What is the first thought that crosses your mind the moment you hear the term “online violence”? The easily guessed relevant terms would be “cyberbullying”, ”blackmailing”, ”
Online violence against women is highly prevalent in the majority of prominently known platforms. This online environment that is deemed hostile by women is even more aggravating if the woman belongs to a certain religion or racial\ethnic minority. In a poll commissioned by Amnesty and carried out in eight countries, 23% of women surveyed were found to have experienced online abuse or harassment, so what really are the shapes and underlying factors behind this phenomenon, and how are they different when directed towards men?
It is believed that online violence is merely an extension of the violence and discrimination women are exposed to in offline settings. This is seen in the frequently occurring direct or indirect acts of physical and sexual threats that women receive online, as well as the different notions that target the humiliation of their personal identity. Such acts could be depicted as forms of sexism, racism, tribalism etc. In addition to this, we must take note of the acts that are performed to solely distress the well-being of the woman and reinforce her feeling of vulnerability. Forms of harassment, bullying, abusive comments or images might persist over a short or coordinated period of time and do not necessarily hold any anticipated future danger.
Another well-recognized form would be “doxxing”, which is described as a violation of one’s privacy, in which the personal details or documents of the person are shared online given that no approval or consent was received from the relevant party. Character assassination is another regulating form of violence that is significant to mention, it is referred to as an act that attempts to vilify and slander an individual with the intention of destroying the public’s confidence towards them. This broad term can be exemplified in practices such as revenge porn, which is defined as “sexually explicit images of a person posted online without that person’s consent especially as a form of revenge or harassment”.
Character assassination takes a special angle regarding women’s ability to entertain free self-expression, this is perceived in the repression that they face upon being vocal and outspoken, which has proven to be especially aggravating towards female activists and influencers.
This brings forth the reiteration of the question stated above, why are those previously mentioned manifestations of violence especially hindering on a greater extent to women in particular?
My answer would be that our gender, especially as Sudanese women, constitutes a significant part of this situation. Our fate is thought to be completely reliant on being privileged enough to attain the approval and favoring of a male, one who might be generous and courteous enough to even ask for our hand. This practice of limiting women’s worth to their appearance has made both men and women in our society rather inclined towards using strategies of body shaming or appearance disparagement as a way of shaming women. Our society also tends to commoditize us women; we are recognized as a tool to subjugate and insult the men of our families. Those oppressive perceptions make us feel constantly endangered and alert towards the behavior that we publicly project, and the way we choose to present and voice our opinions and beliefs.
Before I conclude, I would like to discuss the level of awareness we have towards online violence as a whole. I believe that some progress has occurred regarding the matter, since the response and action towards it had started to differ. Women and girls today are becoming more enlightened and aware about their rights. Although in several relevant occasions they have tended to reproach and shame themselves, a portion of them that we can’t ignore has begun taking more practical measures against the perpetrators of the act, whether it be through the platform itself (blocking, reporting etc.) or by undergoing legal action if the situation escalated.