The Special Rapporteur said women journalists, politicians, human rights defenders and feminist activists were being targeted with vicious, coordinated online attacks and intimidation, aimed at driving them off social media platforms and out of public life.
violence, hate speech and disinformation are being used extensively
online and offline, to chill or kill women’s freedom of expression, according to a report by
an independent human rights expert Irene Khan.
Khan, a UN Special Rapporteur on protecting freedom of opinion and expression
, said that across the world, women’s voices are being suppressed, controlled and punished explicitly by laws, policies and discriminatory practices, and
implicitly by social attitudes, cultural norms and patriarchal values.
As States continue to fail to respect and protect women’s equal
rights, gendered censorship has become so pervasive, that women’s
equality concerning freedom of expression remains a distant goal, she said in the report
on gender justice and free expression.
In some countries, young women are
being policed by fundamentalists and, under the guise of protecting
‘public morals’, censored and criminalized by governments. “Such action is paternalistic at best, misogynistic at worst”, underscored Khan.
“Sexism and misogyny, which are dominant factors in gendered
censorship, have been heightened by the rise of populist, authoritarian
and fundamentalist forces around the world”, she said.
The Special Rapporteur said women journalists, politicians, human
rights defenders and feminist activists were being targeted with
vicious, coordinated online attacks and intimidation, aimed at driving
them off social media platforms and out of public life.
Noting that this undermines human rights, media diversity and
inclusive democracy, she called on States and social media companies to –
within the framework of international human rights law – urgently and
decisively make digital spaces safe for all women and non-binary people.
“There can be no trade-off between women’s right to be free from
violence and the right to freedom of opinion and expression”, argued Khan. “States must not use efforts to address online gender-based violence,
hate speech and disinformation as a pretext to restrict freedom of
expression beyond what is permitted under international law”.
She urged governments to close the gender digital divide, gender data
gaps, and other barriers to women’s right to information, including on
sexual and reproductive health and rights.“There is not just one divide but multiple divides that must be overcome” spelt out the Special Rapporteur.
pandemic has created an additional imperative for stepped-up action. “If women are to recover lost ground, if countries are to revive
their economies and if governments are to regain public trust, then
women’s equal right to freedom of opinion and expression must be front
and centre on national and international agendas”, said Khan.
She added that gender justice requires “not only an end to unlawful
interference with women’s freedom of opinion and expression” but also an
enabling environment in which women can “exercise their agency and
participate safely, fully and equally in the political, social-cultural
and economic life”.
Khan, who was appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council
on 17 July 2020, is the first woman to hold the position since the establishment of the mandate in 1993. She and all Special Rapporteurs are tasked with examining and
reporting back on a specific human rights theme, or a country situation.
The positions are honorary, and the experts are neither UN staff nor paid for their work.