 9 March 2021. Photo: UN Women/Ploy Phutpheng
Social networks and smartphones can be addictive and sometimes harmful. This posed photo was taken in Bangkok, Thailand, on 9 March 2021. Photo: UN Women/Ploy Phutpheng

Bangkok, Thailand — UN Women and the cybersecurity companies Insaan and CyberCognizanz have organized a five-day series of webinars on women, peace and cybersecurity that strengthened the knowledge of 64 representatives from civil society organizations and academia across Southest Asia.

“We should not look at digital security as separate from how we live our offline lives,” said a webinar panellist, Dhyta Caturani, founder of the feminist collective PurpleCode based in Indonesia. “When we walk from our homes to our offices, we choose which street is the safest. That sense of security is embedded into our lives and that is how we should think about our digital security too.”

She stressed that this mindset should be particularly ingrained among women who often have to navigate unsafe environments.

This was a key takeaway from the 18-22 October 2021 webinars organized with the support of the Government of the Republic of Korea. The webinars responded to emerging cybersecurity challenges in the region by raising awareness of the topic among civil society and academia across South-East Asia.

With societies’ technology dependence deepening amid the COVID-19 pandemic, online platforms and social media have become increasingly important in promoting gender equality, peace and democracy. However, awareness of how online security links to offline lives is lagging behind. Increased online presence increases the risk of being exposed to technology-facilitated gender-based abuse, misinformation and radicalization. To respond to the changing nature of insecurity amid today’s rapid digitization, UN Women is pioneering novel entry points to implement the women, peace and security agenda.

UN Women and its partners organized the webinars under a project called Women, Peace and Cybersecurity: Promoting Women’s Peace and Security in the Digital World. Recognizing the pressing need to prevent and respond to human security threats online in a gender-responsive manner, the webinar series touched upon a wide array of topics such as organizational digital security; online gender-based violence and abuse; the spread of disinformation; ways to advocate for gender-responsive cybersecurity; and responses to the online security needs of LGBTIQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer or questioning) people.

The webinars addressed the challenges inherent in holding perpetrators accountable on largely unregulated online platforms and discussed issues such as excessive control of information and Internet shutdowns. Common in conflict settings, such tactics severely impact women’s safety by restricting venues for political participation and access to support services for sexual and gender-based violence. Similarly, LGBTIQ+ communities face threats and censorship because some countries treat content that is beyond the bounds of heterosexual and binary gender norms as a threat to national security.

Webinar panellist Marwa Azelmat, Women’s Rights Officer for the Association for Progressive Communications, an international network of civil society groups, said: “Gender affects how we view war and military action. Gender analyses of international cybersecurity can generate more nuanced understandings on how to shape policy and practice in this area.”Legislation has not kept pace with how digital technologies are rapidly changing personal and international security. Gaelle Demolis, Programme Specialist for the UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, outlined the steps ahead.

“Building on valuable inputs from the participants in these webinars, we will draft a joint agenda to advocate for policies and laws to be more gender-responsive,” she said. “This is an important step in advancing women’s digital rights and peace and security in the region.”