Making the internet safer for women and girls: the Youth Guide to End Online Gender-Based Violence
Author: Jocelyn Pederick
UN Women launched a Toolkit for Youth on online gender-based violence (OGBV), In collaboration with youth network 30 for 2030. This actionable learning product is a practical guide for youth to understand, respond and prevent the many forms of violence online.
Co-author Kirthi Jayakumar explained, "The idea is to deconstruct online gender-based violence or OGBV, to educate and spread awareness about what it is, how you respond to it, where you go help, and also really to advocate for change in the communities you live in."
Jayakumar is a feminist researcher, app developer, and leader working on peace, security, justice, and feminist foreign policy. She is also one of the 30 young people who comprise the 30 for 2030 network. As Jayakumar sees it, OGBV may be relatively new, but its target is well-established.
"OGBV targets people because of their gender and because they are expressing some aspect of that gender online,” she said. “If I identify as a woman and have opinions on the Internet? The patriarchy wants to shut me down. Am I nonbinary, perhaps talking about the experience of being nonbinary or even just existing in the online space? Again, the patriarchy wants to shut me down. In a very simple way, OGBV is just violence imported from the offline space into the Internet."
For fellow co-author and 30 for 2030 network member Priyal Keni, OGBV is a form of violence that is both highly prevalent and close to home. "Within my circle of women and girls, I haven't come across anyone who hasn't had some form of OGBV, whether it is online teasing, posting an inappropriate comment on their pictures or a meme that objectifies women or undermines women in some way,” she explained. “So we [women] all have an example to share."
Keni comes to the 30 for 2030 network with a diverse background in sports and commerce as an international rifle shooter, chartered accountant, social entrepreneur and five-time Ted-Ex speaker. Keni explained this surge in violence and abuse online.
"It's just so easy. You open your laptop, and it's all possible in a few clicks. Instead of stalking someone physically, they look up their social media and boom; you have so many inputs about that person. The existence of already offline forms of harassment, coupled with easy availability of the Internet, is the main reason for the rampant rise in such cases."
Jayakumar's work supporting survivors of gender-based violence has repeatedly made her a target of online violence. " For every woman I support, there is a minimum of one man sending backlash online. More recently, on Twitter, with Elon Musk taking over, suspended accounts have returned. Now, one man who had been stalking me for eight years has come back with the same account, followed me and continued the harassment from where he stopped last."
The impacts of OGBV can be both deeply emotional and psychological; as Jayakumar explained, these repeated attacks online have had consequences for her safety both online and offline. "It's devastating. It has left me with many emotional scars, anxiety, and self-doubt. It has led me to question many parts of my work, sometimes even whether I should wake up and show up on the Internet. Nobody should have to live life like that. I shouldn't have to look over my shoulder all the time."
Even with the high prevalence of online violence, justice for most women or girls who experience it is elusive. Jayakumar said, "It's incredibly challenging... in your mind, justice looks like getting that person off that platform and possibly getting them away from you in any future accounts they create. But it isn't easy because you have two computer screens between you and them, and they can come back with a different handle and come back and do the same thing."
The rise in OGBV in the Asia Pacific region is in part attributable to the growing opposition to gender equality in the region on social media. A core component of the Youth Toolkit for Online Safety is a summary of research conducted by UN Women and Quilt.ai into the male rights movement in Asia. The study showed that the male rights movement, also known as the manosphere, is thriving online; the research uncovered 50,000 Facebook accounts attributed to the Asia Pacific male rights movement alone.
The study found that male rights activists employ various tactics, from online bullying to direct threats of violence against women. Jayakumar believes engaging men and boys is fundamental to counteract this organized movement in online violence.
"You can't empower a whole section of the population without making others understand that this empowerment is not disempowering them. So, we're not sharing with men that this big advocacy- gender equality- is not taking away from them. It's not a pie. We're not dividing pieces of pie and having nothing left for anyone. We are just saying we all have a stake in the bigger, peaceful future we're all dreaming of."
Keni hopes that the Toolkit is a step towards making online spaces and perpetrators of online violence more accountable for their actions. "We need effective mechanisms in place by which if any woman or girl is victimized, the person doing it can be tracked down and held to account. Currently, one of the biggest reasons this has been increasing rampantly is the lack of consequences.”
Jayakumar believes this Youth Toolkit is the beginning of a conversation about making the Internet safer for all women and girls. She invites youth from across the region to reach out to 30 for 2030, to let the network know how it can be improved.
"We're not coming at young people saying we have the answers. I would love young people to use the Toolkit to speak with friends, have conversations in school and universities, and advocate for their rights. And reach out and let us know how we can improve the Toolkit too!"