14 March 2018

Better Laws, Data Essential for Tackling Cyberabuse, Growing Digital Gender Gap, Deputy Secretary-General Tells Event on Ending Online Violence against Women

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, at the Commission on the Status of Women side event organized by Estonia “Ending violence against women — opportunities and challenges of information and communications technology”, in New York today:

I thank the Permanent Mission of Estonia for bringing us together. Information and communications technology (ICT) offers remarkable opportunities for advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment.

Already we have seen how innovations can expand economic pathways; improve service delivery and access — including for survivors of violence — and provide women and girls with the voice and agency to more fully realize their political, economic and social rights.  With a mobile device at their fingertips, women and girls in rural areas or refugee camps can connect to critical education and training opportunities.  In areas where conflict, cultural restrictions or care responsibilities limit their mobility, women can use technology to work and study remotely.

Many of the world’s least developed countries have shown how it is possible to leapfrog from nearly non-existent access to mobile phone technology to nearly complete coverage today.  This kind of progress has not, however, been achieved in other areas such as electrification or sanitation — an indication of the great power we now have to reach those most left behind.

And as we have seen recently through powerful movements, such as “#MeToo” and “#TimesUp”, the Internet provides a vital platform for women to share their stories, build solidarity and organize movements.  This is why the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development has embedded technology as a critical enabler across the 17 Goals, with specific reference to its role in achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment.

And yet, technologies are not neutral.  They are subject to the same gender inequalities and structural barriers that exist everywhere in society.

Data show that there are roughly 250 million fewer women online than men, with the gap widening.  This digital gender divide is inextricably linked to factors, such as technical know-how, education about the benefits and applications of technology and the ability of women and girls to use technology without experiencing — or fearing — discrimination and abuse.

We also need more and better data to understand the scope of violence against women and girls facilitated by technology.  The studies that do exist tell us that the numbers are alarmingly high.

From sexist and derogatory comments and trolling, to threats and stalking; from non-consensual sharing of personal content and images, to luring for the purposes of exploitation, women experience a host of abuses online.  And while both boys and girls are vulnerable, girls are more often victims of sexual abuse and exploitation.  At least 80 per cent of child sexual materials depict girls.  Women are also more often the victims of non-consensual pornography.

The aims of online violence are no different than offline:  to control and silence women and girls or to keep them from participating and benefitting equally from these spaces.  Addressing it requires dedicated attention from all of us.

Given the transnational nature of cyberviolence, international and national regulation must evolve to address not only current gaps, but those that will emerge as the ICT revolution continues.  Internet intermediaries and other ICT companies also have a social responsibility in this regard.

We must recognize and continue to support the proactive role that civil society and women’s organizations have been playing in this area.  It is through their research, monitoring, engagement and advocacy efforts that we now have a better handle on cyberviolence and how to address it.

We must think about violence online as part of the broader continuum of violence.  The fact that so many women and girls experience abuse — whether on the street, at home, in school, at work or online — shows that these are not isolated incidents, but the manifestation of discrimination against half of the world’s population.

At the same time, innovations in mobile apps, crowdsourcing and mapping technologies can also help to protect women and girls from online trafficking while providing better data to authorities.  We must learn from these innovative approaches and harness the power of technology for greater good.

Ensuring safe and trusted online spaces allows women and girls to network, find solidarity, engage in rights activism and have their voices heard without needing to pass through gatekeepers who might ignore, side-line or omit their opinions and ideas.

Addressing violence against women by strategically tackling its major manifestations is also at the core of our new United Nations-European Union Spotlight Initiative to end all forms of violence against women and girls.  In partnership with the European Union, the United Nations system will leverage its expertise to work with key partners in coordinated and innovative ways so that all women and girls, including those most left behind, can live free of violence.

Our greatest focus will be on prevention.  While gender-based violence is perhaps the most pervasive and universally long-standing form of violence, it is also one that we have the tools to address quickly now.  With technology we can mobilize new constituencies, engage young people, empower victims and shift attitudes.

The long-term and complicated work of changing social norms and behaviours to instil the principles of human rights, respect and non-discrimination must remain at the centre of all efforts if we are to once and for all create an equal society — online and offline.

For information media. Not an official record.