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CYBERSPACE SILENT SCREAMS: EXPOSING THE FACTS OF TECHNOLOGY-FACILITATED GENDER BASED VIOLENCE

INTRODUCTION

Technology-Facilitated Gender-Based Violence (TFGBV) is a term used to describe the interaction between gender-based violence against women and girls with technology in the digital age. This blog aims to shed light on the various ways that technology and apps may be used against women, including gendered hate speech, digital harassment, stalking, and abuse based on images. TFGBV, which has its roots in systemic gender inequality, seriously jeopardises human rights by affecting access to digital technology, privacy rights, and freedom of speech. The blog, which advocates for a future in which technology becomes a tool for empowerment rather than a vehicle for oppression, seeks to raise awareness and encourage discourse. It does this by drawing on substantial research and international frameworks.

WHAT IS TFGBV

One of the most common abuses of human rights is gender-based violence against women and girls. All forms of gender-based violence against women and girls, in all of their diversity, stem from structural gender inequality, which is supported by power disparities between men and women as well as gender nonconforming individuals. It is also embedded in and reinforced by formal and informal institutions, structures, and norms at all societal levels. The increased use of the internet and other technologies has made it possible for those who commit acts of violence against women and girls to target a larger population, find new ways to abuse victims who are also survivors, and engage in well-known abusive behaviours like controlling, threatening, and stalking through technology.[1]

Violence against women is defined as “any act of gender-based violence that results in or is likely to result in, physical, sexual, or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion, or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or private life” in the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women.[2]  Violence against women is included in the definition of discrimination by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and other regional and international frameworks.[3] Even though the Convention existed before the internet and other modern digital technologies, the UN CEDAW Committee has stated that it is completely valid in online environments.[4] In addition, the UN Human Rights Council said in 2016 that the rights that exist offline—such as the freedom from violence—must likewise be upheld online. [5]

Therefore, it is acknowledged that TFGBV constitutes discrimination and harms several human rights, such as the freedom of expression, the right to privacy, the right to live a life free from violence, the right to engage in public and political life, and the right to access and use digital technologies. The UN Special Rapporteur on VAWG has demanded that TFGBV be taken into account in the larger framework of gender-based discrimination and GBV.[6]

FORMS OF TFGBV

There are many different types of TFGBV, and much like other types of GBV, it can cause physical suffering as well as emotional, psychological, sexual, and financial distress.[7]  The ongoing evolution of new and developing kinds of TFGBV is brought about by technological advancements and digitalization. This paper is based on a substantial corpus of current research on various kinds of TFGBV, including work by UN agencies and women’s rights NGOs.[8]

The general term “TFGBV” encompasses a broad spectrum of GBV behaviours and deeds that are enhanced and/or made possible by digital technology. Similar to general definitions, nomenclature and definitions for TFGBV typologies are not yet consistent. Nonetheless, a few of the more prevalent types of TFGBV include:[9]

  • Image-based abuse – It is the term used to describe a wide range of abusive activities, including sexual abuse, that are carried out through the production and uninvited dissemination of photos or threats of images. This includes the production and dissemination of intimate images without consent (also referred to as non-consensual pornography), the documentation or broadcasting of sexual violence, voyeurism/creepshots (also referred to as “upskirting” or “downblousing”), sexual extortion, and the unsolicited sexual images (also referred to as cyberflashing). This also applies to pictures and films that were taken with permission but disseminated without it. Sharing private photos without consenting to do so can be a continuation of abuse against intimate partners.
  • Abuse and harassment – These terms refer to a wide spectrum of unwelcome digital communication, from a single event or remark to systematic, persistent attacks. Digital harassment directed at women and girls can take many different forms, but it frequently takes the form of gendered or sexualized messages and contact.
  • Stalking and monitoring – Technology abuse may be used to commit stalking and monitoring, which includes following someone’s whereabouts using their digital devices’ installed software or by installing stalkerware. It can also be used to spy on someone by monitoring their social media activity. Regular surveillance and stalking can be a continuation of intimate partner violence. Perpetrators can utilise a variety of technologies, including the Internet of things, to monitor and control women in addition to using phones and personal digital devices for stalking and surveillance. Examples of these technologies include smart home gadgets and drones.
  • Device and app control-This refers to a variety of actions that are a component of how abusers manipulate the behaviours of their victims and survivors. This can involve controlling who can contact whom and through what means, destroying or hiding cell phones so that survivors are unable to stay in touch with friends and family, limiting the amount of data available, or limiting the amount of time spent on a shared device, and changing or controlling passwords on devices and/or specific apps, like banking apps, to stop someone from accessing personal accounts, financial information, and information.
  • Hate speech that is gendered – Hate speech that is gendered targets women, girls, and LGBTQIA+ individuals in particular. It is motivated by patriarchy, misogyny, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia. Hatred and prejudice towards other communities and groups who are structurally marginalised can also overlap with hate speech. Hate speech enabled by technology may take many forms, from disparaging and dehumanising remarks to threatening and violent incitements, and it can result in offline violence against members of the targeted communities and groups.

CONCLUSION

Immediate and extensive action is required at the local, national, and international levels in response to the growing problem of technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV). The relationship between gender-based violence and technology highlights the need for a comprehensive knowledge of its many forms, such as harassment, stalking, abuse based on images, device control, and gendered hate speech. Considering that TFGBV is an infringement on fundamental human rights, action is required to address both the current issues brought about by digital technology and the systemic gender inequality that underlies them. Governments, tech companies, civic society, and international organisations must work together to advance education, survivor support services, and legislative changes. We may endeavour to create a safer online environment that respects everyone’s human rights by questioning established conventions and advocating for equality.

Author(s) Name: Sankalp Vashistha (ICFAI University, Jaipur)

Reference(s):

[1] Dunn, S. ‘Technology-Facilitated Gender-Based Violence: Preliminary Landscape Analysis’ <https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/64abe2b21121040013ee6576/Technology_facilitated_gender_based_violence_preliminary_landscape_analysis.pdf> accessed 19 January 2024

[2] UN General Assembly ‘Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women’ [1993] A/ RES/48/104

[3] UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) ‘General recommendation No 19: Violence against women’ [1992]

[4] UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) (2017) ‘General recommendation No 35 on gender-based violence against women, updating general recommendation No 19’ <https://www.ohchr.org/ en/documents/general-comments-and-recommendations/general-recommendation-no-35-2017-gender-based > accessed 19  January 2024

[5] UN Human Rights Council ‘The promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet, Resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council’ [2016]. A/HRC/RES/32/13 <https://www.refworld.org/docid/57e916464.html> accessed 19  January 2024

[6] UN Human Rights Council (2018a). Ibid

[7] Genderit.org, ‘ACCESS DENIED: GENDER DIGITAL DIVIDE AS A FORM OF VIOLENCE IN SOUTH AND SOUTHEAST ASIA’ (2022) <https://genderit.org/editorial/access-denied-gender-digital-divide-form-violence-south-and-southeast-asia> accessed 19  January 2024

[8] See for example: UNFPA (2021). Ibid; Dunn (2022). Ibid

[9] Stop Hate UK <https://www.stophateuk.org/about-hate-crime/what-is-online-hate-crime/> accessed 19  January 2024