Freedom of expression and access to information are key enabling rights to a range of human rights. Yet, the transformative potential of the internet is (increasingly) under threat by high levels of online violence against women and girls (VaW). Increased prevalence of online VaW, the lack of effective measures to prevent and contain it, and the ensuing impunity must be addressed as part of the struggle to eliminate all forms of gender-based violence.
Online violence prevents women and girls from fully exercising these rights. Removing VaW from digital and online platforms has the net effect of promoting and strengthening freedom of expression (FoE) as it creates an environment that allows more individuals, especially sections of society who face discrimination in other public spaces, to participate in these media.
Eliminating online VaW is all the more critical given the increasingly central role of online information and communications technology. In many instances it has become the main form of communication in commercial dealings as well as personal, political and social interaction.
Since 2013 the Due Diligence Project (DDP) has undertaken intensive research into online violence, its impact of women and accountability of the State and internet intermediaries. Building on DDP’s expertise and prior research into State accountability to eliminate violence against women and closing the implementation gap of State laws, policies and programmes, the DDP convened an expert meeting in 2015 (with inter-governmental, national and civil society experts on violence against women and freedom of expression) and developed an innovative draft Framework on State and internet intermediaries accountability to eliminate online VaW.
The Due Diligence Project also provided visibility to the issue of online violence by convening side events with high attendance such as the Commission on the Status of Women and by engaging with UN experts, in particular the UN Special rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences as well as the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the freedom of opinion and expression.
In January 2018, the Due Diligence Project convened an expert roundtable meeting on Due Diligence to Eliminate Online Violence against Women: The State, Intermediaries and Engendering Universal Access to the Internet in Washington DC. The meeting was attended by freedom of expression and violence against women experts, internet/digital intermediaries and civil society to identify critical issues on online violence and explore strategies to eliminate online violence by the State and internet intermediaries. The meeting was also convened to support and provide input to the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women its causes and consequences for her thematic report as well as the proposed resolution by the Government of Canada on ICTV at the 38th session of Human Rights Council in June 2018.
In October 2015, the Due Diligence Project convened an expert group meeting on Accountability for Online Violence against Women: Due Diligence, the State and Internet Intermediaries in Florence, Italy. A draft report developed by the Due Diligence Project was used as a starting point for discussions. The meeting was attended by women’s human rights and violence against women experts as well as experts on freedom of expression. These included the former UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) representative on freedom of the media, representative from the Norwegian Equality and Anti-Discrimination Ombudsman, Article IX (UK), Association for Progressive Communications, amongst others.
UN Human Rights Council (HRC) side event
A side event panel was convened at the 38th session of the Human Rights Council in conjunction with the presentation by the UN Special Rapporteur on VaW, its Causes and Consequences 2018 thematic report on online violence. The speakers were, amongst others, Zarizana Abdul Aziz, Director of the Due Diligence Project, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its Causes and Consequences and UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the freedom of opinion and expression. The panel was moderated by HE Permanent Representative of Canada to the UN.
Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) side events
63rd session: Project Director, Zarizana Abdul Aziz was a panellist together with UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences at a side event convened by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Facebook in conjunction with the 63rd CSW session. The panel discussed Online violence against women and girls and non-consensual distribution of intimate images. The session was chaired by Facebook Global Head of Safety. [watch video]
61st session: The Due Diligence Project convened a panel in conjunction with the 61st CSW session on Women’s Access to the Internet: Eliminating Online Violence and Engendering Digital Equality. Panellists included Due Diligence Project Director, Zarizana Abdul Aziz and UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the freedom of opinion and expression.
60th CSW session: The Due Diligence Project convened a side event panel in conjunction with the 60th session on the Commission on the Status of Women on SDG 5 and Online VAW: Who’s Accountable? Due Diligence, the State, and Internet Intermediaries. Panellists included Due Diligence Project Director, Zarizana Abdul Aziz, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences and UN Women representative.