October 30, 2023No Comments

Violence against women in the cyber domain – the impact of covid and what still needs to be done?

Author: Maria Makurat (Human Rights Team), with a contribution from Julia Hodgins (Culture, Society & Security Team)


Physical violence against women is a topic that is being addressed by several institutions and organizations but what about the cyber domain? Cyber violence is not a new concept but the coronavirus pandemic has brought about new challenges and one has even seen a surge of the issue. This was discussed by UN Women in a report stating that the Covid pandemic had an impact on online harassment. This drew attention to women experiencing online harassment which can have lasting detrimental effects. This article explores the developing issue of violence against women in the cyber-domain by first considering various definitions to then highlighting case studies by looking at reports, literature and case studies in order to suggest possible questions that remain.

Defining violence against women in the cyber domain

Firstly, one needs to define what violence against women in the cyber domain entails. In the past years, there have been several definitions by scholars, institutions and organizations. It makes it challenging since what exactly do “aggression” and “violence” such as “hate speech” in the cyber domain mean? The discourse surrounding finding a definition of online gender-based violence shows that a strong debate exists however, as technology evolves, wider definitions are needed to include all forms of online violence.

When considering violence against women in the cyber-domain, then one automatically wonders what is “violent” in this case? Traditional international relations theories surrounding violence have been around for a while. Finlay for instance points out that one should not only consider “violence” by itself but extend it to “violent agency” with the following components: “defined first by a double intention (1) to inflict harm using a technique chosen (2) to eliminate or evade the target’s means of escaping it or defending against it. Second, the harms it aims at are destructive (as opposed to appropriative).”  

Looking further at “aggression” and “violence” in relation to cyber, defining said terms has its challenges. "Defining “aggression” is a complex, in and itself controversial endeavour, as it relates to a tense exchange between at least two actors. Complexity grows as, increasingly often, aggressions become invisible - or blurry at the very least. Complications keep growing when the subject is situated in the scope of gender relations. Still now worldwide, at varying degrees, physical violence against women remains officialised, i.e., state violence exerted by the Iranian Moral Police to ‘rein in’ female transgressors is legal and inconsequential. Complications exponentially increase when translating gender relations into cyberspace, due to both inherent challenges of cyberspace (obscureness, non-territoriality/territoriality, low threshold for entry and exit, easy concealment) and the assumption of cyber being at least gender-neutral, if not male-dominated by default. Nevertheless, constructivism suggests that security is not neutral as social factors (ethnicity, gender, age, nationality, class, etc.) allocate power, and power between actors underpins exchanges, particularly aggressions. To define aggression, exchanges are often de-constructed, and contrasted to a threshold set under the influence of power stances, perceived vulnerabilities, and mindsets about the actors in question."(contribution by Julia Hodgins).

There seems to be growing concern about online violence against female journalists and a need for guidelines on how to monitor, and evaluate this issue. This can be highlighted by looking at the recent guidelines and a report published by the OSCE in 2023 which provides a definition of what exactly “gender-based online violence” in relation to female journalists means: “sexist and misogynistic involving frequently threats of physical and/or sexual violence; sexualized abuse and harassment; digital privacy and security breaches that can expose identifying information and exacerbate offline safety threats facing the target; and networked or mob harassment.” (…) often bound with gendered disinformation.” Furthermore, the OSCE identifies eight features of gender-based online violence: misogynistic, frequently networked, it radiates, it is intimate, it can be extreme, behave like ‘networked gaslighting’, extreme in intersectional discrimination and contains disinformation.

Looking at definitions discussed by scholars, Lews, Rowe and Wiper looked at the issue from a criminology point of view stating that there are gaps in the literature and a “failure to develop a robust gendered analysis, a lack of comparative analysis of online and offline VAWG and a lack of victimological examination of online abuse experienced by women and girls.” A press release by the European Council in November 2021 stated again, that one needs clearer definitions of what online gender-based violence means in order to then have more concise laws put in place. The recommendation states that one should define the issue as “the digital dimension of violence against women.”

The latest definition by UN Women defines online-violence against women as follows: “Technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TF GBV) is any act that is committed, assisted, aggravated or amplified by the use of information communication technologies or other digital tools which results in or is likely to result in physical, sexual, psychological, social, political or economic harm or other infringements of rights and freedoms.” Notably this definition extends the scope in order to include any act in relation to online violence.

As one can see, definitions are still being worked out and this is also an essential process when wanting to put stronger laws in place. States need international definitions in order to also have joint measurements against online violence. In the following, case studies of online violence will be highlighted to discuss the still pressing-issue.

Case studies of online-violence and future concerns

The issue of violence against women in the cyber-domain started very early and continues to be a growing threat and pressing issue today. Gurumurthy and Menon highlighted the said issue in 2009. They point out women (in India for example) having been filmed during rape and then posted on social-media platforms in order to maintain the cycle of violence. Another issue they discuss is that women have committed suicide in Kerala as a result of online harassment causing a stir in discussions.

UN Women released a report in 2015, stating that urgent action needs to be taken in order to combat violence against women in the cyber domain. The report calls out the failure of implementing sustainable goals and achievements in reducing online violence against women and proposes that one needs better sanctions, a sensitization by implementing trainings and campaigns to change social attitudes as well as a more responsible internet infrastructure. Despite these reports, one has seen a significant impact of the corona pandemic on online violence against women. Reports have shown that women experience an increasing amount of online violence: “Cyber harassment and cyberbullying have increased by 50% during quarantine in Australia. Simultaneously, the United Kingdom data shows that the number of complaints about visual sexual harassment doubled in March 2020.”

Source: Photo by Joshua Gandara on Unsplash

Online violence against women is very complex and many factors play a role which means, tackling the issue needs sustainable goals that also address several factors. There is growing concern about violence against women working in politics or other public sectors. Women who express their opinions online very often receive violent threats and are coerced into retreating from the public sector and keeping a low profile. Articles and reports state that there is even a concern about women retreating from the political sector. Moreover, there seems to be a relation between crisis and gender-based violence and the consummation of online porn. The Government Equalities Office has released research on the relation between pornography use and harmful sexual attitudes and behaviors.  The reports come to the conclusion that pornography is one of the factors that “contribute to a permissive and conducive context that allows harmful sexual attitudes and behaviours to exist against women and girls.” 

If one has been developing better definitions and implanting debates, then why does the issue continue to be a growing concern? These concerns and trends show that one needs stronger initiatives, sanctions, and focused debates to tackle the issue at hand. In the following, it will be briefly highlighted what projects have been launched to tackle online violence.

What are some initiatives?

UN Women launched 2020 a project called “Fireflies Campaign against Gender-Based Cyber Violence.” The campaign specifically addressed the issue of online gender-based violence during the coronavirus pandemic and had the goal to specifically use social media to draw attention to the issue and engage the public in the discourse. One of the key findings was that more women (81%) than men (70%) reported online harassment cases.

One major step that has been taken is the UK’s reform of online violence. A press release by The Government of the UK from the 23rd of June 2023 states: “Abusers who share intimate images without consent to face up to 6 months in prison.” Also, deepfakes were criminalized for the first time which has to be considered for future debate: “For the first time, sharing of ‘deep fake’ intimate images – explicit images of videos which have been digitally manipulated to look like someone else – will also be criminalized.” The reform has the goal to facilitate the prosecution of individuals who publish intimate images without consent. Now it would be the question if other states will follow suit in placing stricter laws against cyber violence. For instance, Germany doesn’t have a specific law against cyber violence yet. They include the offences in the general law of insult or threats. 

In countries such as Rwanda and Tanzania, women increasingly (have to) use the internet for work. This has also increased violence against women in the cyber-domain and calls for the need for better laws and safer realms. An initiative called Women@web helps “journalists, politicians, and human rights activists, among others, who have been confronted with various forms of gender-based online violence.” It is stated again that ever since the corona pandemic, they have seen an increase in online violence. Furthermore, studies conducted by Women@web have found out that women often censor their own comments online to avoid “cyberbullying”. In order to tackle this, Women@web offers modules on: “digital rights, digital citizenship, digital platforms, digital security, digital storytelling and digital resilience. Focusing on these topics, regular training sessions are held for women in the four countries. The aim is to increase the overall digital literacy among women and empower them to remain in online spaces.” 


These initiatives already draw a lot of attention to the issue at hand however, many questions remain such as whether the UK reform will bring other states to follow suit. Also, social media platforms such as Instagram and TikTok have started becoming stricter in their policies on what people can comment on and what not. Search engines track whether someone posts explicit language or sends explicit images. These are all measures that show steps in the right direction however the question remains, when a new crisis comes (such as the corona pandemic) will it contribute to another surge of online violence? Online violence against women is not a recent new topic but a steady emergent issue. With growing technology, women on the one hand have more access to online help lines and initiatives but on the other hand, are facing new threats such as AI in relation to ‘deepfakes’. This calls for stronger sanctions and perhaps more focused campaigns launched towards a young audience to educate on this issue and its repercussions.

December 9, 2022No Comments

Revolutionary Iran: Women, Life, Freedom

ITSS Verona and King's College London hosted a joint event on the protests in Iran to discuss how the ongoing protests are different from the previous ones and how come "Woman, Life, Freedom" represents a collective will of the Iranian people and how was it formed? Is it a modern revolution based on the values that are identified within this context? What is the role of Iranian women in this revolution? And finally what is the outcome, are amongst questions that we will discuss with our guests during this event.


Dr Sadegh Zibakalam Mofrad is an Iranian academic, author, and pundit described as reformist and neo-liberal. Zibakalam is a professor at the University of Tehran and frequently appears on international news outlets including BBC News and Al Jazeera.

Dr Ali Fathollah-Nejad is a German–Iranian political scientist focusing on Iran, the Middle East, and the post-unipolar world order. He is a McCloy Fellow on Global Trends of the American Council on Germany (ACG), exploring how transatlantic foreign policy toward authoritarian states could reconcile interests and values.

Dr Nayereh Tohidi is a Professor Emerita and former Chair of Gender & Women’s Studies and the Founding Director of the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (2011-2021) at California State University, Northridge. She is also a Research Associate in the Program of Iranian Studies at UCLA coordinating “Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran” since 2003. She received her MA and Ph.D. from the Universities of Tehran and Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. She is also the recipient of several post-doctoral fellowships and research awards, including an NEH grant, a year of Fulbright lectureship and research at the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan; universities of Harvard and Stanford, the Kennan Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center, and Keddie-Balzan Fellowship at UCLA.

Ms Elahe Amani learned about conflict resolution and mediation in 1990, through the CSUF Certificate Program of “Managing Multicultural Work Environments”. She completed formal mediation training through Pepperdine School of Law Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution in 1991 and promptly joined the Southern California Mediation Association (SCMA) and published a book review on “Mediation Across Cultures” in the SCMA newsletter. In 1992-93 after the Los Angeles riots, Elahe conducted sessions of community mediation between Korean and African Americans in Town Hall settings through a program organized by the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office. In 2006 Elahe did a presentation at SCMA Salon on “Gender and Mediation” and presented on the panel in the affinity discussion at SCMA’s annual conference at Pepperdine University on “Culture and Mediation.” She is currently Interim Director of the Academic Technology CenterInterim Director of Academic Technology Center at California State University, Fullerton.

Moderators: Dr Michele Groppi and Shahin Modarres.

February 28, 2022No Comments

Micro-financing African Projects: Women Empowerment and Success

Author: Rebecca Pedemonte

The role of microfinance (MFI) projects in African countries has grown fast in the last few decades. As attested by the World Economic Forum, in 2010 the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) defined the progress of African economies as “lions on the move”. There are two main reasons behind this exponential growth. First of all, the African continent has attracted investments from several multinational corporations, due to the increase of mobile and digital access, the closing of infrastructures gap, and mass industrialization. Secondly, a major reason why Africa experienced these overgrown is the recent influx of microfinance institutions as they granted affordable loans to farmers across the continent. The microfinance industry in Africa currently has a gross loan portfolio of $8.5 billion, attracting a consumer base of 8 million people. According to Microfinance Information Exchange (Mix) data, African countries have experienced one of the fastest-growing MFI bases. 

Providing up to 60 percent of all jobs on the continent, farming is the primary source of income for African people. Microfinance institutions have tailored their lending to this evidence producing an extremely beneficial impact for both the farmers and firms themselves. Thanks to facilitated loans, African farmers have the opportunity to invest in “profit-generating activities that improve their economic security and access the most important benefits of microfinance institutions in Africa”.  As a result of the success of various MFI projects, many activities drove the impressive growth rates on the African continent providing better food for families, improving access to clean water and sanitation, and enrolling children in school instead of work.

Nowadays, the African microfinance institutions’ gross loan portfolio continues to grow and “has witnessed an exponential growth of 1,312 percent between 2002 and 2014”. There have been excellent repayment rates from farmers. The consistent innovation from both sides, the MFI institutions and African farmers, and the commonly beneficial partnership between them has helped encourage growth in several African countries. Mali is a great example of such success can be found, where MFI  began to offer “an innovative loan product tailored to farmers’ seasonal cash flow. This generated an increase in investment on agricultural inputs such as fertilizer, herbicides, and insecticides”.  

Image Source: https://blog.iese.edu/iese-and-africa/2015/12/09/microfinance-3-0-opportunities-and-challenges/

Another reason why microfinance has grown so fast within African territory is its untraditional operating systems. In other words, microfinance initiatives are not based on physical financial intermediaries, such as banks. The motivation behind this choice is that microfinance was born to allow undeveloped countries to access financial cycles. In these countries, a lot of people usually live in rural areas, far away from the main cities and from economic centers, where banks are. So, microfinance institutions’ projects had to identify and develop different tools useful for the objective population. The spread of mobile phones had a crucial role in the success of MFI projects.  In particular, it has transformed the sector, extending it to previously unbanked areas in Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Mali, Senegal, and elsewhere. Most famously, Kenya has seen the world's most rapid growth in the use of "mobile money." “Launched in 2007, the service known as M-Pesa by the end of 2010 had more than 13 million customers able to use their mobile phones to make payments and transfer money. Customers can now earn moderate interest on mobile bank accounts. Farmers can insure their crops against adverse weather conditions, with payouts made directly to their mobile accounts if weather conditions indicate crop failure”.

The role of women within African MFI

Women have a fundamental role in African MFI projects. The Report “Women Financial Inclusion in Africa“, written by Nomsa Daniels, affirms that “there is plenty of compelling evidence that women are a powerful driver of economic growth. We know that women make a significant economic contribution to African economies through their entrepreneurial activities and involvement in the labor market”. Several study cases provide evidences that women are better savers, plowing back most of their income into improving the well-being of their families. Nevertheless, to increase their financial power and their economic chances, “women need a level playing field with a sound educational foundation, more and better jobs, a business and legal climate that supports their economic pursuits”, but above all, “a financial sector that gives them access to affordable financial services tailored to their needs”. African women, especially the ones living within rural areas, have always been disadvantaged in access to credit and other financial services. Infact, the traditional banking system often focuses on men and formal investments, ruling out the women who are a fundamental pillar of the growing informal economy.

MFI projects allow women to empower their financial capabilities and values. It is proven that female clients, representing the eighty-five percent of the poorest microfinance clients reached, register higher repayment rates. “They also contribute larger portions of their income to household consumption than their male counterparts”. 

A rampant example of the efficiency of women within the MFI projects into African territory is the case of Cote d’Ivoire. Namizata Binaté FofanaGerrit AntonidesAnke Niehof & Johan A. C. van Ophem studied the effect of microcredit on women’s livelihood and empowerment in rural areas. They found out that “women’s decision-making power in the household, as indicated by their strategic gender needs, was positively related to the probability of obtaining microcredit. On the other hand, receiving microcredit tended to increase their decision-making power”.  


It would be incorrect to affirm that microfinance institutions and their correlated projects would be sufficient to increment African countries financial power and to fortify their economies. “It is unreasonable to expect microfinance to fundamentally transform African economies. And it cannot replace progressive social and economic policies for structural transformation, poverty reduction and job creation”. However, without solid cooperation between African governments and external development partners that provide relevant and proper policies and legal frameworks, microfinance institutions’ projects cannot be sustainable and resilient. The support and the cooperation between African governments then plays an essential role in light of the continent's persistent poverty, especially in the empowerment and emancipation of women workers. Microfinance “can play an essential part for the foreseeable future in providing basic financial services to the poor, and thereby help advance Africa's development goals”.  

January 4, 2022No Comments

UNSC Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security perpetuating patriarchal norms?

By: Diletta Cosco and Anna Toniolo.

The United Nations (UN) resolution 1325 was officially adopted in October of the 2000 by the UN security council. The resolution addresses several critical points in the context of post-war and peacebuilding process by recognizing an “urgent need to mainstream a gender perspective into peacekeeping operations”. The resolution highlights the importance of women as active agents of change in peacebuilding processes; the emphasis is put on the importance of their participation in every aspect of post-conflict period but also on their need to be protected along with the necessity to include women in field operations and give a “ gender component” to peacebuilding missions. In the resolution, women along children are portrayed as the most vulnerable categories in a conflict situation. Although, a special attention is given to the vulnerability of women and girls during conflict; speaking of which, the resolution manifests the urgency to give specialized trainings to peacekeeping personnel in order to address their protection and special needs and the necessity to gather further data on women and girls’ violence during conflict and post-conflict. 

United Nations Security Council resolution (UN SCR) 1325 represents a landmark document because it represents the first time that the UN identified women as “constructive agents of peace, security and post-conflict reconstruction”. Although this resolution is presented as a turning point in gender mainstreaming within the UN, we should not read this as a positive evolution of the lives of women and men in conflict zones. In fact, the language and the models used in resolution 1325 perpetuate patriarchal norms and weaken the UN’s ability to de-gender peace and security. In this sense it is worthy to underline that the stipulations of UN SCR 1325 are “women-centric”, inscribing gender mainstreaming operations on opposite tracks in which gender has been interpreted as woman, and woman remain differentiated from men weakening their agency and perpetrating the patriarchal pattern of hegemonic masculinity. The concept of “hegemonic masculinity” is associated with domination and power and this means that men are generally portrayed as the perpetrators of violence and the actors responsible for signing peace agreements, as they are seen as the most active participants in violence and conflict, thus denying women's ability to assert themselves and make decisions.

Furthermore, in UN SCR 1325 women are represented solely in gendered terms, excluding structural variables, inhibiting women acting as agents with truly transformative potential. In the vision of the French anthropologist Françoise Héritier, every time that sex is used as a sociological variable, it is accepted that women belong to a different category, putting them in a position of inferiority relative to a masculine norm of reference. In this regard, resolution 1325 perpetrates constructions of gender that assume it as a synonymous with biological sex, reproducing logics of identity that mark women as fragile and in need of protection. The conservancy of a stereotyped language in the document removes women’s agency and maintains them in the subordinated position of victims, defining women as civilians, vulnerable and in association with children. Associating women with children leads to an essentialist definition that categorize women as vulnerable and as mothers, resulting in the maintenance of a powerful assumption which sees women as one of the subjects who must be protected. Thus, it seems difficult to promote the participation of women in peace negotiations and in post conflict resolution, since they are considered primarily as caretakers and victims affected by war, with little possibilities to have a more dynamic role, subordinating them to male-dominated decision-making circles. In this sense, another important element to highlight is the emphasis on conflict-related sexual violence, which is treated like a plague only for women, with a systematic reluctance to confront the reality of that violence against men and boys, carrying out the patriarchal binary model of male-female gender power

Patriarchal norms are committed also by “re-sexing” of gender, in particular including women in peacekeeping missions which are highly masculinized in nature, appearing to be a case of “add women and stir” without really challenging the masculinist norms that dominate that type of missions. 

In the end, it can be said that even if resolution 1325 represents a shift toward a more inclusive global governance, it belongs to a discursive framework that is still dominated by state-centric, militaristic, and patriarchal practices.

July 5, 2021No Comments

A Comparative Perspective of women and children under ISIS and Al-Qaeda: A Conversation with Cecilia Polizzi.

ITSS Verona's Extremism, Crime and Terrorism group interviews Cecilia Polizzi, President, Founder & Executive Director of the CRTG Working Group, the only existing I/NGO dedicated to protect children affected by terrorism and member of the ITSS Verona Scientific Expert Committee. Ms. Polizzi talks about the plight of women and children under ISIS and Al-Qaeda.

Interviewing Team: Adelaide Martelli & Francesco Bruno.

May 3, 20212 Comments

Interviewing Sara Falaknaz, Member Federal National Council, UAE

The ITSS team "Culture, Society and Security" interviews Sara Falaknaz, Member of Federal National Council in the United Arab Emirates, democratically elected in November 2019. Sara discusses her transition from small business, to the military and then into government, some of the challenges along the way, and the leadership capacity she has been able to develop throughout her learning journey. 

Interviewers: Leigh Dawson and Julia Hodgins.