Technology-Facilitated Gender-Based Violence: A Growing Threat

As our lives become ever more managed through the use of technology and the digital world, so too do the spaces and means for perpetrating gender-based violence. Technology and online spaces are increasingly being misused and weaponized against women and girls on the basis of their gender. This form of violence invades their homes and bedrooms, their phones and workspaces. It may occur online but also manifests in physical spaces, including femicide. Known as technology-facilitated gender-based violence, this kind of digital violence is committed and amplified through the use of information and communications, technologies or digital spaces against a person based on gender. It is facilitated through the design and use of existing as well as new and emerging technologies (both hardware and software). It is always evolving.

Technology-facilitated gender-based violence takes many forms, including sextortion (blackmail by threatening to publish sexual information, photos or videos); image-based abuse (sharing intimate photos without consent); doxxing (publishing private personal information); cyberbullying; online gender and sexual harassment; cyberstalking; online grooming for sexual assault; hacking; hate speech; online impersonation; and using technology to locate survivors of abuse in order to inflict further violence, among many others. (Click here for a glossary of digital-violence terms.) It carries significant health, safety, political and economic consequences for women and girls, for their families and communities, and for society as a whole. As women and girls self-censor to prevent technology-facilitated gender-based violence, their voices are silenced and democracies suffer. 

UNFPA is actively combating technology-facilitated gender-based violence by providing survivors with the response services when and where they need it, including social, health and legal and justice responses. We also work to raise awareness of the issue to empower survivors and to advocate for increased accountability and regulation — including through our interactive feature The Virtual Is Real and our bodyright campaign. UNFPA is also working to prevent this form of violence from taking place in the first place by transforming harmful social and gendered norms that proliferate and manifest in online spaces and through the use of technology, and by working to support technology and digital development to build in safety and privacy by design. 

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In addition, UNFPA is supporting key partnerships to accelerate initiatives to address technology-facilitated gender-based violence, including with the E-Safety Commission of Australia and as a co-convenor with the Association of Progressive Communications of the Advisory Group to the Global Partnership for Action on Gender-Based Online Harassment and Abuse.

Technology is not the enemy. It is a key to advancing gender equality. It creates a world of opportunities for sustainable development, economic growth, access to education and knowledge. It gives a voice to those who have gone unheard. In order to harness this power to progress women’s human rights, it is imperative that we prevent technology from being misused as a tool of subjugation and violence.