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IWD 2024: Let's create a secure digital world for women, together
Fri, 8th Mar 2024

The internet. It's a revolutionary tool, a platform for connection, and a wellspring of information. But for many women, it's also a battleground. A place where anonymity breeds toxicity, and the supposed freedom of expression curdles into harassment, bullying, and worse. Let's call it what it is: a breeding ground for technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV). 

While the term itself may be new, the phenomenon is far from it. TFGBV manifests in various forms, ranging from cyberbullying and online harassment to hate speech, doxing, intimate image abuse, trolling, and even deepfakes.

Women, girls, and gender-non-conforming individuals are disproportionately targeted, experiencing higher occurrences of cyber attacks. Studies across the globe paint a grim picture, with about 16 to 58% of women and girls having been targeted by online violence. That's a staggering number, a chilling reminder that the online world can be anything but safe.

This is why creating a secure digital world for women is not just an aspiration, it's a critical necessity. We must come together to reclaim the web and make it a space where everyone, regardless of their gender, feels safe, empowered, and free to participate without fear.

The ugly truth: Alarming statistics and consequences

The impact of online violence extends far beyond statistics, leaving lasting scars on individuals and communities. 

There are numerous stories of women being relentlessly harassed and driven away from online spaces they once frequented, and living in constant fear of having their private moments used against them. The sting of online abuse can bleed into real-life interactions, creating a vicious cycle that demands immediate attention and action.

The research shows a devastating ripple effect:

  • According to a World Bank study, one in three women globally have experienced online violence.
  • Cyberbullying disproportionately affects younger women, where approximately 20% of young women aged 18-29 have faced online harassment in the EU alone.
  • Nearly 77% of women who experience cyberbullying have also experienced offline violence, highlighting the interconnectedness of online and offline abuse.
  • The emotional toll can be crippling, with 50% of women reporting diminished self-esteem or loss of confidence due to online harassment.
  • Economic consequences are stark too. The cost of cyber violence against women in Europe is estimated at €49.0 to €89.3 billion, mostly due to healthcare and lost productivity.

Beyond cyber harassment

As if cyberbullying wasn't enough, there lies an even darker underbelly of non-consensual intimate image (NCII) abuse. 

This heinous form of cyber violence weaponizes stolen or manipulated images to inflict public humiliation and emotional distress on its victims, often women and girls. The consequences can be devastating, shattering lives and causing:

  • Loss of educational and employment opportunities: Victims may face expulsion from schools or universities, termination of employment, and damaged career prospects due to the stigma associated with NCII abuse.
  • Social silent treatment and damaged relationships: The public dissemination of intimate images can lead to social isolation, broken relationships with friends and family, and irreparable harm to reputations.
  • Threats of physical violence and even suicide: The emotional torment and ongoing fear associated with NCII abuse can escalate into threats of physical harm and, in the most tragic cases, even drive individuals to take their own lives.

Cyber abuse including deepfakes and others are a stark reminder that the internet isn't just a virtual space; it has tangible and life-altering consequences for its users. This is why we must work together to combat TFGBV in all its forms, creating a digital world where everyone, particularly women and girls, feels safe, respected, and free from online exploitation.

Breaking the silence: Until the law catches up

The current situation is unacceptable. With only 30% of economies worldwide having laws specifically addressing cyber harassment, a vast majority of women are left unprotected in the virtual landscape. While 53 out of 190 economies do impose some form of penalties for cyber harassment, including imprisonment and fines, this coverage remains insufficient.

Strengthening legal frameworks is crucial to deter perpetrators, hold them accountable, and empower victims to seek justice. Until these legal safeguards are implemented on a global scale, we, as individuals, have a responsibility to take action. 

We can:

  • Educate ourselves and others about online safety and responsible online behavior.
  • Practice good online hygiene such as using a VPN service, strong passwords, enable two-factor authentication, and be mindful of what we share online.
  • Platforms often have reporting mechanisms for harassment and other forms of abuse. Use them!
  • Support organizations working towards a safer online space. One such organization is PureSquare. Its subsidiary, PureVPN, ranked as the highest-rated VPN service on Trustpilot, goes beyond raising awareness and advocacy – it offers advanced tools to empower individuals to navigate the digital world safely. 

Underscoring its commitment to maintaining its users’ online privacy, PureVPN operates under a strict no-logs policy, meaning your online activities and browsing history are not tracked or stored.

The road ahead: A brighter digital future

Let's unite, amplify awareness, and champion effective change. By empowering ourselves and others with knowledge and cybersecurity tools like PureVPN, we can navigate the online world confidently and safely. 

We can collectively transform the digital landscape into a space free from violence and fear. Remember, a secure digital environment is a collective responsibility, and our united efforts hold the power to make a lasting difference.