Ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of UNODC Executive Director, Ms. Ghada Waly, it gives me great pleasure to deliver her message and to commend the South African Government for organising this event on Strengthening the Response to Cyber Violence Against Women and Girls in the SADC Region. And for the strides it is making to combat gender-based violence, including introducing several amendments and new legislation to address gender-based violence and femicide. Moreover, South Africa has recently passed legislation to better investigate cases of cyberviolence.
The Internet is a double-edged sword. It is a global driving force, that allows people to improve their quality of life, and accelerates progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals.
But on the flip side, it becomes a weapon of harm, wielded most forcefully against women and girls.
Women and children are more likely to become victims of cybercrime, especially online harassment, sexual abuse, and exploitation.
This is a fact that women, and female leaders across all cultures, relay. Whether in Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, or here in Europe. Women in politics receive an overwhelming amount of online, sexist and gendered abuse, via social media platforms.
Female public officials, journalists, and others engaging in public debate are targeted for their expression.
Online attacks -- including sexual and gender-based violence -- seek to silence the political ambitions and engagement of women and girls.
And decrease their presence in politics and public life.
One means to help protect children is through education. And this extends well beyond efforts to strengthen their online safety skills.
I strongly believe in the importance of providing education and economic empowerment for girls, to protect and empower them throughout their lives.
Internet accessibility and digital vulnerabilities have increased throughout the last decade.
Some two-thirds of the world’s population is now connected, bringing with it a global rise in potential cyber victims and cyber criminals.
And research shows us that despite women and girls having less accessibility to the Internet, they are more likely to experience gender-based violence in online spaces than men and boys.
The most common forms of online gender-based violence are cyberstalking, cyber harassment, image-based sexual abuse or online sexual harassment, bullying, coercion, or threats.
Here in Europe, one in 10 women reports having experienced cyber-harassment since the age of 15. The risk is highest among young women aged 18-29 years.
More research is needed to fully understand the extent of cyber violence in the SADC Region. However, informal, and formal reports by NGOs and criminal justice practitioners, indicate that women are commonly experiencing harassment through WhatsApp and Facebook.
We also see female victims of cyber violence in the SADC countries are reluctant to report this crime and to seek support.
Cybercrime is an extremely complex crime to handle. It is hard to adequately investigate and prosecute.
The victims, the offenders, and the tools used to inflict harm are often located in different countries.
Most of the evidence in cybercrime offenses is electronic, and frequently requires special investigative techniques, as well as formal and informal international cooperation measures.
Too often we are playing catch-up. National frameworks, operating procedures, and the capabilities to prevent and combat cybercrime, lag-behind cybercriminal’s modus operandi. And often do not address the gender dimension of cybercrime.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime supports countries to develop, and expand crime prevention and criminal justice responses to cyber gender-based violence. And we work to enhance international cooperation.
Last year, UNODC, in partnership with the SADC Secretariat and Interpol Regional Bureau, conducted a rapid assessment of the capacity needs of criminal justice practitioners in the SADC region.
It became apparent that those working in law enforcement, and prosecutors, showed a dire capacity gap to investigate and prosecute the emerging threat of cyberviolence against women and children.
Key challenges include the high likelihood of perpetrators evading detection and a lack of trauma-informed and survivor-centred approaches.
In response, UNODC for Southern Africa, together with the Southern African Development Community and INTERPOL Harare, developed a training series on countering cyber violence against women and girls. Over 230 law enforcement officers and prosecutors in 16 SADC member countries were trained in the past two years.
I congratulate all those involved in the training for developing the handbook “Understanding Online Gender-based Violence” that we are launching today.
Ladies and gentlemen,
UNODC works closely with UN Women, both on research and to explain why gender aspects are important when combatting organised crime.
During lockdowns brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw that violence against women increased globally, while access to justice became more difficult.
This highlighted the need for innovative solutions, leading to the enhanced use of new technologies such as e-justice mechanisms, digitalization promoting women’s access to criminal justice, online helplines, or messaging services for victims of gender-based violence.
But we must ensure that increased digitalization does not replicate existing inequalities in accessing justice.
Special attention must be paid to women and girls from marginalized groups to ensure that they have the necessary skills and technology to access such services.
UNODC is also working to bolster female participation in the judicial process, from crime scene investigation to the courtroom.
Because we know that women’s representation in the criminal justice sector is linked to a more effective, victim-centred response to crime.
More women in justice, is good for justice both ‘on’ and ‘offline’.
But the challenges are great. Women remain severely under-represented in these sectors: less than one out of six police officers globally.
It is clear a holistic approach is needed.
Ending online gender-based violence cannot be achieved by working in silos. It requires collaboration among States, Internet and communications service providers, civil society, and other stakeholders.
Because we need to end the impunity of cybercrime. And give women and girls the safety, in both the real and virtual world, to fulfill their full potential.