Content warning: this story describes forms of cyber violence against women and girls
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I used to write a blog about everyday life. Posting happy pictures of city life, cool people and their stories. Those I knew were so supportive, always keeping an eye out for my new posts. I had friends from Iran and Ghana; they were both interns at our university.
Sometimes I posted stories about their experience with Lithuanian food, nature, weather and culture. Then I wrote a post about clubbing. It was a cute picture of all of us dancing together and our three opinions about the freedom of dancing in clubs. My Iranian friend commented that this kind of thing would not be possible in her village. The other girl added that they had no clubs back in Ghana.
The next morning, I woke feeling that this particular post was going to be a life-changer. It had 173 comments. When I saw the notifications, I was hyped because people are reading my blog. But 172 of those comments were straight hate-in-your-face.
They were mostly from men. They attacked the girls’ skin colour and religion. They shamed their choice to go clubbing. There were posts in Arabic and English asking them for sex, urging them to undergo FGM (Female Genital Mutilation), and even calling for them to be stoned. All three of us should wear burkas and never leave our homes. “Go back to your dirt pile”; “cows”; “how could anyone stand touching you?”
These were just a few of the shocking comments. It felt like cases from a gender discrimination dictionary had come to life. Come on people, this is the 21st-century! I felt disbelief, disgust and fear. Who are these people? Do I know them? My head was spinning. My friends’ reaction was much more serious.
So, we made all the comments public and responded to each one. We got just one excuse in reply—the others remained in hiding. We also reported the comments to the police and arranged an event at our university to raise awareness. One inspirational speaker said that every time she heard hate comments from neighbours, she baked them a brownie. The brownies were so good that they never refused. She has baked around 171 brownies already.
Standing up for my friends and supporting them felt like the only right thing to do. I’m happy that we replied publicly to the hate speech and that we could share our story to help others.
— Asta, 25 years old
What is online gender-based hate speech?
Online gender-based hate speech is defined as content posted and shared through ICT means which:
- Is hateful towards women and/or girls based on gender, or a combination of gender and other factors (e.g. race, age, disability, sexuality, ethnicity, nationality, religion or profession).
- Can include spreading, inciting, promoting or justifying gender-based hatred.
- Can also involve posting and sharing, through ICT means, violent content that consists of portraying women and girls as sexual objects or targets of violence.
- Can be sent privately or publicly and is often targeted at women in public-facing roles.
Tackle CVAWG and all other forms of VAWG in a comprehensive framework
Institutions should prioritise the promotion of a comprehensive framework to tackle all forms of violence against women and girls (VAWG). CVAWG should be included as a core element and addressed as a distinctive form of violence, characterised by the use of ICT means.
Develop and adopt harmonised definitions of CVAWG and its forms
Institutions should develop and adopt harmonised and mutually exclusive definitions of CVAWG and its forms. Definitions should include a gender and intersectional dimension and acknowledge the ‘online-offline’ continuum of violence between the digital and the physical worlds.
Add a gender dimension to data collection and crime statistics on CVAWG
Institutions should issue guidelines on how to collect data on CVAWG and its forms. A gender dimension to data collection and crime statistics should be taken into account to allow the collection of good quality, comparable and disaggregated data.
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