Challenging Cyber Harassment for Women and Girls Worldwide

Blog text in the Huffington Post, 8 March 2016

Gender equality issues are a high priority for Sweden’s feminist government. An important aspect in this context is women’s right to internet safety, writes Åsa Regnér, Sweden’s Minister for Gender Equality.

Gender equality issues are a high priority for Sweden's feminist government. An important aspect in this context is women's right to internet safety.

Cyber harassment takes different forms based on gender. Girls are often exposed using photos with sexual undertones and disparaging remarks about their sexual habits. For women it often involves disparaging remarks or offensive name-calling, online and via text message, telephone calls or face-to-face meetings.

Men often experience harassment in which they are presented as criminal, whereas boys are often subjected to threats of violence. Another gender difference is that women are much more likely to be threatened or harassed by a partner or a former partner.

Changing norms

Developing early prevention measures is a high priority for the Swedish Government. Part of this involves changing norms linking masculinity and violence. Being a boy or a man is often about being strong, having power and, if necessary, using violence. Men's violence is normalised and it is also mostly boys and men who use violence in our society. To reduce violence we need to focus on the causes and on preventive measures. The causes are complex but some are definitely linked to destructive masculinity.

Efforts to change gender norms need to cover all levels and are part of the Government's broader gender equality work. They need to target children from an early age, as early as pre-school and primary school age.

It is important that the methods used are based on knowledge about what yields positive results. A Swedish government agency responsible for youth issues has the task of preventing and combating boys' and young men's use of violence. It has reviewed the research and identified a number of violence prevention programmes with successful outcomes in other countries.

Involving more men in gender equality efforts

More men need to get involved in gender equality efforts. All too often, harassment and violence committed by boys and men against girls and women are met with silence and tolerance by other boys and men who stand by without reacting. This means that such actions are easily normalised. But as friends, citizens, fathers and decision-makers, boys and men have an important role to play in this work. Men who take a stand against sexualisation, harassment and abuse show that there are different male ideals and serve therefore as role models for other men.

Sweden's Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, is deeply involved in this issue and is an ambassador for the United Nation's 'HeForShe' campaign to get men to break the silence and raise their voices against violence.

Strengthening the role of young people online

Another crucial issue is strengthening the role of young people online and improving their knowledge about what is not permitted on the internet. We want to give young people tools to be better able to stop not only hate but also harassment and bullying on the internet.

During the CSW session in New York, I will be participating in a seminar about internet hate. It will focus on the importance of combating destructive masculine norms, sexism and internet hate against girls and women.