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New laws needed urgently to tackle online violence against women and girls, says UN rights expert

Participants during a special event on the theme, “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”. PHOTO/ESKINDER DEBEBE
Countries around the world must act urgently to introduce new legislation to stamp out online and information and communications technology (ICT) violence against women and girls, United Nations rights expert has said.
Ms Dubravka Šimonović, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, in a report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva today said ICT facilitated violence against women and girls through cyber-bullying which is yet another way in which their human rights are being violated.

“New forms of internet-facilitated violence against women have been emerging, but most States still fail to recognise the problem in digital spaces as a ‘real’ form of violence,” Ms Šimonović said.

She said there is now an urgent need for specialised national legislative and policy measures based on existing human rights instruments adding that technology companies now have tools to empower women and girls to achieve a fuller realisation of all their human rights and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, including gender equality and the elimination of all forms of gender-based discrimination and violence,” the expert pointed out.

“I believe there is a significant risk that the use of information and communications technology (ICT) without proper human rights-based protection could even widen sex and gender-based discrimination, and increase violence against women and girls,” she warned.

Ms Šimonović said women victims and survivors need transparent and fast responses and effective remedies, which can be achieved only if both States and private authorities work together and exercise due diligence to eliminate online violence against women,
She said particular attention should be paid to those categories of women who are notably a target of online violence, such as human rights defenders, those in politics, journalists, LGBT women, women and girls with disabilities, indigenous people and those from vulnerable groups.

“I call for the recognition of the principle that all human rights, including women’s rights, should be protected online, including the right to live free from violence, the right to freedom of expression and the right to privacy and data protection,” she noted.

Ms Dubravka Šimonović, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women. PHOTO/UN
Ms Šimonović said intermediaries must uphold this principle and conduct due diligence and voluntarily accept and apply all core international human rights/women’s rights standards to their platforms.
She added that countries have a responsibility and an obligation under due diligence to enact new laws and measures to prevent, protect, prosecute, punish and redress new emerging forms of online violence against women and girls.

“Such laws should be based on international women’s human rights laws, as outlined in the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination and all forms of Violence against Women, CEDAW, and other key international and regional instruments,” she emphasized.

 She observed that as a matter of urgency, the international framework on the prohibition of violence against women should be applied to all forms of online violence against women and girls.
Ms Šimonović called for cooperation between States, intermediaries, non-governmental organisations and national human rights institutions to ensure their actions against online violence complies with the international human rights framework.

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