More Than 16 Days: Violence Against Women Online

Day 13 of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence: This article written by Take Back the Tech! staff, invites you to take one action per day to end violence against women by exploring an issue of violence against women and its interconnection with communication rights.

The nightmare begins by unwittingly annoying someone. It could be a colleague. It could be a ‘friend’. It could be someone who read something you posted, and thought you were too outspoken. Chances are, you never find out. They search for you online. It isn’t hard to do. Your name, address, phone number and lots and lots of photographs come up. It just takes one photograph, ten minutes of editing and the malice to harm you. Your face spliced onto explicit photographs, your phone number posted with a ‘rape me’ message. Your relationships, family and career are suddenly jeopardised. Even though you have done nothing wrong, you could lose your job. Your family, particularly your children, face harassment.

This is not a true story. But it’s based on the stories that we’ve heard from women, in various countries . Each is based on the story of a women brave enough to share what had happened to her – because as feminists found in struggles around the world, it is only by naming the problem that we can get legislation and policy to deal with it. Survivors of child sexual abuse in the 1980s said that it was only by hearing the stories of others that they found that they even had the language to describe what was happening to them. Each person who testified not only spoke for others who had no voice, they helped some of those find that voice. Testimony, and listening to it, are important not only for the few courageous women who speak out, but also for myriad silent others who stand behind them.

When APC’s Womens Rights Programme conducted a survey of 13 women human rights defenders, 12 of them had experienced harassment. This problem is violence against women, and it’s happening online.

It’s violence against women because it’s violence that is gendered. Women are targeted for daring to speak out. They are targeted in ways that are sexualised. And they are targeted because they refuse to allow men ownership of their bodies and sexuality. If this sounds remarkably similar to the reasons behind VAW offline, that’s because it is. Women are targeted because they’re women, because they speak out, because they refuse to be solely defined by what is between their legs.

That’s why Take Back The Tech! is important. It’s a space where women can reclaim their stories, name what has happened to them and where we can collectively take the first steps to building an online environment that welcomes women. From re-mythologising our past, to sharing the present and re-telling the future, join the campaign and share your story, share the stories that need to be told. Document and build a collective testimony on the reality of violence against women that takes place online or through the use of mobile and internet technologies – so that we may find real solutions and strategies to address it.

VAW online is a new manifestation of VAW and it urgently needs redress. Women need to be able to work, communicate and live safely, without fear. And to do that, we need to tell our stories, build the case and tell policy-makers that we will not take it lying down. Not now, not ever again.

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The 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence is a global campaign dedicated to ending gender-based violence. In participation with The Center for Women’s Global Leadership, The Women Worldwide Initiative is hosting a Blog Series entitled, More Than 16 Days, from the start of the Campaign on the International Day for the Elimination of Gender-Based Violence on November 25th, to Human Rights Day on December 10th with contributions from one of our Board Members, founder of Everyday Ambassador, Take Back the Tech!, Young Professionals Amnesty International (NYC), writers for the International Political Forum and young women from Women LEAD, based in post-conflict Nepal.

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