Founder + Director, Glitch!UK Seyi Akiwowo’s Intervention Notes  at UN Human Rights Council

38th session of the Human Rights Council
Annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women
Panel 1: The impact of violence against women human rights defenders and
women’s organizations in digital spaces
Founder and Director, Glitch!UK’s Seyi Akiwowo’s Intervention Notes 

First, I am honoured to have been invited by the President of the United Nation’s Human Rights Commission, Vojislav Šuc to participate at in the 38th Human Rights Council’s annual full day discussion on the human rights of women. I am extremely pleased that the theme is the Impact of Violence Against Women Human Rights Defenders and Women Organisations in Digital Spaces. I also must thank and praise the United Nation Special Rapporteur for Violence Against Women, Dubravka Šimonović for her strong and comprehensive report on online violence against women, its causes and consequences against women and girls from a human rights perspective.

I will use my intervention today to help debunk 5 myths commonly used to dispute, disrupt and downgrade online violence and its harmful impact.

 

In 2017, after facing horrendous online violence when a video of my speech made at the European Parliament, as one of UK’s young British Nigerian politicians, went viral I founded Glitch!UK, a not-for-profit online abuse advocacy, campaigning and training organisation. Glitch!UK aims to end online abuse and harassment including online violence against women in politically active women. ‘Glitch’ means a temporary malfunction with equipment, and I used it for my organisations name because when we look back on this period in time I want us all to be able to say that the rise in online abuse was only a ‘glitch’ in our history.

 

In the last year, I have been fortunate to have met and/or worked with fantastic hardworking women human rights defenders and women organisations like, National Democratic Institute and their #NotTheCost campaign, Amnesty International’s #ToxicTwitter research, and the Association for Progressive Communications’ Take Back The Tech initiative. I have heard many heart-wrenching testimonies of the online violence both politically active and non-politically women have experienced. This tells me very loud and very clearly online violence against women is a multi-faceted and global problem.  Therefore, solutions many outlined in the UN Special Rapporteur of Violence Against Women’s report, must to be multi-faceted into include digital technologies companies, Governments as well as civil society organisations.

However, there are many and most likely some in this very room that does not believe online violence exists let alone believe the impact on women.

 

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  1. “‘Online violence’ actually doesn’t exist.”

It very much does.  In Europe, 9 million girls have experienced some kind of online violence by the time they are 15 years old. Globally, women are 27 times more likely to be harassed online[1].

Online violence manifests in a multitude of forms including harassment, harassment across multiple social media platforms, online stalking, sharing of private information, trolling, non-consensual online dissemination of intimate images and sextortion. In some member states some forms are already a crime offline including online hate crime.

When talking about the online abuse women and politically active women face we must be intersectional and look at women with multiple identities. I not only face misogyny I am also faced with racism or as Academic Moya Bailey terms it misogynoir.[2]

  1. “Addressing ‘online violence’ is infringing on individual’s rights to freedom of expression.”

Online violence is not robust debate[3]. It is about intentional harassment of women to silence and force them to leave digital spaces. It is an attempt to modify women’s behaviour to conform to patriarchy and self-censorship.

There are some words and acts that are just clearly hateful and do not belong in robust debate. Sending racist abuse, rape threats and sharing an intimate video without someone’s consent are clear red lines. Once we address this, then we can turn our attention to remarks that are not so clear cut.

  1. “‘Online violence’ has no harmful impact”

Online violence has an impact on health and wellbeing, progress towards gender equality and is a threat to democracy.

Online violence against politically active women represents a direct barrier to women’s free speech and political participation. The anti-democratic impact of psychological abuse and other forms of violence through digital technology undermines a woman’s sense of personal security that leads to women’s self-censorship and withdrawal from public discourse and correspondence.[4]

Evidence from around the world suggests that women in politics have experienced such violence and intimidation, and that their experiences have implications for their ability and willingness to participate actively in public life. [5] Around two-thirds of women who had experienced abuse or harassment online in the UK (67%) stated a feeling of apprehension when thinking about using the internet or social media.[6]

  1. “There are no solutions”

We can all significantly change the nature, scale, and effect of the intimidation of politically active and non-politically active women in digital spaces.

Ahead of the UN Elimination of Violence Against Women Day on 25th November all states and political parties can acknowledge online violence as a form of violence against women.[7]

Internet intermediaries can be more transparent, more diverse and follow a code of conduct of high standards.[8]

The German Government now have powers to fine social media companies up to €50m for failing to remove illegal content within 24 hours.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that law enforcements are not routinely taking allegations of stalking or coercive control seriously, particularly in relation to online behaviour.[9] There is a role for regional governments here too. Last year, Mayor of London Sadiq Khan launched the Online Hate Crime programme that investigates all forms of online hate crime. [10] The United Kingdom now treat offences committed online as if they happened in a public space. [11]

In 2015 Austrian Government amended the Criminal Code to include offences online such as cyber-bullying, cyber-mobbing, online-stalking, insults, hate speech and personal defamations which are now punishable by law.[12]

The Portuguese Government have strengthened their cooperation between countries to fight the use of new technologies to commit crime. [13]

The French Government, have launched PHAROS a reporting platform that allows citizens to report on abuse suffered online. Reports are processed by police assigned to the platform[14]

Member States today can adopt the recommendations[15] in the UN Special Rapporteur’s report particularly the call to improve gender-disaggregated data on the prevalence and harms of online abuse.

Finally, both governments and internet intermediaries should fully resource and support civil society organisations raising awareness, providing support, training and capacity building to women and other historically underrepresented groups.

  1. “Citizenship cannot be extended to digital spaces”

Digital citizenship needs to be central to education, taught universally and from a young age.

The need for more intensive delivery of digital citizenship education is now recognised around the world from UNESCO to the House of Lords in the UK.

Programmes like Internet Citizens by Institute of Structured Dialogue, Glitch!UK’s Digital Citizenship aim to raise the agency of young people to use digital technology online confidently, respectfully and positively online.

Digital citizenship education provides young people with an understanding of the forms of online abuse (online bullying), its impact, consequences and prepares them to navigate a constantly changing digital space.

 

Driving women out of public space is no new thing. Online violence in public digital spaces is merely an extension of a reality, a reality lived by millions of women around the world. Nevertheless, by working together comprehensively we can #fixtheglitch. I hope this 38th Human Rights Council will be another marker in international action and we see significant commitments to ending all forms of online violence against all women, including political active women and women organisations.

Bibliography 

[1] UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development, “Cyber Violence Against Women and Girls: A World- Wide Wake-Up Call”, 2015, Available online at: http://www.unwomen. org/-/media/headquarters/attachments/sections/library/ publications/2015/cyber_violence_gender%20report. pdf?vs=4259

[2] Maya Goodfellow 2017, Misogynoir: How social media abuse exposes longstanding prejudices against black women, https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2017/02/misogynoir-how-social-media-abuse-exposes-longstanding-prejudices-against-black

[3] Glitch!UK News + update, Human Rights Day 2017 https://seyiakiwowo.com/2017/12/10/humanrightday2017/

[4] National Democratic Institute, Evidence Paper, Review of the Committee on Standards in Public Life

into the Intimidation of Parliamentary Candidates https://www.ndi.org/sites/default/files/NDI%20UK%20Report.pdf

[5] Ibid

[6]Amnesty International Report Online abuse of women widespread in UK  https://www.amnesty.org.uk/online-abuse-women-widespread

[7] Glitch!UK News + update,  https://seyiakiwowo.com/2017/11/30/my-piece-in-labourlist-today-is-the-day-labour-must-renew-its-determination-to-end-online-violence-against-women-and-girls/

[8] Glitch!UK, Our Recommendations April 2017, https://seyiakiwowo.com/2017/04/13/twitter-and-youtube-do-more-to-deal-with-your-trolls/

[9] Westminster Foundation for Democracy, Case Study: The United Kingdom Report 2018 http://www.wfd.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/UK-Case-Study-1.pdf

[10] Mayor launches new unit to tackle online hate crime 24th April 2017, Press Release https://www.london.gov.uk/press-releases/mayoral/mayor-launches-unit-to-tackle-online-hate-crime

[11] Hate is hate. Online abusers must be dealt with harshly

Alison Saunders 21st August 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/20/hate-crimes-online-abusers-prosecutors-serious-crackdown-internet-face-to-face

[12] European Women’s Lobby Her Net Her Rights Report 2017 https://www.womenlobby.org/IMG/pdf/hernetherrights_report_2017_for_web.pdf

[13] Ibid

[14] Ibid

[15] Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences on online violence against women and girls from a human rights perspective 2018 https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/Pages/AnnualReports.aspx

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