New Series: Introducing #FridayFigures

  • October 16th, 2020
  • Blog

GenPol is delighted to introduce a new weekly series, #FridayFigures, across all of our social media channels (remember to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin if you haven’t already).

In a world where it is quite hard to find data that will reflect women’s experiences, the intention behind this project is to share the figures currently available to make different facets of women’s lives visible and tangible. Women’s experiences are often mixed up, and “lost”, among the data or statistics about men, with heavy repercussions on governments’ policies, and the way society as a whole thinks and interacts. This kind of opacity affects infinite disciplines, decisions, and behaviours, from city planning to where state money is invested, right through to our ideas around gender roles, and more. It is, therefore, important to highlight the condition of the half of the world population that is very often overlooked and ignored, and shed light on these hidden figures and datasets.

We hope that this action will inspire and encourage people to reflect on the realities of women around the world, and that going forward we will see more and more data specifically about women to help tackle the same old problem of gender inequality. By putting the spotlight on what’s been mostly relegated to the dark. We hope that policymakers will take notice and act accordingly.

We will also be looking to expand our focus in the following weeks to cast light on the people behind the data, and this is where we’ll need your help! If you know a person, community, or organisation whose work focuses on celebrating or telling the untold and/or not commonly known talents, experiences, and stories of women, we would love to hear from you.

Make sure to check in on social media every Friday, and we’ll be back with more updates soon.

Ilaria Albani

We Need Your Help to Tackle Digital Gender-Based Violence!

  • September 17th, 2020
  • Blog

The ongoing shift towards a digital world has accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic. As we are all spending even more time online or working remotely, there is an urgent need to address the issue of digital violence against women. Women are disproportionately more likely to be the targets of online harassment, and experience higher levels of digital violence in their day to day lives. At GenPol, we believe the time has come to start putting concrete strategies in place to stop this, and to make social networks and remote working spaces a safer place for everyone.

That’s why, for the next two weeks, we’re looking forward to opening up a wider conversation about the steps we can all take, together, to end digital violence against women and non-men, and we’d like you to get involved.

You can help us tackle Digital Gender-Based Violence once and for all by doing any (or all) of the following:

  • Read our research on the topic. Take the time to inform yourself and get confident with facts and figures using our infographics and policy paper. These can be found on the GenPol Homepage along with links to all of our other publications.
  • Take our survey in English. We want to hear about your online experiences and suggestions for how to make the internet a safer place. Don’t worry, it is 100% anonymous!
  • Join in with the debate online using the hashtags #WhenTechnologyMeetsMisogyny, #DigitalGenderBasedViolence,#DGBV- we want to hear from you!
  • Speak up about the issues of digital, gender-based violence, both online and ‘IRL’ (Although don’t forget to give us a shout out on Facebook and Twitter).

Stay tuned for more updates on social media, and we look forward to virtually meeting more of you over the next two weeks.

Thank you in advance for your support,

The GenPol Team

Addressing The Intersex Legal Gap

  • May 5th, 2020
  • Blog

As a soon- to-be-graduate in European Legal Studies, I am fascinated by the legal vacuum that surrounds intersectionality. It goes beyond a gender binary, and therefore it seems like most Western jurisdictions do not recognise its existence. Yet, intersex people do exist, and there is an evident lack of research about intersexuality. Existing research doesn’t distinguish between Trans rights or intersex rights, which is a serious conceptual error. The legal and material needs of these communities are different and should be addressed independently. That is why I think it is so important to talk about intersexuality and address this legal gap by raising awareness.

What is intersexuality?

Intersexuality is an umbrella term that covers congenital conditions in which there is an atypical chromosomal, gonadal, or anatomical sex development. The most known cases concern hermaphrodites, who develop both male and female genitalia. More recently, medical research has discovered forty different variants of intersexuality.
While this condition can be apparent at birth, intersex traits can appear during puberty, or even in adulthood.

The frequency rate of intersexuality in the population is not certain. Data about intersex people lack, due to the stigma attached to this condition and the absence of long-term detailed studies. Nonetheless, according to the United Nations, between 0.05% and 1.7% of the population is born with intersex traits.  

Why is it important to know about it?

Our legal traditions are historically based on the male-female dichotomy of the sexes, leaving little space for people who do not fit in this traditional binary system. Public toilets, marriages, and pension systems are just a few examples of cases in which being male or female could play a decisive role. This is also confirmed by the fact that this minority has been hidden for a long time. Recently, the legal gap between intersexuality and the male-female dichotomy can be bridged thanks to medical surgery.

Nowadays, the approach towards intersexuality largely reflects the theory of Professor John William Money. In the second half of the ‘900, the sexologist and psychologist developed a theory according to which the sex of a new-born is malleable. He theorised that it would be advisable to perform surgery on intersex children as soon as possible and raise them according to the sex assigned at birth.

No empirical medical research has backed his theory. Moreover, sex malleability overlooks the complexity of gender identity, which is not only about the anatomic sex appearance.

When an intersex child is born, the case is treated as an emergency. Even though sex is not clear, the sex assignment has priority in the treatment of the baby. In highly ambiguous cases, surgeries are carried out in order to confirm the baby into one of the two traditional sexes.

As the decision to perform surgery is taken by healthcare professionals and parents, the will of the intersex person is not considered. This approach may be understandable where the child’s life is at risk; however, the cases in which surgical operations are performed exceed those of life-threat. These medical procedures can often be highly invasive and they are frequently irreversible. They are usually accompanied hormone treatments, which should be lifelong and which may lead to hormonal imbalances.

As far as the paradoxical relationship between human rights and intersexuality is concerned, states seem to turn a blind eye. According to the comparative analysis Trans and intersex equality rights in Europe”, published by the European network of legal experts in gender equality and non-discrimination of the European Commission, with the exception of Malta, the European member states do not explicitly protect intersex individuals in their legal systems. Maltese legislation pioneered the recognition of intersex rights. With a legal act, it prohibited non-necessary surgeries on non-binary individuals and it recognised the rights to bodily integrity and physical autonomy. Nonetheless, Malta remains the exception in the European scenario.

Few steps have been done on an international level. Recently, some international institutions have addressed the issue of intersex rights; among them, the High Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, the Office of the High Commissioner of the United Nations and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. Yet, states still seem reluctant to adopt concrete measures.

What can be done?

One of the most important things to do about intersexuality is to talk about it. Raising awareness about intersex people could bring them to feel more comfortable about their condition. Moreover, it would be useful to talk about this topic in public debate to put pressure on policymakers to implement for more inclusive and non-discriminatory laws.

Aesthetic surgeries on intersex children should be explicitly abolished by law; the more states abolish them, the more unlikely it becomes that individuals appeal to the neighbouring state to have medical operations be performed.

In order to address the legislative gap, some countries have adopted the third sex option. However, according to some scholars, this measure could increase, rather than reduce, intersex stigma. All these steps maybe not enough to ensure that the fundamental rights of intersex individuals are respected and promoted. We are in need of more, interdisciplinary research. Intersexuality has not been considered by academia for a long time. Many issues need to be further investigated; for instance, the outcome of early surgery must be analysed with long-term studies, the consequences of the third-sex option must be scrutinized and an appropriate collocation in the legal systems must be provided for intersex individuals.

Finally, we must reconsider what we regard as “normality” when it comes to gender identity and sex development. Indeed, sex should be considered as a spectrum rather than a two-option choice. This Copernican revolution would disrupt the world as it is known today, touching legal and societal systems, “but – as Fausto-Sterling put forward –  in the long view – thought it could take generations to achieve – the prize might be a society in which sexuality is something to be celebrated for its subtleties and not something to be feared or ridiculed”.

Martina Molinari
University of Turin

The unbearable lightness of lesbian (in)visibility

  • April 25th, 2020
  • Blog

Against the backdrop of this weird April, where we are all trying to live with the difficulties of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, my partner received a letter from the health insurance company. It was a kind and completely normal administrative letter, dealing with the complexity of the Belgian public healthcare system. In that letter, I was identified as her daughter. We are a lesbian couple, and my partner is older than me. The health insurance company has all our personal data, they know, of course, our gender and age difference and they know for how long we have been living together. The only thing they did not know is the kind of relationship that unites us. They saw a stable household of two women living together with a relatively small (but still substantial) age difference and decided that the safest assumption was that we were mother and daughter.

As first, I was very amused. It is a quite common experience for lesbians, so common actually that in Brussels there is a lesbian bar called “Mothers&Daugthers”. I am also a lesbian activist and board member of EL*C, a lesbian European network group, working on recognition and visibility of lesbians among other things. Of course, this happened to me while, as part of EL*C Team, I was busy organising events and campaigns to mark International Lesbian Visibility Day. The irony of having to spend 45 minutes on the phone trying to offset the invisibility of my own relationship didn’t escape me. Being a lesbian feminist, starting my reflection and activism from my own experience of oppression, means that sometimes the world sends me a small, personal reminder on why I need to put my energy and time into the cause. It is an immense motivator and, sometimes, the source of great tiredness.

So, after the amusement, my activist instincts kicked in. I started reflecting on this small insignificant episode. I am well aware that the fact that I only had to call them and ask to rectify their mistake is really a minimal problem in this moment, given the unprecedented crisis we are facing. Even the fact that I have the time, space, and possibility to reflect on this issue and write this article is a huge privilege. However, this small insignificant problem is also an example of the fact that love and relationships between women are still unthinkable. Somehow, to the person writing that letter, it seemed more reasonable to assume that my partner gave birth to a child when she was 9 years old than to dare imagine a loving relationship between us.

Lesbian invisibility, however, it is not just a matter of administrative errors and funny calls with a very confused health insurance employee. The real, dramatic consequence of invisibility is a broad misconception and misunderstanding of lesbophobic violence, harassment, and discrimination. For example, lesbophobic violence is a phenomenon that needs to be understood in the complex interrelationships between misogyny and heteronormativity. When considering, these cases, if we frame the sexual orientation of the victims as “a matter of private life” we fail to see and, therefore, understand that the deep root of this violence does not lie only in the gender or only in the sexual orientation of the victim but in their complex entanglement. Invisibility does not protect lesbians, it erases our stories, it reinforces our oppression and the oppression of all women and LGBTI people.

When thinking more deeply, I began to question my initial amusement. LGBTQI+ people learn how to collectively construct their own defenses. One of the things that I learned in my years of activism is that building resilience as a community requires a sense of humor and that laughing in the face of our oppression is a powerful and effective way to de-potentiate its weapons. Yet, while this amusement is absolutely needed and a great tool, it should not overshadow the price of invisibility that we pay on a daily basis and the consequences of it, in terms of mental health and wellbeing. There is a clear need, when dealing with gender-based violence, harassment, and discrimination, to consider the experience of lesbians as valid in their specificity and to start focusing on it and studying it appropriately (it is often not the case).

More broadly, there is a necessity to realise that a one-size-fits-all approach on LGBTI issues or women rights might appear neutral but it can easily cause a further erasure of lesbian lives and silence our voices. This is what brings me back to the need for Lesbian Visibility Day, even in time of this unprecedented global pandemic. Lesbian Visibility Day is a way to unite our community and celebrate ourselves. But it is also a way to start a common and broader reflection on what does it means to be a group at the margin, and at the same time, at the intersection of LGBTI and women movements.

Ilaria Todde

GenPol Supports the Polish Women’s Strike

  • April 21st, 2020
  • Blog

On April 16th, activists from the Polish Women’s Strike won an important battle. Poland’s ultra-conservative ruling party had attempted to take advantage of the public health emergency to pass two bills, which would have de facto resulted in a total abortion ban and the suppression of sexuality education teaching.

Thanks to women’s mobilization, the Polish Parliament has deferred a final decision on the new legislation. However, Polish feminists are well-aware that this is only a battle of a long and bloody war. That is why we encourage you to sign the petition we circulated last week, calling on Poland to reform abortion law and to remove all barriers to abortion care. We are also extremely grateful to friends at L’inkiesta, and encourage Italian speakers to read, and share, Francesa Lepore’s poignant piece, in which GenPol and our CEO Lilia Giugni are quoted.

For further info on sexual and reproductive rights in Poland, please write to our colleague and IPPF EN Senior Advisor Irene Donadio,

The Impact of Covid19 on Single Mothers

Alessandra Sciarra

Alessandra recently graduated from LSE with a master’s degree in International Social and Public Policy. She is interested in gender dynamics, economic inequality and informality and advocates for the rights of women and minority groups.


By now, there should be no doubt that when a crisis strikes different groups are hit differently. As the COVID-19 emergency has shown us so far, a pandemic ends up magnifying existing – and often conveniently ignored – inequalities.

The situation faced by single mothers exemplifies the effects of the pandemic on women. In the UK alone, there are about two million single parents, 90% of which are women. Around 70% of all single parents in the country are currently in work and, out of them, three out of ten live in poverty. School closures and self-isolation have meant that single mothers have all of a sudden found themselves alone with children at home. Self-isolation makes it extremely difficult to count on the help of family members and many women have reported the stress of being locked inside all the time looking after children on their own, while, in some cases, also caring for the elderly in the family. At the same time, single mothers tend to work in more precarious, low paid jobs, which do not offer the option of remote working. Thus, this situation forces them to decide whether going to work, exposing themselves to the risk of infection and having no one to look after their children, or staying home, eventually losing their job

The mental stress that comes from this situation is extremely high and is worsened by the implications of children staying at home. These include an increase in food costs as single mothers now have to deal with the additional and unexpected economic burden of substituting school lunches with home-made meals. For a single mother of two that means providing ten extra meals per week. From a social policy standpoint, the situation in which single mothers currently are allows us to draw a few lessons. Firstly, the austerity measures implemented throughout Europe in the past years, which have led to cuts in budgets for welfare programmes targeted to categories deemed as “undeserving”, clearly have a responsibility in the poor coverage and low support that many women are now receiving. Secondly, the caretaking systems that many countries have in place at the moment are just not good enough. The lack of available and affordable care services places too much of a burden on women, who are not able to break out from the cycle of less secure and lower paid part-time job positions. Many single parents do indeed prefer to work more flexible but lower paid and lower quality jobs, as it allows them to perform the level of care-taking they actually need. 

The vulnerability of this of women during the pandemic calls for emergency measures to be implemented as quickly as possible. Access to financial support schemes should be easy and quick and extra money should be put into the system to allow everyone’s needs to be met. A gender-neutral policy-making is not going to be effective as it is not going to cover the needs of those groups who are systematically disadvantaged. While it is pivotal to act intelligently during the crisis, it seems clear that these issues are rooted in deeper gender-based disparities and more has to be done during normal times in order to strengthen women’s position in society. 

COVID-19 is a disaster for women worldwide, threatening to turn the clock on gender equality. But it could also offer a window of opportunity for change and evidence-driven policy advocacy. In order to shape improved and gender-sensitive future policies, it is now important to record how differently this pandemic is affecting women and men. As vulnerable single women are currently paying much of the cost of poor and narrow-sighted policy making, this situation offers us a chance to rebuild a system that was insufficient in the first place. 


What a Virologist Thinks You Should Know About CoVid-19: GenPol in Conversation with Nerea Irigoyen

As part of our ongoing Covid-19 series, this week GenPol were lucky enough to interview  Dr Nerea Irigoyen, a virologist from the University of Cambridge.  In 2010, Nerea was appointed as a Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellow (Wellcome Trust), working under the supervision of Prof Ian Brierley, recording mechanisms in retrovirus and coronavirus. Since September 2018, she has been working as a Research Group Leader focusing on Zika Virus translation and its relationship with pathogenicity and disease.

We sat down to gauge her thoughts about the Covid-19 pandemic, and what she thinks you should know about it.

1) What’s life in your lab/department like these days? How are you holding up?

On Friday 20th March, all the labs in our Department were shut down. The University of Cambridge activated the red alert on Wednesday and gave us 48 hours to finish all the essential experiments. Since then, the whole lab has been working remotely!

2) What are you and your colleagues working on exactly?

In the lab we are working on the Zika virus. The Zika virus made the headlines in 2016 when it was linked to the sudden spike in babies born with significantly smaller heads, (what is also known as microcephaly) in Latin America. The virus, transmitted by mosquitoes and isolated in Africa in 1947, was never considered remarkable because previous cases had been asymptomatic. Therefore, our main interest in the lab is to know what sets the new American Zika virus apart from the African Zika virus and to know whether there are differences in how they replicate, produce their viral proteins and ultimately how they can cause disease.

3) At GenPol we have been looking at the gendered and intersectional implications of the pandemic. What are your thoughts on this?

The last two pandemics (Zika virus in 2016 and the current SARS-CoV-2) have had a huge effect on women. During the outbreak in Latin America, the Zika virus caused profound social impacts, particularly on women and girls. Despite recommendations from health authorities in endemic countries to postpone pregnancies for up to two years, it was made difficult for young women to avoid pregnancy due to a lack of clear reproductive health information by the Brazilian public health system. It was also difficult to access long-term contraceptives. In addition, abortion is criminalized in many Latin American countries and can be punishable with a 20-30 year prison sentence.

Women in Brazil also sought abortion through clandestine means, often involving dangerous methods such as caustic acid. In 2015, half a million women in Brazil underwent abortions, and tragically unsafe abortion was the fourth leading cause of maternal mortality. Furthermore, the lives of mothers with children diagnosed with Congenital Zika Syndrome have been profoundly impacted, with many women unable to maintain a job, whilst having to pay for medication and travel costs to access consultations in urban areas.

Associations that help victims of domestic violence have raised the alarm after Europe has become the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic, warning that the stress caused by social isolation is exacerbating tensions and increasing the risk of domestic and sexual violence against women and children. In addition, fears for job security and financial difficulties are also increasing the likelihood of conflicts in homes with no previous history of domestic abuse. In this sense, the UK Home Secretary Priti Patel has indicated that refuges will remain open, and the police will provide support to all individuals who are being physically or emotionally abused. In addition, it is important to be aware that millions of children are spending more time online and that they may be even more vulnerable to online predators.

4) Why is SARS-CoV-2 so virulent? What makes it different from other viruses you have been studying?

This novel coronavirus, the SARS-CoV-2 is not so virulent compared to the ‘cousin’ virus SARS-CoV but more easily transmissible. The SARS-CoV outbreak in 2003 in China had a fatality rate of 10% but did not have the capacity to spread as easily as this.

SARS-CoV-2 has managed to spread across the globe in just a few weeks (it is important to notice that the first pneumonia cases in China were reported by late December) but although the fatality rate will be 1-2%, the great number of cases is hugely increasing the number of deaths.

The real dangers of this virus are that it is completely new for humans and not very well adapted yet. This is why it is so pathogenic. In addition, we do not have any immune memory to combat it yet. Also, viruses that are transmitted through respiratory droplets, produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes, are easily transmitted compared to other viruses such as mosquito-borne like Zika virus.

6) What is the likelihood of more different strains developing?

Unlike flu viruses, coronaviruses can proofread their genomes as they copy them, correcting mistakes along the way. This feature reduces their mutation rate and is probably the one bit of good news about coronaviruses. This makes coronaviruses less of a moving target for our immune system and our immunity will likely last for longer.

7) Is another recurrence (or second wave) of a a pandemic likely in your opinion?

Quite likely. In the near future there are two possible scenarios for the recurrence of this epidemic unless a vaccine is available. The first one will be during the release of the lockdown and this is why is extremely necessary to test all the population in order to prevent asymptomatic carriers to infect new people. The second scenario will take place next autumn, as good weather might lower the virus transmission in the Northern hemisphere but there is a high chance that it will come back later in the year. In the worst case scenario, SARS-CoV-2 will arrive at the same time as flu virus and this will cause health systems to collapse extremely quick. This is why we should start to prepare now for a potential second wave.

Currently there are a lot of research groups working on developing a vaccine against this novel coronavirus. We need to take into account that vaccines do normally take years until they can be developed. In this case, as we have done a lot of previous work with related coronavirus such as SARS and MERS, we will probably reduce this time but even though we will not probably have a safe and effective vaccine for the next 12-18 months.

8) What are the personal dangers faced by scientists who work with the virus? How do you protect yourselves?

Laboratory workers handling this virus should wear personal protective equipment (PPE) which includes disposable gloves, laboratory coat/gown, respirator (e.g. N-95), and eye protection. Furthermore, any procedure with the potential to generate fine-particulate aerosols (e.g. vortexing or sonication of specimens in an open tube) should be performed in a Class II Biological Safety Cabinet. After specimens are processed, work surfaces and equipment should be decontaminated and all disposable waste should be autoclaved.

9) Are there many women scientists in your lab? How are they coping with the extra load of work and work/life balance in these difficult times?

There are a big number of female scientists in the Division of Virology especially at a graduate and postdoctoral level, for most of us this is going to be the first time working from home, and for an uncertain amount of time. The idea of continuing with our full-time jobs while simultaneously homeschooling children, attending to elderly or sick relatives is extremely challenging. I think we need to acknowledge this new situation and that it will take time to adapt, probably more than expected. Probably everything will start to improve once as we settle into our new routines (i.e. designate a workspace or defined working hours). For the time being, we need to keep as positive as possible, this will help at getting the work done and at maintaining our mental wellbeing.

10.) What can we in our daily life do to help protect the most vulnerable?

The best strategy to help the most vulnerable during the current epidemic is to stay at home and practice social distancing. So far, this is the only way to avoid the spread of the virus and to flatten the epidemic curve.

Another way of helping vulnerable people is volunteering. That includes helping with shopping, delivering medicines from pharmacies, driving patients to appointments, bringing them home from hospital, and making regular phone calls to check on people isolating at home. Remember always to carry out this work in a sensible and vigilant way, always maintaining the physical distancing rules.


Coronavirus and Social Justice: GenPol teams up with Fondazione Feltrinelli

As part of our CoVid19 series, our own Lilia Giugni was commissioned to write an op-ed for The Feltrinelli Foundation (Fondazione Feltrinelli).

Lilia’s article compares the social justice implications of the pandemic and related public health measures in the UK and her native Italy. It argues that the virus is brutally revealing the dramatic patterns of inequalities that underpin our ways of life, with the most vulnerable ones paying -as always- the heaviest price.

Italian speakers can read the article here

GenPol in the time of Coronavirus

This week the World Health Organisation has declared the current outbreak of the new Coronavirus a Pandemic, meaning that the virus is spreading across different countries, affecting large numbers of people at a global level.

In spite of the WHO’s declaration and the numbers which are clearly pointing towards a global phenomenon, something which many are already recognizing as a historical event. We’re observing governments still approaching the problem with different levels of concern and seriousness, and adopting radically different sets of measures to address the outbreak (also depending on the current severity of the epidemic on their national territory at a certain moment).

GenPol is a transnational project, conceived to promote gender equality and influence policies and stakeholders, across Europe and beyond, to include gender and social justice concerns in their behaviour.

At this time, it is imperative that we all act as a community, work at all levels to protect not only ourselves and our loved ones, but especially those who are most vulnerable in our societies. 

Women (and womxn) stand to be some of the most affected by the coronavirus outbreak, as well as by the unprecedented safety measures many governments are adopting.  This includes women with unstable jobs (or no job at all), homeless women, victims and survivors of domestic violence, and all those who might not have a safe home where to self-quarantine. It includes single mothers, single older women, those who are more vulnerable to isolation and discrimination (women of colour, with a migrant background, or belonging to sexual and gender minorities), detained women, health workers and women operating in a (still) overwhelming gendered care sector. Mental health will also be a central topic in the weeks and months to come, as society comes to terms with the outbreak.

From today, and in spite of the limitations on our usual activities, GenPol is planning to continue working and focusing on analysing, researching, producing content and raising awareness on all these topics. We’ll also try to collect and highlight all available relevant resources across as many European countries as we can, which can be used by women experiencing difficult or distressing situations in these troubled times.

Take care of yourself and people close to you, keep connected and continue to fight the good fight.


The GenPol Team


GenPol’s contributions to the 2020-2024 EU Gender Strategy

Tackling gender-based violence, it has been anticipated, will be a key priority of the 2020-2024 EU Gender Equality Strategy.

At GenPol we think it is vital that abuse against women is understood and addressed comprehensively. This means, first of all, taking into account intersections between forms of violence based on gender and other oppressive dynamics motivated by race, class, religion, and various forms of economic and social vulnerability. It is also important to pay attention to new and pernicious manifestations of violence.

This is why we welcome the efforts that European institutions have been recently devoting to tackling violent acts that result not only in physical and sexual harm, but in psychological and economic suffering to women. We also applaud any attempt to raise awareness around gender-based discrimination and harassment at all levels.

In order for the new Strategy to be success, it is crucial that digital gender-based violence is openly recognised as one the latest manifestation of patriarchal abuse. It must become a key area of work within the forthcoming EU Gender Equality Strategy.

Even though online vitriol can be directed against people of all genders, existing research clearly indicates that the attacks that women (especially BAME, LGBTQAI+ and disabled ones) face on the Internet are disproportionately more intense, and extremely sexualised. We also know that online and offline violence have a remarkably similar impact on the target, and that they constantly intersect, as digital technologies are increasingly used by both organised misogynistic groups, as well as by perpetrators of domestic violence.

Building on these considerations (which we outline extensively in our policy paper), we suggest that interventions in this area can be usefully incorporated in the forthcoming EU Gender Equality Strategy in at least four ways.

  1. The new Gender Equality Strategy should integrate inter-State data and information sharing, legal and technical skill exchange, and EU-level training of national legal personnel on digital violence. In order to do this, legislative intervention that falls outside the legislative remit of the EU may be needed to address legal loopholes (in many European states this is the case, for example, with image-based abuse). However, several existing provisions at national, international and EU-levels can be effectively used to respond to digital attacks. In other words, it is crucial that legal personnel and other stakeholders across the continent are trained to recognise the gendered nature of digital abuse, and to apply existing legislation accordingly.
  1. EU institutions can effectively build on existing EU-level legislation (for example, the Equal Treatment Directive, the Code of Best Practices for Women in ICT, GDPR) to push tech companies to adopt more effective reporting mechanisms, as well as take down and moderation procedures. There is also a need for more transparent data policies and internal gender equality commitments. This last point is particularly important, as gender inequalities in tech companies can translate into a dismissive attitude towards digital harm. Online abuse concerns should thus be incorporated not only in the section of the Gender Equality Strategy that addresses violence against women, but also in those that consider how to advance women’s rights in the context of digital innovation.
  2. The new Strategy should explicitly cite digital violence survivors (and the groups that work with them) as beneficiaries of specific forms of support. Not only do women’s rights organisations tend to be painfully underfunded, but tackling online harm also adds another layer of difficulty. Domestic and sexual violence charities (together with employers) need specialised training and resources to best withstand digital attacks. In particular, there is evidence that female politicians, journalists and human rights advocates are amongst the principal targets of online assaults. Whilst this leads some to quit their job, it also dissuades younger women from engaging in public life. Awareness raising, training and capacity building initiatives are thus urgently needed for organisations that employ, or work with, professionals in public facing roles. Crucially, this should be a part of EU-sponsored measures to address gender-based violence, as well as of those sections of the new Strategy dealing with gender equality at work and in decision-making.
  1. Educational interventions, and especially comprehensive sexuality education designed to eradicate the stereotypes and social norms that inform violence are the single most effective, long-term strategy to challenge online violence – and indeed any type of abuse. Coordination of best practices and capacity building in this area are key.

Whilst the 2020-2024 EU Gender Strategy could mark a significant stride towards the eventual eradication of gender-based violence, this intervention must incorporate multi-level solutions targeting digital attacks and online abuse. An awareness of the pernicious nature of digital violence- and its tangible real-world impacts- will help to inform a truly transformational strategy for the new decade.


The GenPol Team

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