Covid 19 Magnified Online Harassment of Women

Was Virtual Education Effective or Ineffective?

The accessibility and unattributable nature of cyberspace has exposed women to a disproportionate amount of stalking and online harassment and the Covid 19 pandemic has magnified this, according to an analysis by UN Experts.

The analysis “System Update: Towards a Women, Peace and Cyber security Agenda” said that the world saw an increase in online violence, misogyny and hate speech directed at women as it turned towards digital with the pandemic.

The analysis said that it was crucial to address the new and emerging security issues, such as cyber threats and their gendered implications as the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda enters its third decade.


The Analysis explores the relationship between Women, Peace and Security agenda on the one hand and cyber enabled threats and cyber security on the other. The paper analyses the linkages between WPS priority themes — gender equality, women’s participation in international security, prevention and protection of violence against women, gender-differentiated needs and international cyber security. It identifies priority areas that should be addressed to ensure a gender inclusive cyberspace that protects the rights of women and girls.


The paper says that women of all kinds, from politicians, to human rights defenders, to private users, face online harassment and threats, which in some instances has led to attacks on their physical safety. “Therefore, protecting women and girls from cyber violence must be part of the WPS agenda as well,” the authors noted.

They also warn that online spaces and the dark web might be utilised to perpetuate violence against women, including through crimes such as human trafficking. “Online sexual exploitation and abuse is often accompanied by or can lead to in-person violence against women and girls. Additionally, lockdowns and travel restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in a spike in the online sexual exploitation and abuse of women and girls, including commercial sexual exploitation and an increase in people attempting to access illegal websites featuring child sexual abuse material,” the paper said.


In the analysis, the authors identify six priority areas to narrow the gap between WPS and cyber security:

  • women’s participation in cyber security negotiations
  • cyber violence against women and girls
  • online harassment and women’s participation in political processes
  • gender and online radicalization;
  • gendered impacts of cyber incidents
  • gender bias in digital technologies.
  • Setting the agenda at the international level
  • Develop initiatives to increase the meaningful participation of women in cyber security negotiations and to understand the barriers to their participation in multilateral and multi-stakeholder cyber security processes.
  • Integrate gender considerations into national statements and language proposals as part of United Nations and multi-stakeholder engagement processes focused on international cyber security and digital technologies.
  • Establish ‘cyber security’ as a theme of a forthcoming debate under the agenda item of ‘women and peace and security’ in the Security Council.
  • Systematically address cyber security, including the gendered aspects and impacts of cyber incidents, as part of the Secretary-General’s annual report on WPS
  • Ensure that multi-stakeholder dialogues, involving States, civil society as well as technology platforms and social media companies, consider gender dynamics when proposing solutions to restrict the spread of terrorist content and disinformation online
  • Policy development at the national level
  •  Ensure that national cyber security policies and activities by governments incorporate diverse gender perspectives as part of their development and implementation across government.
  • Develop and/or strengthen gender-inclusive cyber security laws, policies and practices that respect the rights of women and girls and that are able to identify and respond to their cyber security needs.
  • Protect the digital space for women and girls’ civic engagement, as well as to prevent cyber violence against women and girls.
  • Increase awareness about what constitutes cyber abuse by developing public campaigns around this issue.
  • Incorporate different dimensions of cyber security into the development and review of national action plans on WPS (including those developed at regional and local levels).
  • Capacity-building initiatives
  • Integrate gender perspectives into the development of cyber capacity building initiatives, materials, and training programmes.
  • Ensure that women have equal access to digital technologies.
  • Engage women and girls as content creators and developers.


Former Deputy Director, Defence, Strategy and National Security and Head of International Program at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute Lisa Sharland, Associate Senior Researcher within the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Netta Goussac, researcher with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s International Cyber Policy Centre Emilia Currey, researcher for the International Program at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute Genevieve Feely and Sarah O’Connor are the authors of the analysis.


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