Cyberviolence disempowers women and girls and threatens their fundamental rights

November 25, 2021

Teenage girl sitting near laptop in dark room. She is a victim of online bullying. Photo: Adobe Stock/Burdun -

Violence against women and girls remains a pervasive violation of fundamental rights in most countries and territories in Europe and Central Asia. Gender-based violence has gone up in parts of this region by up to 65 percent since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, with more women and girls facing violence within the home during extended periods of lockdown.

As the first major pandemic of the social media age, COVID-19 has also intensified the prevalence of online and technology-facilitated violence. Quarantine measures and self-isolation policies increased internet usage between 50 percent and 70 percent, as people stayed connected for work and leisure. Such higher use has also exposed women and girls to sexual harassment and abuse, to the extent that cyberviolence is today a global phenomenon of alarming proportions.

Cyberviolence harms women and girls by curtailing their rights to freedom of expression and lowering their confidence and self-esteem. A report from Plan International shows that 50 percent of girls said they face more online harassment than street harassment. Online violence is among the leading causes of the gender digital divide globally, preventing women and girls from advancing in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. 

Cyberviolence is not gender neutral: women and girls are exposed to online violence more frequently than men. Globally, 38 percent of women have directly experienced online abuse. Women aged 18 to 24, in particular, are deemed at greater risk of being exposed to every form of cyber violence.

Sadly, this trend has also been increasing across Europe and Central Asia, in various forms such as online harassment, cyberbullying, cyberstalking, grooming for sexual purposes, sex trolling and physical threats.

For example, in Montenegro, women politicians have increasingly been the target of cyberattacks in social media during the pandemic. During the parliamentary elections campaign in Georgia in 2020, women were only 22 percent of monitored profiles but the target of 40 percent of all abusive comments and hate speech. Research also suggests that cyberviolence targets women journalists more frequently than men journalists. 

Today, activists together with UN under the “UNiTE to End violence against women and girls” umbrella, demand justice and accountability from governments and societies to prevent and respond to such crimes. The UNiTE campaign builds on existing legal and policy frameworks and synergizes the efforts of all UN agencies, governments, civil society, women’s organizations, young people, media and the private sector to end violence against women.

UNDP Eurasia is joining the campaign by offering digital solutions to combat cyberviolence and other forms of violence against women and girls and increase their safety online.

In Kyrgyzstan, the chatbot Mildet guides women in identifying signs of psychological and financial violence, and in Kosovo1, with support of the Embassy of Norway, UNDP launched the campaign ‘Careful on the Internet! brought together by professionals involved in combatting cybercrime and advancing cybersecurity. All these and other innovative actions will be promoted though our regional STEM4All platform as part of UNDP’s call to action.

A mobile app GjejZâ, (Find your Voice,) developed by three young women in Albania, helps women to identify whether they are victims of domestic violence, and shows testimonies of survivors to encourage users to report their cases. In 2019, GjejZâ won the Technovation Challenge competition in the United States.

This July 2021, at the Generation Equality Forum held in Paris, four of the world’s largest tech companies - Facebook, Google, TikTok and Twitter -, announced that they commit to tackling online abuse against women and improving their safety on their online platforms. Along with tech giants, governments, the private sector, the media, the ICT sector, educators, and women’s and human rights organizations must develop a comprehensive strategy to combat cyberviolence and develop digital tools to prevent and response to gender-based violence.  

Today, let us all adopt the slogan of the campaign from UNDP in Kosovo1: what is illegal online is illegal offline.

And, as we join forces and voices in the 30th edition of the ‘16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence’, let us redouble our efforts to eliminate the persisting and new forms of violence against women and girls, including cyberviolence.

1 All reference to Kosovo in this blog shall be understood to be in the context of the UN Security Council Resolution 1244 (1999). 

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