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Local research, resources needed to address online violence against women in the Pacific

Friday, 7 October 2022

In September 2022, WLI hosted a virtual Learning and Networking event on online violence against women and girls, also referred to as online gender-based violence (OGBV), in the Pacific.  

Featuring a Q&A, small group reflection sessions and an expert panel discussion moderated by Kira Osborne, Senior International Development Officer and Pacific Lead at Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, the event explored the prevalence, challenges, gaps in data, and effective strategies to address online gender-based violence (OGBV), as well as priorities for policy, program and legislation reform. 

Key insights shared with Australia Awards scholars and attendees during this panel discussion are outlined below. An audio recording and summary paper on the discussion are also available. 

The Panel  

Panelists were linked by their professional interest and work with women who occupy and experience abuse in online spaces. Bringing perspectives from a range of fields, from academia and law to online safety, children’s rights, technology and policy, panelists included:  

  • Stephanie Dunn, Legal Officer, Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre (FWCC), 
  • Paula Smith, eSafety Women’s Presenter and Training Facilitator, Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, 

  • Jope Tarai, PhD Candidate, Australian National University (ANU), 

  • Tracy Shields, Senior Advisor, Child Rights and Protection, Plan International Australia, and 

  • Anju Mangal, Asia-Pacific Regional Coordinator, Alliance for Affordable Internet, World Wide Web Foundation. 

Key Statistics and Features of OGBV 

OGBV takes many forms and is often intersectional in nature, meaning that women from diverse and vulnerable communities are disproportionately (and often more severely) impacted.  

It can include Technology-Facilitated Abuse (TFA), in which technology is used within a family violence context to isolate, monitor, stalk, impersonate, harass, threaten or humiliate someone. 

It also includes abuse against women with a public or online presence, in which perpetrators attempt to silence women through often sexually violent, harassing and repetitive attacks. 

According to panelists, rates of OGBV are increasing globally, with spikes experienced during COVID-19 lockdowns/isolation. This violence is disproportionately targeted at women and thrives where gender inequality is already well-entrenched. 

Almost 60% of girls worldwide have experienced some form of online sexual harm. The Economist’s Intelligence Unit indicates that 85% of women globally have witnessed OGBV. 

Research available on the Australian experience of OGBV (including through Women in the Spotlight; an eSafety Australia analysis of available data) indicates that almost one quarter (24%) of all women and almost half (42%) of women with disability who had experienced online abuse noted they were reluctant to move into leadership positions because it would require them to have a media/online presence.  

Key Insights Shared by Expert Panelists 

Challenges in addressing gender-based violence vary from region to region. Some key challenges identified include that: 

  • To date, research on online abuse of women and girls has excluded Pacific Island countries and focuses on the gender binary. Therefore, little is known about the experience of and appropriate interventions to OGBV in Pacific Islands context. 

  • From a legal perspective, most legislation relating to online safety in the Pacific region is focused on cyber-crime and security, with little attention placed on OGBV. 

  • The problem and severity of OGBV and its appropriate interventions/solutions are not well-understood by the general community, key enforcement and direct response agencies. This is causing further harm to survivors who experience negative impacts online and in the real world. 

  • Few resources are available to enforcement agencies, policy-makers and local actors seeking to address or enforce legislation to protect survivors of OGBV, remove abusive content online, investigate perpetration, and alter community awareness and attitudes to prevent OGBV from occurring. 

While complex and based on geographical contexts and experiences, some vital actions and opportunities to address OGBV in the Pacific include:  

  • Conducting local research to in order to understand the prevalence and experience of OGBV and inform programs, policies and interventions to address OGBV; because what may work for one Pacific nation may not work for others. 

  • Ensuring women and girls are informing and at the centre of policy, program, technology design and decision-making (including safety tools and through representation at technology companies) 

  • Making resources available to address the problem, including to support survivors, investigate perpetration, remove abusive content online, develop online safety policies, programs and legislation. 

  • Building the capacity of key enforcement agencies (including through sensitivity training) and settings relevant to women and girls (including schools, churches, universities and workplaces) to ensure stronger response processes and policies are in place. 

  • Increasing access to digital literacy training for parents (and women and girls) and wider communities that is contextual and routinely updated alongside emerging threats. 

Learn more about WLI Learning and Networking events: https://www.wliprogram.org/what-we-do/learning-and-networking-events/