IGC Podcast: Highlights from the 'I Say No To Sexism Online' Campaign Launch

In the September episode of the IGC Podcast, we are zooming in on technology-facilitated gender-based violence and sharing highlights from the launch of the IGC's and UNICC's new campaign: 'I Say No To Sexism Online- #LogIntoEquality'.

Hannah Reinl

Hello and welcome to the September episode of the IGC Podcast. My name is Hannah Reinl and I’m with the International Gender Champions Secretariat in Geneva.

With today’s episode, we are bringing to you some highlights from the recent launch event of our new campaign “I Say No To Sexism Online- hashtag Log Into Equality”, which is a partnership between the International Gender Champions and the United Nations International Computing Centre, UNICC.

Digital technologies have presented us with a vast range of new opportunities for promoting gender equality. But they can also be used as tools to perpetrate gender-based violence (GBV). Under this so called technology-facilitated GBV fall a wide range of sexist behaviours and actions- that includes online harassment and threats, cyber-stalking, the spread of misogynistic content, revenge porn, and more. It impacts primarily women, and in particular young women and grils, women experiencing intersecting forms of discrimination, and women in public life. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, 38% of women globally have personally been subjected to online violence, 65% reported knowing other women who had been targeted online, and 85% of women reported witnessing online violence against other women.

Online violence tends to be dismissed as a virtual phenomenon with no real-life consequences. But it exists within a continuum that bridges the physical and digital realms. Similar to offline violence, online violence reflects structural gender inequality, deep-seated social norms and patterns of harmful masculinities. And also similar to offline violence, it has real and serious impacts on victims’ safety, their well-being, their freedom of expression and participation in public spaces.

With our campaign ‘I Say No To Sexism Online’, we want to raise awareness on this issue, we want to promote actionable pathways towards combatting technology-facilitated GBV and to that end engage our International Gender Champions as positive role-models towards creating safe online spaces for all. With that, the IGC is building on the successful ‘I Say No To Sexism’ Campaign, which was first launched at UNOG in 2018. This campaign complements our Gender-Based Violence Pledge, one of two IGC core commitments, that requires each Gender Champion to uphold a zero-tolerance stance towards any form of GBV - both offline and online.

So on 26 September 2023, with over 200 participants in the virtual room, we kicked off this new campaign which we hope will create a chain of positive messaging across various social media platforms over the coming weeks.

Let’s first hear an excerpt of the Opening Remarks by Sameer Chauhan, International Gender Champion in Geneva and Director of the UNICC.

Sameer Chauhan

This is something that's very near and dear to my heart. I'm the father of two daughters. And this is a genuine issue that I see, as you mentioned, has real world consequences. So a little bit of background about UNICC and why we agreed to go sponsor this with IGC. We are the tech engine behind the scenes supporting the entire UN system. We work with every single UN agency. And we see real world situations for partners, some who, who you'll hear from very shortly, like UN women, UNFPA, who see this reality happening on the field, on the ground. UNICEF. We've heard similar stories from. Children, women are targeted online. And it has massive implications. Last week, for example, I was in New York and met with one of our partners who are working on a project for a specific country where elections are coming up and they said every time there's elections, women candidates are targeted online, with everything from misinformation to fake videos that are created about them and essentially creating so much pressure that they would drop out. So we are working on a technology solution to help mitigate that, but that's just to give you an example of something real world that's happening and also real world action we can take to kind of address this. So again, I think this problem is very real. We need to do something about it, so I'm super pleased that the IGC  secretariat has created this excellent session today, but this is just the launch of a much bigger initiative that we want to take out to the broader world and have all the IGC champions make significant commitments.

Hannah Reinl

Sameer’s opening remarks were followed by an eye-opening keynote speech by Janet Mbugua, International Gender Champion in Nairobi, Kenyan media personality, and founder of the Inua Dada Foundation, which seeks to empower women and girls. Janet shared her personal experience of being subjected to sexism online and put forward a powerful call to action.

Janet Mbugua

I can recount three times when I was the target of sexism online. The first, which I've talked about on various platforms many times before, is when I was a news anchor doing my job as I usually do. Except at this time, in 2015, I was pregnant with my first born son. Something very normal, but I became the target of immense body shaming, largely from men, but also from a faction of women. I pushed back because it was an assault on womanhood, and I could not stand for that.

The second was when I stood with a colleague when she became the target of grotesque jokes about ,and please allow me to put a trigger warning here, but about rape. Standing with her against the misogynist bloggers who were known for online bullying, especially attacking women, meant that I too became part of blog posts that were slandering my name. Once again, I stood my ground and  rose above the hate.

The third time was when I simply posted a picture of myself in a swimsuit, happy to have come out of a week of intense isolation during COVID and happy to have been at the coast, a place I grew up and loved fondly. Spending time with my wonderful sons, my sister-in-law, and my niece. The perversion that followed made me gag. Quite literally, it was endless. I spent a lot of time blocking and deleting comments, but could not do much when my image was shared on other posts for people to pick apart my body. These are various scenarios with the same vitriol.

Women and girls are often the target of bullying, stalking and mudslinging. A lot of what we've heard, Hannah said at the beginning of this session. And yet with all the data that has been carried out and cases that have been reported, there doesn't appear to be a collective and cohesive way to fully address all elements of this rising social injustice. And I believe it falls back to the way the world sees women and the world still does not see us as equal.

Whether it's in the workplace, whether it's in schools, in new innovations and in progress towards social impact at every corner, there are barriers and actions that are geared towards locking women and girls out and making us seem unimportant in our opinions and our contributions. So then why would the online space present any differently?

It's cost women jobs, opportunities, among others, and most of all, compromised their safety.

To push back on sexism online, we require allyship. We require laws. We require regulations. Most of all, we need to be believed, and we need to be heard. Our agency is at stake because our voices are treated like a mistake. And we need these laws that need to be fully implemented. We need to create safe spaces and equip young people with the tools to navigate the online world.

But now we need action and we really need it urgently. I'm always saying that progress comes with persecution and it comes with pushback. Progress means that we're pushing back against what has been known to be comfortable or the norm, and our agency this time means that we're pushing back on patriarchy and because of that, we're facing a lot of persecution. I face it pretty often, but now I stand with the fact that, ohh, if they're persecuting me, maybe it means I'm saying something right? But again, not everyone has the same guts or grit. So now we need to make sure that we create safe spaces for everyone and that I want to thank the IGC and allies who stand with us. Progress is fragile, but we have to push back until we are all safe. Thank you.

Hannah Reinl

With these opening – and eye-opening – remarks to set the backdrop for the event, the IGC Secretariat invited representatives from four different entities within the IGC network to share the creative solutions and initiatives they had developed to address technology-facilitated Gender-Based Violence. These included UN Women’s online knowledge hub on sexual harassment, the European Institute for Gender Equality’s Safe Spaces campaign, which, among others, worked with street murals and storytelling for effective messaging, the Kofi-Annan Foundation’s pledge model to prevent online violence against women politicians during the Kenyan elections. Another example was an initiative undertaken be the Costa Rican country office of UNFPA, which organized a fashion show to raise awareness and position key messages related to online image abuse, while embracing a narrative of bodily autonomy and human diversity.

Before closing, the IGC Secretariat presented the various elements of the ‘I Say No To Sexism Online’ campaign, which include a number of communications assets – such as social media post cards, GIFs or virtual backgrounds – to share, a Champions-led social media challenge, and guidance and resources to promote safe and inclusive online spaces.

And for final inspiration, let’s hear an excerpt from the event’s closing remarks by Fleur Heyworth, Head of the IGC Secretariat.

Fleur Heyworth

It's absolutely clear that we are at a crossroads where we have a rise in violence within and between us. And this needs to stop. And it starts to stop with the attitudes and behaviours that perpetuate inequality and discrimination. And we know that those attitudes that perpetuate inequality and discrimination are gendered. What we've heard today is how disruptive technology can be and at the same time it's just mirroring what is happening within society more broadly, that disruption can be constructive. We can turn it into something creative where we design the future that we want together.

What I would like to share with you, are 4C's four key areas that we can think about and reflect on as we take this campaign forward.

The first see is that we all need courage. We need courage to share our stories and raise our voices. Janet has very courageously shared her story. Her vulnerability in doing so, but it's only through that courage that we're going to really connect with what is happening and understand the impact of it.

The second thing is we need commitments to some core values commitment to safe spaces, to respect for diversity, to respect the human dignity, and we need accountability to honor that commitment and the UN frameworks and policies that are being developed as well as by many others and the EIGE as well are a step towards us realising those commitments.

The third thing is I really believe we need creativity. We need creativity to show a different path. We need to use art like we had the mural art. We need to use videos. We need to use our imaginations to so show how a different way is possible.

And finally, we need the 4th C which is conversations. We need conversations online and offline so that we can each contribute to co-creating this better future together.

Those conversations have started today. I really hope that through this challenge, they start within your communities with your peers, with your networks within IGC and beyond. This is about taking this campaign forward in a way that brings meaning and relevance to everybody that you meet. So that together we can really say I say no to sexism. We all say no to sexism online, offline in all our lives.

Hannah Reinl

And of course, these 4 C’s culminate in a 5th C – which is “Campaign”. We encourage all of you to join us in sending a powerful message against any form of sexism, whether offline or online. All campaign materials can be accessed via a public Trello board- to learn more, find us on social media, visit our website or contact us via admin@genderchampions.com

We say no to sexism- what do you say?