IGF 2020 OF #31 Safe digital spaces, a dialogue on countering cyberviolence

Wednesday, 4th November, 2020 (17:50 UTC) - Wednesday, 4th November, 2020 (18:50 UTC)
Room 3
About this Session

Round Table - U-shape - 60 Min


The Internet has the potential to open up new pathways to women’s socio-political and economic empowerment. But as Sir Tim Berners Lee highlighted in an open letter issued on the 31st birthday of the Web in March 2020, the web is not working for women and girls today. Physical and sexual threats of violence, sexist or misogynistic comments towards women – often focusing on women’s physical appearance – as well as privacy concerns like sharing intimate or sexual images of a woman without her consent are rampant online. Women with multiple and intersecting identities are at heightened risk of online abuse and disproportionately affected because the abuse often targets their different identities. UN Women, Web Foundation and IT for Change envision this Open Forum as a dialogue for shared reflection between tech companies and civil society organisations on creating a multi-stakeholder strategy to counter online gender-based violence, accounting for its diverse forms and manifestations across contexts. 

This roundtable will inform and contribute to multi-stakeholder consultative dialogues led by the Web Foundation and UN Women to develop concrete solutions to address intersectional online gender-based violence across platforms from a technological and policy perspective. This will also contribute to the development of the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality, to be launched in 2021


UN Women - Hélène Molinier
Web Foundation - Eve Kraicer
IT for Change - Nandini Chami

  • Chenai Chair, Web Foundation (Moderator)
  • Helene Molinier, Senior Manager for the Action Coalition on Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality at UN Women
  • Bhavna Jha, IT for Change
  • Marwa Azelmat, APC
  • Mariana Valente, InternetLab
  • Cindy Southworth, Facebook
Onsite Moderator

Chenai Chair, Web Foundation

Online Moderator

Eve Kraicer, Web Foundation


Eve Kraicer, Web Foundation


GOAL 5: Gender Equality
GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

1. Key Policy Questions and related issues
In what ways can feminist framings help us understand why the online space is unsafe and how best can the framing be used in developing policy and regulation?
What kind of research methodologies and practices do we need to undertake to create meaningful, intersectional and evidence-based policy interventions for tackling OGBV?
What role do individuals, private companies, and governments play when it comes to identifying, preventing, and responding to online abuse?
2. Summary of Issues Discussed

Broad areas of agreement: 

  • Tech companies, governments and civil society must work together through multi stakeholder initiatives to tackle online gender based violence
  • Responses to OGBV must consider local context 
  • Responses to OGBV must consider how women with multiple and intersecting identities experience online violence
  • Online and offline violence are connected
  • OGBV is not an individual issue, but one of structural power 
  • OGBV leads to violations of women’s rights online including the right to freedom of expression, association and assembly

Areas needing further discussion:

  • The role of machine learning in tackling OGBV

    • Machine learning can allow for quick removal of harmful content, and can get better and better as more people report abusive content. Those reports contribute to the ML training set
    • Machine learning can risk amplifying or reinforcing bias, and lacks contextual understandings. It must be used in conjunction with other forms of moderation, and maintain a human-centered approach. 
  • The intersection of legal interventions and OGBV
    • Many legal frameworks have gaps on issues of online abuse; laws either do not mention it at all, or fail to adequately extend existing related offline legislation to online cases
3. Key Takeaways

This Open Forum served as a dialogue for shared reflection between tech companies and civil society organisations on creating multi-stakeholder approaches to counter online gender-based violence, accounting for its diverse forms and manifestations across contexts. During the panel, we gathered specific evidence and insights from women’s rights and digital rights organisations, as well as tech companies and IGOs on their approaches to tackling online gender-based violence. 

What emerged across many panellists’ remarks was the importance of collaborative product and policy development between the tech companies, CSOs and governments. In particular, the need for tech companies and governments to learn from grassroot CSOs in order to build concrete solutions to online abuse was highlighted. This can help build more localised, effective models of content moderation and reporting flows. 

While collaborative processes between CSOs, technology companies and IGOs do exist including through the Generation Equality Action Coalition on Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality and the Web Foundation’s consultation and policy design workshop series -- there is a need for more initiatives that work across sectors. 

As one panellist pointed out, there is no silver bullet to develop technology that is safe for everyone, everywhere. But co-creation and co-design between different stakeholders will help bring gender considerations into the innovation cycle.

6. Final Speakers
  • Chenai Chair, Web Foundation (Moderator)
  • Marwa Azelmat, APC
  • Cindy Southworth, Facebook
  • Bhavna Jha, IT for Change
  • Helene Molinier, UN Women
  • Mariana Valente, InternetLab
7. Reflection to Gender Issues

Gender, and in particular online gender-based violence, formed the central theme of this open forum. During the session, our panellists discussed how online gender-based violence – including doxxing, surveillance, stalking and abuse – creates hostile spaces online for women and girls. Critically, the session focused on building policy interventions  for those who experience intersectional gender discrimination due to their race, ethnicity, caste, sexual orientation, or other identities.

8. Session Outputs

Following from the session, the Web Foundation hosted its third consultation on cnline gender-based violence and abuse. Drawing on insights from the panel, the session brought together tech companies, civil scoiety organisations and owmen in public life to tackle the issue. A writeup of key takeways can be found here

10. Voluntary Commitment

The Web Foundation commits to pursuing our work convening civil society organisations and tech companies to co-create solutions to OGBV. In addition we commit to support the documentation of experiences of challenges to online safety through our research and share the findings with the IGF community.