Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Corporate logos and Intellectual Property (IP) receive greater protection online than human beings do, according to the United Nations Population Fund-UNFPA, the women’s health agency that works to end gender-based violence.
The concern was raised at the launch of a new campaign to help shield women’s bodies and minds from cyber violence. The ‘bodyright’ initiative running as part of the 16 Days of Activism against Violence Against Women campaign, highlights that intellectual property is more highly valued and better protected online than images of human bodies, which are often uploaded to the Internet without consent, and used maliciously.
UNFPA Executive Director Dr Natalia Kanem called the online world “the new frontier for gender-based violence because it’s relentless, borderless and often anonymous. She added that it is time for technology companies and policymakers to take digital violence seriously.
Online violence is rife from cyberstalking and hate speech to doxing (publishing private or identifying information about an individual) and the non-consensual use of images and video, such as deep-fakes (whereby a person in an existing image is replaced with someone else’s. Yet still, many countries lack laws that make online violence illegal, leaving anyone trying to remove exploitative images of themselves with few legal rights and a long process for those who try to enforce those rights.
UNFPA says that the protections and repercussions used when someone infringes on music or film copyright must also extend to individuals and their photos. Governments have passed laws making copyright infringement illegal and digital platforms have devised ways to identify and prevent unauthorized use of copyrighted material. Often, digital platforms remove the content immediately, when they confirm any kind of infringement.
Award-winning poet and spoken-word artist Rakaya Fetuga has authored and performed poetry for the campaign that communicates the impact of online violence and the novel concept of bodyright. And to advocate for action from Governments, policymakers, tech companies and social media platforms, UNFPA has launched a Global Citizen-hosted petition, that demands tangible action to end digital violence and abuse.
Through the campaign, online users will be required to add the ⓑ symbol to any image directly via Instagram stories using stickers, to hold policymakers, companies, and individuals to account while simultaneously driving the message that women, girls, racial and ethnic minorities, and other marginalized groups are valued and will not be violated online.
Activists say that online violence silences the voices of women and that nine-out-of-10 women report that online violence harms their sense of well-being, while more than a third of women state that cyber violence has led to mental health issues. They add that digital violence inhibits authentic self-expression, and adversely impacts the professional and economic livelihoods of people who depend on online and social media spaces.
According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, 85 per cent of women with access to the internet reported witnessing online violence against other women, and 38 per cent have experienced it personally. Some 65 per cent of women surveyed have experienced cyber-harassment, hate speech and defamation, while 57 per cent have experienced video and image-based abuse and ‘astroturfing’, where damaging content is shared concurrently across.
UNFPA has also launched “The Virtual Is Real” website, which features stories of victims and survivors of digital violence from around the world, alongside innovative work done by UNFPA to address this human rights violation.