A stranger sends you a picture of his privates via an Instagram DM (direct/private message). Your intimate partner shares your nude photo to his friends in a Telegram group chat. You receive rape threats on your private Twitter page and your personal details are leaked online.
These, according to Kryss Network’s OGBV Resource Toolkit, are examples of online gender based violence (OGBV), which has been defined as “any act of targeted harassment and prejudice against women that is committed, assisted or aggravated by the use of information and communication technology (such as mobile phones, Internet, social media platforms, email)”.
This sort of violence is extremely gendered and affects women disproportionately.
With Internet usage ever increasing, OGBV has been on the rise and has even evolved into new and different forms, says Kryss Network partner-director Serene Lim.
Most people aren’t aware of what OGBV is, nor even how to respond to it. As such, what’s required is a dedicated online resource on OGBV, not only for survivors, but those who help survivors (individuals or organisations such as NGOs and women’s groups), and also the general public, she adds.
This is why Kryss Network, an NGO that focuses on research and documentation of OGBV, started developing its Toolkit in 2020.
Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the start of the "16 days of activism to end gender-based violence", an annual international campaign that will run until Human Rights Day on Dec 10. The toolkit could be an important reseource in the fight to end gender violence.
“The idea for the Toolkit started during the pandemic where we saw a spike in OGBV cases. We were doing documentation on OGBV and people started approaching us asking what they could do to help. We’ve also had people telling us about their friends going through OGBV and asking us how they could help,” reveals Lim.
“We realised that a lot of responses to OGBV were ad-hoc – people only think of a solution when something happens – because there wasn’t a proper resource for OGBV at that time,” she says.
“Hence, we launched the OGBV Resource Toolkit – which is available in English and Bahasa Malaysia – to create awareness on what OGBV is, the many forms it takes and also the possible course of action in response. This is part of our efforts to develop knowledge and document evidence that can contribute towards the elimination of OGBV,” she adds.
According to Lim, the Toolkit is a “living, dynamic resource”.
“We soft-launched it in Dec 2022 but it’s a dynamic document and living resource. This means that as we gain more information, we add to it so it is constantly growing and improving.”
They have conducted workshops with different communities – including social workers and persons-with-disabilities to understand their experiences of OGBV – to further improve the Toolkit.
Kryss Network research and documentation officer Jananie Chandrarao highlights that there are many different types of OGBV and many aren’t aware that what they are witnessing or experiencing is OGBV.
For example, the sharing of other people’s personal content on social media without consent is a form of OGBV, she highlights.
“Consent is needed when sharing other people’s personal content, even in the digital space such as social media. Often, people think of social media as a ‘public space’ so they don’t understand why people get upset when their personal content such as social media posts, photos and personal information, are disseminated without their consent.”
There are many types of OGBV including: cyberbullying (bullying through digital technology); cyberstalking and surveillence (using the Internet to stalk/harass someone), trolling (deliberately provoking someone online by posting inflammatory content/comments); deepfakes (AI generated fake visuals/audio of someone, usually in a compromising situation); cyberflashing and non-consensual pornography (sending sexually graphic images without consent); NCII (non-consensual intimate image dissemination/distribution of a partner’s intimate images); sextortion and blackmailing; doxxing (revealing, publishing or circulating a person’s private information online); impersonation and identity theft; and threats of rape, physical or sexual violence.
OGBV is more difficult to monitor and curb because online spaces often don’t have rules or regulations to protect women and girls from it, resulting in perpetrators not facing consequences for their actions, says Jananie.
“Another problem is that OGBV has become ‘normalised’,” she adds.
“OGBV prevents freedom of expression. It happens in retaliation of a woman or girl speaking up and expressing herself. This could be even in what a woman chooses to wear or not to wear.
“Some survivors have been through these experiences so often that they don’t even recognise it’s OGBV. To them, ‘if I’m a female with an opinion on the Internet, it’s normal to get attacked’ or ‘if I post a photo of myself on the Internet, it’s ‘normal’ to get derogatory or lewd comments’. They feel it’s something they’ve to put up with.
“We hope the Toolkit and its comprehensive info on what OGBV is and the different ways it manifests itself will help women understand what they’re going through and recognise it’s not OK,” she explains.
The Toolkit – which is a compilation of tips, advice and guides from feminists and those who have experienced or provided support for survivors of OGBV - has five main sections: understanding OGBV, types of OGBV, first response to OGBV (prevention), incident response (specific cases), and understanding laws in Malaysia.
It also provides useful information on who OGBV impacts, how to do a DIY Risk Assessment to gauge your risk to OGBV, how to protect yourself from OGBV and the inconveniences you sometimes might have to go through to do so.
“One of the ultimate purposes of the Toolkit that we’re working towards is to find out how we can move towards eliminating OGBV by creating more awareness and educating people on the types of OGBV, helping them realise how damaging the effects can be, how not to be a perpetrator (whether knowingly or unknowingly), and having more comprehensive laws/policies and enforcement,” says Jananie.
“There have been incidents where people dox survivors and think ‘it’s just sharing of info’ but they don’t realise that this is not their information to share. It is an invasion of privacy,” she says.
“What we’re aiming for is awareness and ultimately, prevention. It’s not just for women/girls to recognise this is OGBV but also perpetrators, to realise that these actions are wrong. It’s education for everyone,” she adds.
Jananie highlights that the community needs to play a role to speak out and do something about OGBV.
Lim adds that it’s vital that the Government recognise the seriousness of OGBV and take steps to deal with it.
“OGBV can seriously impact a survivor’s mental health and ability to live their daily life. This will ultimately impact our democracy, economy and social peace so it needs to be recognised and dealt with.”
A study (The State Of The World’s Girls 2020) by humanitarian organisation Plan International on 14,000 girls and young women from 31 countries revealed that 58% have experienced OGBV, and 50% said they’ve faced more GBV online that offline.
The study says that while girls are being “targeted for being female and young, it’s worse for those who are outspoken on social and political issues, disabled, or LGBTQ+”.
Kryss Network communication and media officer Ruhaishah Zulkifli gives an example of how OGBV has far-reaching consequences to society. She says that even though women’s groups have been pushing for 30% women candidates in Parliament, “we have a long way to get there and one of the reasons is OGBV”.
“If we want more female leaders in Parliament to represent half the population of the country, ie women, then we need to ensure a fair situation where women candidates don’t face OGBV.
“It’s hard to expect more women to want to be in that prominent position when we see how harmful and unhealthy the online space has become for women candidates,” says Ruhaishah.
“Furthermore, female politicians aren’t attacked because of their individual decisions but because of party decisions and because they’re women and deemed ‘easier to intimidate’. They face OGBV more than men, even getting insults and threats to the point they don’t feel safe and are advised not to be on social media at all,” she says.
So even though it’s their right to be in the media space, they can’t or aren’t. They’re silenced because of OGBV, she adds.
Women who challenge patriarchal norms and inequities have experienced and continue to experience hostilities from those who wish to maintain the status quo. But it’s a double-edged sword because while digital spaces are where OGBV happens, these digital spaces are also empowering because they bring together support networks for those who experience OGBV, concludes Lim.