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APC and its seven country partners have concluded their first year of work on the project End violence: Women’s rights and safety online. APCNews interviewed Jan Moolman, project coordinator, about the main highlights of this first year and the challenges and expectations for the year ahead.

APCNews: A year has passed since the beginning of the “End violence: Women’s rights and safety online” project. What would you say were the main highlights of this year, what has worked, what has not worked as expected, what can be improved and what is your general evaluation of this year?

Jan Moolman: I think that one of the highlights of this last year is that there is definitely a greater recognition of technology-related forms of violence against women, within a framework of violence against women more broadly. This recognition comes from the work of lots of activists, lots of organisations who really have begun to think more deeply about the relationship between violence offline and violence online, and how ultimately the kind of harm that is experienced really is the same, whether it is harm as result of cyberstalking or sexual harrassment.

There is a much greater awareness and recognition of tech-related violence as a concern, but also of the need for us to begin to respond to these particular kinds of violations. In most incidents we find that women do not know what to do or there is no policy or law to cover these kinds of violations, so there is a huge gap in both prevention and response to technology-related violations. I think the big success is the move towards recognising this particular kind of violence. What was also significant was the inclusion of language around technology related violence against women at the Commission on the Status of Women earlier this year. This is hugely significant if we think about how important those conclusions are, not only in terms of State accountability, but also in terms of raising the levels of awareness by States and other actors in terms of responding to violence against women more generally.

The challenges for this project – and I think these would be the same challenges for any project that is implemented in very different contexts – is precisely the unevenness of the contexts, the extent to which women themselves in different contexts recognise online harrassment or cyberstalking as violence. And if women themselves are not recognising this as violence, there is clearly going to be under-reporting of violations.

Looking at the map, we had expected many more reports, but that is okay because as the visibility of the work and the recognition increases, and there is more and more women sharing their own stories, others will recognise those stories and their own experiences and I am sure we will have a much higher level of reporting simply by that recognition of “yes, this happened to me.” And I think that if we look back at the Take Back the Tech! campaign in 2012, I think this was one of the key successes in terms of just getting the people to talk about what happened to them, sharing the experiences and the response, And while that might not be visible in the campaign or in the map, it came in the form of emails of people asking us for help, “what can I do, who can I take my problem to, I did this and that did not work…” As an approach for dealing with emerging forms of violence, the issue of recognition is key both recognition by States but also by the women who experienced this.

APCNews: You are talking about “emerging” forms of violence, not “new.” What is the reason for that?

JM: In terms of our project, violence happens in a particular context and that context is the same online as offline. It is a context of extreme inequality, of patriarchy; it is a content in a world where women are viewed in a particular way by virtue of the fact that they are women. And this is the same online as offline. We say “emerging” because as more and more women have access to internet technology, we are seeing a greater and greater number of incidents of these kinds of violations. One example is this whole area of misogynistic hate speech, which is being used as a very deliberate tactic to exclude women from public spaces. We see the same happening offline, with for example sexual violence or street harassment is used to exclude women from public spaces. So as I was saying, the kind of violations, the kind of harm, the consequences are the same, whether it is online or offline.

APCNews: What are the main expectations for this upcoming year?

JM: This year there is a lot more work happening within the seven countries. In 2012 we did more crowd-sourced work, establishing contacts and networks, and this year it is about the work locally; about raising awareness with consultants, policy makers and corporations, to really get to the specifics of what is happening in their countries. And I think that this is very important, particularly in a project where we are working from separate countries with varying contexts. This year we will have a much greater understanding of what is happening nationally, both in terms of the kind of violations but also in terms of the kind of harm, so we can begin to see what is similar, what is not and really begin to learn from each other.

Another big expectation this year is related to research, which is a huge part of this year’s work, looking at what remedies are available for women that experience these kind of violations, what are corporations or internet intermediaries’ user policies. Are they responsive to the reporting of certain kind of incidents? What does this mean for reporting and for redress?

So for this year these are the two main areas, raising awareness and research, and of course to continue to map and to build evidence so that ultimately we will have really strong arguments to call for remedies and redress for women who have these experiences.


Read more about the End violence: Women’s rights and safety online

Read Voices from digital spaces: Technology related violence against women

Agreed conclusions in CSW 57th include violence against women and ICT