Violence against women seems to know no bounds

Vicious attacks accompanied by derogatory remarks are the main weapons used by online trolls to silence the voices of women defending their rights.

December 13, 2021, 10:05

Last modification: December 13, 2021, 12:04 PM

Pragyna Mahpara / Senior Research Associate, BIGD, Iffat Jahan Antara / Research Associate, BIGD and Nuha Annoor Pabony / Research Associate, BIGD. Illustration: SCT


Pragyna Mahpara / Senior Research Associate, BIGD, Iffat Jahan Antara / Research Associate, BIGD and Nuha Annoor Pabony / Research Associate, BIGD. Illustration: SCT

The digital space, the virtual world of socialization and communication, increasingly plays a central mediating role in all aspects of our life – social, political and even economic.

The digital space allows anyone with internet access to speak and share audiovisual content on anything and everything without fact checking, validation or word limits. “Sensational” content, however credible it may be, can spread like wildfire in this space.

However, due to its ubiquity, it has also become an essential vector of awareness. The Covid-19 pandemic has also proven the effectiveness of the digital space as education, work, communication and entertainment have all been brought online.

In September 2021, 128 million Bangladeshis were using the internet, up from 101.2 million in April 2020, or 26.8 million more since the first lockdown of Covid-19, according to the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC).

Social activists, media figures and content creators have also increased their use of social media platforms to talk about human rights, gender justice and other critical social issues. Platforms like Facebook became an integral part of the mass mobilization and protests as most activism moved online.

As online activism for gender justice grows, violence against women in the digital space is also increasing with its increasing use.

Hate speech, obscenity and derogatory language directed at people who claim their rights or simply express their gender identity, publicly attack someone using explicit words, and even send death threats publicly or in messages. private messages, all have become commonplace in digital spaces.

Online violence has become part of the wider backlash against women’s rights by creating fear among gender justice advocates and women in general, causing them to lose confidence, courage and interest in speaking out or speaking out. defend.

Women who speak out and are visible in the digital space, such as celebrities, content creators, journalists and activists, have become major targets of online violence.

These women are regularly harassed for expressing their views online on issues such as politics, religion, gender, social norms and values, and discriminatory practices.

In particular, when they post content on violence against women, sexual harassment, consent to sexual relations, women’s dress choice and participation in public life, they face strong reactions. in line.

Women and their opinions are becoming more visible due to the expansion of the digital space; their visibility provokes the manifestation of an intensification of the reactions of opposing groups and people in the same space. The backlash has therefore become more “visible” in this newly formed “space”.

Online violence manifests itself in many forms. The most common type involves sexually explicit hateful comments, often objectifying women’s bodies.

This leads to cursing and labeling women as “prostitutes” or “cheap women” coming in front of the camera for views and money.

Manipulating photos of women to make them sexually explicit and sharing them online, often as memes, is also quite common.

In a society where the modesty of women is still considered almost “sacred”, attacking their “character” and presenting them in a sexually explicit manner is a very effective strategy for psychologically crushing women. In extreme cases, women are even threatened with rape and murder.

And more often than not, negative comments attacking women appear out of the blue, unrelated to the problem that is being published.

Illustration: SCT


Illustration: SCT

Illustration: SCT

The attacks take the form of moral police. And in extreme cases, threats with literal depictions of sexual acts with women, often mentioning specific parts of his female body.

When the posts relate to women’s rights and equality – on divorce, inheritance, mobility and choice, for example – or the search for justice for rape, these offensive and attacking comments become particularly serious. .

Another less explicit but perhaps equally harmful trend is to question the credibility of women. This is especially evident when discussing sexual harassment, domestic violence, rape, etc.

They are often mocked and trivialized with “haha” reactions on Facebook. Authors of posts are often attacked with comments about their personal life choices.

For example, if a divorced woman talks about motherhood or childcare, her qualification to talk about these issues is in question since she may be a single mother who has separated the child from the father.

Another example is when a social media influencer posted about cyber sexual harassment, comments calling her an ‘attention seeker’, who just creates content to get more views and try to stay. ” relevant “.

When a series of comments like these are posted and the opposing force backs themselves up by enjoying those comments, the key messages of the original posts eventually lose their relevance and seriousness.

In this way, the messages for a better understanding of women’s struggles and patriarchy are often undermined.

Often, the filtering of abusive comments on posts of or about female public figures does not work; spiteful attackers “flag” these messages, after which the messages are deleted.

Time, effort, and the underlying messages of these posts are wasted. Once again, the attack is severe on posts demanding women’s rights and justice.

Worse yet, online violence is not limited to women who participate online. Often times, women are disparaged online for what they do or say in real life.

These phenomena indicate that the digital space is shrinking to defend women’s rights.

More concerning, the backlash is coming from the general public, and it is therefore difficult to identify specific organized groups.

Many authors hide behind fake accounts to preserve anonymity. However, it is not only men who engage in such forms of verbal and written violence; women are also actresses and accomplices.

There is a tendency to post and comment openly on criticisms and moralizations based on religion, both by women and men, while fake accounts are mainly used to post sexually explicit comments and threats of rape.

The digital space has become a new avenue for intensifying violent reactions and violence against women. While online violence most often does not result in physical harm, it is gradually becoming much more widespread and intense.

Authors are everywhere; they can organize effortlessly and commit violence with impunity, making them a deadly weapon to silence women’s voices.

And the consequences of digital violence are manifold. It inflicts immense psychological trauma, often demotivating women to continue their presence in cyberspace.

It also violates the freedom of expression of women expressing themselves in the digital space. It also intimidates women who wish to enter the digital space and defend women’s rights.

In short, this emerging form of online reaction is not only closing the digital space for women, but also reducing civic space for promoting gender justice. This calls for recognizing the seriousness of this violence and its impact on the lives of women and girls.

Therefore, online violence against women needs to be understood and addressed within a relevant legal framework. The state must prevent and mitigate online risks and promote a safe digital space for women that will guarantee freedom of expression while respecting the rights of different actors and users of digital spaces.

Pragyna mahpara, senior research associate; Iffat Jahan Antara and Nuha Annoor Pabony, Research associates at the BRAC Institute for Governance and Development (BIGD).

Warning: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.

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