Her Net Her Rights – this is how we do it

The European Week of Action for Girls has just passed, which is a yearly event that aims to promote the empowerment of European women and girls. In order to join this action, we decided to cover an online conference that was held as part of the European Women’s Lobby project Her Net Her Rights.

Image Source: Flickr, Shinya Suzuki, Creative Commons

Prominent figures within the feminist movement, like activists and researchers, had gathered around the virtual table to discuss women’s rights issues online and possible solutions to create a safer web for Europe’s women and girls, as part of Her Net Her Rights by the European Women’s Lobby (EWL).

This is our final post of the covering of the conference, where we sum up what has been said and give our reflections, specifically on the role of social media and women’s rights. You can access our previous related post Online Battle against Online Violence against Women and Girls, as well as the live updated Storify feed of the conference here on the blog.

Key Points Addressed

Protruding significantly throughout all the conference is that women are more prone to be exposed to online violence than men, and that information communication technologies (ICTs) have amplified women’s exposure towards sexual harassment to a great extent.

Alexandra Hache at TacticalTech pointed out that ICT has given the possibility for a non-stop around the clock violence towards women and girls, as the web never closes down, but access and production of online content can be made at any time of the day.

Content is also very difficult to remove once it’s circulated, something that Danish activist Emma Holten talked about through her own experience after being a victim of non-consensual pornography back in 2011. Although the years have passed, Holten explains that the consequences of having her email hijacked and accessed by strangers, sharing intimate content of her, still impacts her today, and has led to her losing jobs and friends.

Lie Junius at Google also highlighted the role that private companies have in controlling the content that is produced online. As an example, YouTube has installed a flagging tool, which gives users the possibility to flag content that is inappropriate so it can be reviewed, something that has resulted in that more than 200 000 videos are flagged daily.

Following, gender and data were addressed by Elisabeth Kate Mc Guinness, who is involved in the matter of gender equality, where she pointed out the fact of the complete lack of data on cyber violence against women and girls, and the inadequate response from the law and the police, which is not following up reported cases of cyber violence.

Researcher Nicole Shephard further elaborated on the issue of the lack of objectivity in data collection, which excludes some data that is feminist, clearly revealing discrimination and exclusion.

Activists’ voices

The second part of the event provided room for multiple voices and experiences of women’s rights activists working in the same direction as researchers and other professionals. First-handed stories gave a deeper understanding of the broad context of online harassment revealing its devastating real-life consequences for victims.

Cyber violence denigrates women as human beings, neglects an equal position of both sexes, reproduces and reinforces prevailing gender stereotypes. Thus, as a young Italian activist Sodfa Daaji observed, the Internet space can be regarded as a social reflection on the secondary status of a woman  in society.

Fighting back online abuses is emotionally taxing, and, unfortunately, in numerous cases victims are reluctant to report due to fear or shame. This is especially the case with  migrant women and minors. Salome Mbugua from European Network of Migrant Women provided evidence of how racism and misoginy affect the daily life of black community in Ireland. Both Daaji and Mbugua argue that virtual harassmen leads to offline violence as well as self-harm or suicide.

Céline Piques from Osez le Féminisme works to protect teens’ safety online. The action plan includes educating young women about their rights, communicating about the Internet risks through public awareness campaigns in educational institutions and advocating for repressive sanctions against perpetrators.

Activists acknowledged that financial constraints create difficulties for delivering information and help to women. For this reason,  community-building and networking are essential in enhancing individuals and civil society organizations to work together towards the greater presence of women in the ICT sector and to make them feel safe online (Essa Reijmers from SafetyNed).

Negin Nazem Zorromodi working at the Stockholm women empowering center in Sweden explained different strategies used by abusers online and introduced several ICT4D solutions to deal with online harassment, for instance, creating mobile applications and platforms to anonymously report incidencescapture data and help to secure personal information online.
However, technologies themsvelves cannot solve cyber violence. The underlying idea behind the debates concerned the duty of the decision-making authorities to implement effective measures to guarantee the right for women to enjoy cyberspace free from gendered violence.So far, given the current situation, it seems;
“there are never enough victims for police and governments to take real action to stop online harassment” (Mbugua).

The first step for states to take is to ratify the Istanbul Convention as suggested by Isabel Ventura, which was intended at creating “a legal framework at pan-European level to protect women against all forms of violence, and prevent, prosecute and eliminate violence against women and domestic violence”.

Strategic use of Twitter

The aim for their project #HerNetHerRights (which is more than just the conference) is to analyse the current state of online violence against women and girls in Europe and come up with innovative solutions and policy recommendations to fight online male violence and create a safer, more inclusive web for all women and girls (Womenlobby.org 2017).

As we know from the blog post Online battle against online Violence against women and girls the use of social media is growing as a tool for NGO’s to engage in advocacy work. The strategic use of social media is often divided in three steps (Guo and Saxton 2014). An in-depth analysis of the use of social media in the #HerNetHerRights conference would make up for (at least) a blog post of its own, so this will be our very brief reflection of how social media was used, using the three-stage pyramid from Guo and Saxton 2014 as a base for the analysis.

  1. Reaching out and bring awareness of the cause using informational messages. Since we only have been looking at actitvity regarding the conference, this step of the pyramid has not been in focus for EWL. The awareness was already there, especially for target groups (mostly feminist researchers, politicians and acitivsts) of the Conference.
  2. Sustaining interest and network of supporters via community building messages and interactive conversations. Since EWL is an umbrella network their main use of social media before the conference was to get people and organisations to attend. By general tweets AND tweets directed to certain individuals or organisations, they reached out to the large network within the women’s movement, which in their turn spread the word. The main message was “Join us to say NO to online violence against women and girls in Europe!” The hashtag #HerNetHerRights was frequently used by EWL and all those joining the conference and Twitter conversations.

    During the conference the action on Twitter was intense. People were sharing their own experiences, content from the speakers, innovative ideas, projects articles, data and more.

    When the speakers were done there were Tweetchat discussions, another clear example of community building and interaction, leading up to step three of the pyramid.

  3. Mobilization through call to action-messages. There were direct call-to-action messages posted during the conference, such as:

    And more action is to come. EWL ended the conference and Tweetchat discussions by thanking everyone for contributing with new perspectives, ideas and innovations. EWL will now collect all input from the conference and create an “activist tool kit to know one’s rights and develop strategies to resist to and combat abusers online and bring structural change” (European Women’s Lobby 2017)

Our conclusion is that this was a very well prepared online conference, joined by a large number of activists who are used to using social media strategically.

We are all aware that the underlying patriarchal structures and norms in society, reflected and sometimes augmented online, cannot be erased online if there is no change offline. But the heavy engagement online speaks for a great potential for increasingly raising awareness, building community and, at least to some extent, taking action – in the end changing policies and legislation.

Post written by Frida Leander, Julia Andén, Lou Hellberg and Simona Gibauskaité

Image source
Flickr, Shinya Suzuki, Creative Commons

Womenlobby.org. (2017). HerNetHerRights – European Women’s Lobby. [online] Available at: http://www.womenlobby.org/HerNetHerRights?lang=en [Accessed 15 Oct. 2017].

Guo, C., Saxton, G.D. 2014: Tweeting Social Change: How Social Media Are Changing Nonprofit Advocacy, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly 43: 57-79.