Campaign for Action Against Online Gender-Based Violence in Bangladesh
The pervasiveness of Gender-based violence (GBV) in Bangladesh was not known for a long time. In 2011, UNFPA together with the national statistical office undertook the first ever Violence against Women Survey (VAW Survey), which brought to light unexpectedly high levels of violence (source: UNFPA Bangladesh). According to another report, more than 10 million Bangladeshi women experience physical or sexual violence every year (source: South Asia Monitor). In a 2015 survey by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), 50 percent of the respondent women reported to have been physically tortured while 27 percent said they had been sexually abused. This study was based on interviews of 21,688 women between Aug 13 and 22 of 2014 (source: BBS).
In 2018, there were a total of 635 reported cases of rapes of which 457 victims were minors. An additional 5 rapes were perpetrated by officers of law enforcement agencies. Moreover, there were another 73 reported ‘attempts to rape’ and 142 reported cases of dowry related violence (i.e. killing and physical abuse). An additional 147 women/girls fell prey to sexual harassment/stalking (source: Odhikar). Both government and CSO actors acknowledge that a large number of incidents of gender based violence go unreported in Bangladesh and hence, is missing in these statistics.
Despite being a relatively new phenomenon, online gender based violence is growing rapidly in Bangladesh. Women in Bangladesh are disproportionately targeted by online and technology facilitated violence and harassment – almost exclusively by men. In most cases, this range from cyber stalking, revenge porn, cyberbullying, and trolling. Women are the primary recipient of offensive and often aggressive sexual advances and defamatory messages in cyberspace mostly from anonymous and fake sources. False and altered unclothed pictures of women along with spam, sex-act videos, rape threats, and indecent proposals are like the new norm of social media.
From 2010 to 2014, Bangladesh National Women Lawyers’ Association identified a total of 65 reported suicide attempts by female victims of violence. It also reveals that on an average, every year there are 11 suicide attempts by women due to online violence. By contrast, in 2008 this number stood at 8 revealing a sharp increase in the trend. Needless to mention, the official statistics is just the tip of the iceberg. The number of unreported cases far outweighs the reported ones (Source: BNWLA, 2014).
From VOICE’s previous initiatives, it is evident that policy makers and common citizens alike are largely oblivious to online gender based violence in Bangladesh. From April 2018 to January 2019, VOICE undertook six (6) public events under a SIDA sub-grant received from APC. These events brought together stakeholders from all walks of the society. In every single one of these events, female participants reported of online gender based violence that happened against them and other women they know of. In stark contrast, most participating public officials, CSO members and journalists dismissed such incidents as just another form of ‘cybercrime’ and not as ‘online gender based violence’.
Under these circumstances, VOICE’s advocacy initiatives in this area face two distinct challenges. Firstly, there is a clear dearth of awareness of what constitutes online gender based violence among all stakeholders. Secondly, this absence of awareness leads to the lack of any meaningful public demand to tackle online gender based violence. And as a result, policy makers continue to ignore this issue as it is not a popular ‘public agenda’.
Online gender-based violence is not even recognized as a major problem by concerned authorities i.e. elected public representatives, law enforcement agencies, internet service providers. This leaves the sufferers in a rather precarious situation as it further restricts their access to justice.
Therefore, it is imperative to build a grassroots movement around this issue before any policy advocacy initiative can be successfully carried out.
Hence, the project proposes a set of focused, public campaign activities ranging from publishing of a number of Bangla and English newspaper articles/editorials, blog posts, interactive data visualizations and their mass distribution through social media (i.e. Facebook, Twitter) and print media. A local language blog site steered by VOICE will generate public discussion, debate and showcase incidents, statistics, case studies and other informational material to further drive an online campaign. A public consultation meeting will help collect and compile citizen’s expectations from policy makers i.e. what kind of policy measures they want to see. This will act as the foundation of VOICE’s future policy advocacy initiatives in this domain.