No democracy is complete without the participation of all its people. Therefore, those states that seek to strengthen their democracies should strive to ensure opportunity for everyone—and that must includes advancing the participation of women and girls. Today, because the internet is a critical tool of participation in a wide range of endeavors, those working toward gender equality must address the scourge of on-line harassment and abuse targeting girls and women.
Online gender-based harassment is the targeted abuse via technology, against people, in most cases women and the LGBTQI+ community, based on their gender. It is a barrier to ensuring women and girls are able to reach their full potential.
It consists of various acts, such as misogynistic or unwanted sexual remarks, threats, cyber-flashing, malicious sharing of intimate messages and photos, even cyberstalking, which are amplified or enabled by social-media and technology platforms. These actions are intended to control, attack, and silence women and girls, to discourage and reduce their participation in public life. Women politicians, activists, and journalists are prime targets.
Online harassment and abuse go back to the dawn of the internet age. They are rooted in entrenched gender disparities and have increased over time, facilitated by new and emerging technologies. And they are a serious threat to women’s advancement because they have a chilling effect on their targets. They function as a barrier to the full and meaningful participation of women and girls in political, public and private life, and can lead to self-censorship, even disengagement altogether.
At the recently-held Summit of the Americas, the Governments of Canada and Chile pledged to join the United States, Australia, Denmark, New Zealand, Republic of South Korea, Sweden, Kenya, and the United Kingdom as members of the Global Partnership for Action on Gender-Based Online Harassment and Abuse.
The United States announced the Partnership at the first Summit for Democracy, in the lead up to the second Summit in early 2023. It sends a clear signal that the international community is committed to improving the response to technology-facilitated gender-based violence and promote effective prevention strategies.
“We cannot afford to lose a diversity of viewpoints or women’s voices, perspectives, and leadership,” said Director of the White House Gender Policy Council Jennifer Klein, “particularly at a time when democracy cannot be taken for granted, with the brave women and men of Ukraine fighting to preserve theirs.”