For women, the internet is a vital sphere where they can express themselves and access media, political representation, and other resources. It is a space for negotiation and fulfillment of their rights.
ICTs are powerful tools and platforms for advocacy and organizing. Women’s rights groups thus utilize various forms of ICT to amplify women’s voices and help publicize women’s experiences and perspectives, disseminate rights-based information, build women’s capacity, and promote gender equality through networking and advocacy.[i]
But while ICTs, including computers and the internet, can be extremely powerful tools for advocacy, they also present new risks for women.[ii] Media reports, including those received by law enforcement agencies, point to an increase in violence against women committed in new spaces made available by the development of ICTs.[iii]
Technology-related violence against women (eVAW), although occurring in ‘virtual’ or cyber space, is still violence. New forms of VAW violate womens’ rights to privacy, bodily integrity, freedom of association, and freedom of expression. Although the more common experiences relate to psychological harm caused by these new forms of VAW, eVAW is something that can escalate into physical violence.
What differentiates the new forms of VAW from what we know as VAW is the mode of it commission, the anonymity that it offers the abuser, and the manner by which information (including digital images an videos) are distributed to a large number of people at a distance.
A 2013 report of a thematic working group on discrimination against women in public spaces says that “The internet has become a site of diverse forms of violence against women, in the form of pornography, sexist games and breaches of privacy.”
Below are some of the emerging forms of VAW as a result of technology:
Cyberharassment. This refers to online harassment of women, which includes rape threats, doctored photographs portraying women being strangled, postings of women’s home addresses alongside suggestions that they are interested in anonymous sex, and technological attacks that shut down blogs and websites.[iv]
Other examples of cyberharassment include threats of sexual violence, doctored photographs of women, postings of women’s personal information, technological attacks that shut down feminist blogs and websites, and emails to forward unwanted proposals, to name a few.
The uploading and sharing of nude/sexually explicit photos and/or videos of an individual without their consent may also fall under the category of cyberharassment. There are also some who call it as revenge porn (although this is contested). The sex videos of actresses Katrina Halili and Neri Naic fall under this definition.
Cyberpornography. This refers to acts of using cyberspace to create, display, distribute, import, or publish pornography or obscene materials.
In the Philippines, reports of cyberpornography are common, as when police conduct raids of cybersex dens that target minors or when fake call center businesses sell child pornography online to global clients.[v] The Philippine National Police, in a report, also acknowledged that the Philippines is among the top 10 producers of child pornography.[vi]
Cybertrafficking. This includes fake online “marriage agencies” or websites advertising non-existent work of study opportunities, as well the commercialization of private home videos.
Since 2009, the Foundation for Media Alternatives has conducted information dissemination activities on the issue of gender and ICT. We have conducted several forums and workshops with various groups, including government, civil society, and schools to inform and educate people about the issue.
We have also conducted workshops on digital safety and security, especially for women and girls who are more vulnerable to online abuses. We have a crowd-sourced map where cases of eVAW have been reported. We also have a campaign called “Take Back the Tech!” where we encourage women and girls to take back technology for gender based activism.
[i] Anita Gurumurthy. Gender and ICTs: Overview Report. IDSS, 2004.
[ii] Tactical Tech.
[iii] APC study, NBI reports, various news items
[iv] Citron, D. “Law’s Expressive Value in combating Cyber Gender Harassment,” in Michigan Law Review, Vol. 108:373. December 2009
[v] “11 arrested over online child porn,” in PDI, 28 January 2014
[vi] “PH among top 10 producers of child pornography,” PDI 17 January 2014