Project Concept and Context

Campaign for Action Against Online Gender-Based Violence in Bangladesh

Brief project description: 

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.   

The  project deals two strategic areas, such as, Rights and feminist internet.

  1. Project activities : 

Activities proposed under the campaign are as following –

Activity 1: Develop and deploy a bi-lingual (Bangla and English) blog-site dedicated solely towards the discussion and debate of online gender based violence in Bangladesh. Also, all other information, communication and education (IEC) materials produced in this project will be showcased and disseminated through this blog site under creative commons licensing attributes. This site will also act as a platform where victims can report incidents of online gender based violence against them – anonymously if they choose so. VOICE will act as the moderator of this blog-site.

Why: Although existing laws like the Digital Security Act (2018) of Bangladesh offer action against cyber abuse, most women never resort to legal measures.

Young, unwed girls are particularly afraid to testify in fear of backlash from parents and community. Some of them have reported to VOICE, that parents, after learning of online abuse (i.e. stalking, bullying, fake photos) took away their smartphone, laptops and halted attending of school/collage. Also, some acts of violence (i.e. sexting, indecent proposals) are perpetrated by powerful individuals (i.e. politically affiliated people, teachers). So the fear and potential humiliation which restraints them from reporting such incidents to the authorities is genuine. Similar findings were confirmed from other researches like The Internet Democracy Project, India.

Thus, a significant number of cases which can solidify the demand for policy measures against online gender based violence is lost. Hence, there must be at least one platform where victims can report such incidents anonymously and without fear.

Also, a primary prerequisite for any campaign to be successful is spontaneously engagement, discussion and debate by target stakeholders. And for that, there needs to be common platform that is identified as non-political and non-partisan. Due to VOICE’s reputation as a non-partisan research organization, the proposed blog site is meant to act as such a platform.

How: Development and maintenance will be outsourced to third party web developer. VOICE staff will manage domain registration, hosting and moderation of the blog service.

Activity 2: Development and distribution of online and offline campaign materials on online gender based violence in Bangladesh.

Sub-activity 2.1.: Writing and publishing of two (2) Bangla articles/editorials in two (2) Bangla national dailies and another two (2) English articles/editorials in two (2) English national daily newspapers.

Why: When it comes to information dissemination, newspaper is still the most trusted and authoritative media in Bangladesh. Particularly, people aged over 30 years find it more convenient than online media in Bangladesh. Moreover, ever since all national dailies became available online, anything that gets published in a national daily becomes automatically available to a substantial number of online audiences as well. Newspaper articles/editorials are among the most popular items shared widely in social media in Bangladesh. The proposed project wants to capitalize on these advantages. Also, campaign in satellite media (i.e. TV channels) in Bangladesh is rather expensive and therefore, despite its effectiveness, is considered beyond the scope of this project.

How: VOICE have already identified a group of influential individuals who regularly write for national dailies, are popular among newspaper readers and also have a good social media / online follower base. VOICE will commission them to write these articles. Also, the authors will widely disseminate the online version of their write up to their followers in social media. Instead of VOICE publishing all these campaign materials, target population will find it more acceptable, credible and trustworthy if they come from different authors and different news media.

Sub-activity 2.2.: Writing and publication of six (6) Bangla blog posts and six (6) English blog posts. These blogs will be published in the proposed blog site, APC supported online platforms (i.e. Take Back the Tech, GenderIT) and will be widely distributed via social media, email lists etc. 

Why: Any newly initiated online platform like a blog needs a regular flow of content to keep participants interested and engaged. Also, as the topic of online gender based violence is relatively new in Bangladesh, initially there needs to be some guided content including facts, graphics, statistics and case studies presented in an easily understandable manner that can generate further discussion and debate by target stakeholders. After the initial period, the community will spontaneously continue to contribute in the form of their own blog posts, comments, shares and likes.

How: Instead of VOICE staff writing these blogs, they will be commissioned to popular youth leaders (predominantly female), internet activists and human rights defenders who have a dedicated following. VOICE have existing working relationship with a group of individuals who have a large follower base in social media. These key influencers will be provided a guideline on the format, structure and content of the blogs. They will also bear the responsibility of distributing the blogs in their networks (i.e. Facebook, Twitter).

Sub-activity 2.3.: Development and distribution of animated data visualizations. One (1) original concepts made once in Bangla and once in English – total two data visualizations. These will then be shared in the blogsite, social media, APC supported online platforms (i.e. Take Back the Tech, GenderIT) and other like-minded sites.

Why: Data visualizations are simple, clear, and elegant visual representations of large sets of data. They help to tell a story and give viewers a fuller picture of what the information is telling us. A large number of statistical data on VAW and online VAW in Bangladesh have been collected and compiled overtime. But apart from educated academics and activists, this data is not intuitively understandable to common people who doesn’t know how to glean into large sets of data. To be honest, most people today lack the time and interest to make the effort. Data visualizations can help to effectively change people’s perspective or behaviour.

Activity 3: Conduct one (1) public consultation meeting to collect and compile citizen’s demands and recommendations for policy measures as well as to strategize citizen led actions to prevent and tackle online gender based violence in Bangladesh.  

Why: By the end of the proposed campaign, there will be sufficient awareness about online gender based violence among our stakeholders. VOICE would like to capitalize on this progress by bringing a group of representatives from it’s stakeholders to discuss what kind of policy measures they want to see from the government. The event will also bring together other CSOs and key citizen influencers to explore possible ways of collaboration between CSOs and common citizens thereby creating a ripple effect. VOICE will utilize this platform to strategize it’s future policy advocacy initiatives in this domain.

How: A group of forty (40) key individuals from across VOICE’s stakeholder groups will be selected based on pre-defined selection criteria (i.e. gender balance, ability and willingness to contribute, ethnic diversity). Proceedings and learning from this event will be shared in all media as well as in VOICE’s own networks.

  1. Output of the project activities?: 


Output 1: Two (2) Bangla articles/editorials published in two (2) national daily Bangla newspapers. Two (2) English articles/editorials published in two (2) national daily English newspapers.

Campaign messages reached to at least one million (1 million) people through print and online versions of newspaper. At least three hundred thousand (3,00,000) people will read these write-ups and learn about online gender based violence. An estimated three thousand (3000) people will share these articles in their own networks (i.e. Facebook, Twitter) and another three thousand (3,000) will visit VOICE moderated project blogsite for further discussion, debate and demand policy action on this issue which will be a common call for action in every write up. English articles can also be shared in Take Back the Tech, GenderIT and other like-minded online platforms with proper acknowledgment.

Output 2: One (1) bi-lingual (Bangla and English) blogsite will be developed and deployed. At least thirty (30) blogs in Bangla and English language will be contributed by stakeholders. At least one hundred thousand (1,00,000) people will visit the blogsite in twelve (12) months.

Output 3: Six (6) Bangla blog posts and six (6) English blog posts prepared and published in blogsite, APC affiliated sites like GenderIT, Take back the tech and other likeminded online platforms. At least two hundred thousand (2,00,000) people will read these blogs and another one thousand (1000) readers will share these online. People will also interact by leaving comments, likes, Tweets etc.

Output 4: One original interactive data visualizations will be conceptualized. This will be developed once in Bangla and once in English. Hence, a total of two (2) final products will be developed and distributed widely through project blogsite, social media, APC affiliated sites, VOICE’s website and other like-minded online platforms. At least one hundred thousand (1,00,000) people will read these blogs and another one thousand (1000) readers will share these online. People will also interact by leaving comments, likes, Tweets etc.

Output 5: One public consultation meeting held and attended by at least forty (40) key stakeholders. Another half million (5,00,000) people will learn about it from media coverage (TV, print and online). People’s expectations and recommendations for policy makers will be documented and published in different online platforms, newspapers and TV news.

  1. Target community or audience: 

Sufferers of online gender based violence and people exposed to its threat constitute the primary stakeholder group. Journalists, human rights defenders, internet and gender activists, bloggers and social media influencers are secondary target audience.

  1. Project contributes to the strategies: 

The proposed campaign upholds people’s right to have protection from violence of all forms, which in this case, is online gender based violence (Online GBV). It intends to engage in policy advocacy by rooting Online GBV into national and international mechanisms of ICTs and human rights. It further promotes public education, awareness and engagement by identifying and response to Online GBV, which is an increasing form of internet related human rights violation. Hence, the proposed campaign is directly aligned to APC’s Key Result Area (KRA) 2: Rights.

Furthermore, the campaign actively promotes women’s rights in internet and ICT policies. It promotes action by and for women to proactively address violence against women taking place over the internet. Therefore, the proposed campaign is directly linked to KRA 3: A Feminist Internet.

  1. Project contributes to VOICE’s advocacy strategies: 

For the last few years, VOICE has been conducting policy advocacy for appropriate measures against online gender based violence in Bangladesh. A major hurdle faced throughout our effort is the prevailing public unawareness and resulting ignorance towards this issue. The predominant notion that online gender based violence is no different than other cybercrime makes advocacy initiatives particularly difficult.

The proposed campaign initiative will add a much needed momentum to our efforts. Through this project, VOICE will be able to build a critical mass of public awareness and interest towards the issue. Engagement of key stakeholders (i.e. gender and internet rights activists, journalists) through the project activities will allow us to bring this issue in the forefront of policy discourse. A large number of information, communication and education materials will be produced through the project and will continue to contribute to our public education efforts long after the project period. An increased public demand for appropriate measures against online gender based violence and proper protective measures for the victims will make our future policy dialogues more effective and fruitful.

Ultimately, VOICE’s goal is to gain formal recognition and incorporation of online gender based violence in relevant policy frameworks by creating pressure on policy makers through amplified public demand. The proposed project will be a stepping stone to attain this long term organisational advocacy objective of VOICE.