Civicus calls on social media platforms, govt to address 'hostile virtual environment for women'

Civicus calls on social media platforms, govt to address 'hostile virtual environment for women'

Global alliance group Civicus says social media networks need to take the lead in the fight against the hostile environment for women online.  

Abused victim
Abused victim/ iStock

This comes on the back of a collection of essays from women across the world that detailed their experiences of online harassment.

The common thread in the essays show that women journalists, feminists, activists, and human rights defenders around the world are facing virtual harassment more than their male counterparts.  

Civic Space Researcher at the Civicus Monitor, Aarti Narsee, says government and social media networks must drive the change to ensure women are not subjected to abusive behaviour and treatment on virtual platforms.   

In a collaboration with Global Voices, the alliance group chose International Women’s Day to highlight the new-age issues faced by women.  

The day has been celebrated across the world as part of the struggle to realise women’s rights in the social, political, legal, reproductive, health and other spheres. 

“In term of the type of harassment that women are facing, it’s often quite gendered and quite personal and it’s been overly highlighted during the Covid-19 pandemic as more work has gone online, more people express themselves on social media,” Narsee says. 

“What is very clear from the stories that we gathered is that women are facing online harassment and it’s often different compared to men who are in similar positions. For example, male journalists would not face the same level of online harassment that women do.” 

The essays also pointed to a relentless crackdown against independent media and journalists. 

“What we’ve seen in many instances is that women who are facing online harassment, the offensive tweets, the offensive Facebook posts continue to remain online despite having reported these posts and a lot of them are simply asking ‘We really wish these horrible posts about us could be taken down because once you’ve been labelled as a prostitute or once you’ve been sexualised, that tends to follow you’,” Narsee explains.  

“It’s incredibly important that there is some sort of action, including from government, from media organisations where journalists work, as well as from social media platforms. A few things that are important in terms of social media platforms is for these platforms to ensure that community guidelines and information about the enforcement is adequately clear so that social medias understand what the community guidelines are.” 


Narsee says despite the compounded women’s issues, there is still cause for celebration.  

“I think what is powerful about this year’s commemoration is the celebration of women in leadership. Previously when we talk about women in leadership, it’s often in terms quotas, in relation to representation in government, in Parliament or corporations and so from a civil society perspective we’re highlighting the importance of celebrating women in leadership, particularly their role in public life, in civil society movements.

“We want to commemorate the mobilisation of women’s leadership at all levels such as individual feminists and grassroot activists who are currently at the moment fighting against gender injustices around the world.” 

Narsee adds that women across the world rose to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.  

“I think one example of such leadership and movement building we’ve seen is during the Covid-19 pandemic where women’s rights organisations and activists were quick to mobilise with relation to gender-based violence and helping vulnerable groups, often stepping in where government failed to recognise the gender impact of the pandemic.  

“While we know there are high levels of gender-based violence and gender inequalities which are embedded in systemic inequalities, patriarchy and misogyny, we must recognise that there is something to celebrate because women have become active activists in their own change,” she says.  

“Despite the challenges that we face, the inequalities that we face, women have been able to mobilise with limited resources and support.” 

Listen to Aarti Narsee below:  

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