The Women of Expression theme for 2013 is Women and the Internet. The development of information and communication technologies in recent decades has revolutionized the way people communicate and express their ideas. Internet is now part of the everyday life of millions of people around the world and has thus become a basic tool to exercise the right to freedom speech. At the same time, new forms of censorship are threatening the free flow of online information. The infrastructure to access the internet and the skills required to maximize the experience of surfing the web can lead to exclusion of women. National laws and policies can help women to freely express themselves and access information, but often they hinder.
For women, the internet represents new opportunities and also new challenges to claim and fulfil their rights. It is also an important space for women's empowerment. The Internet grants access to information, enables their mobilisation and visibility, and helps them create new forms of expression and participation in public life. In Brazil, the internet allows meetings and agitations that were not possible before. In Brazil in 2013 in Caxias do Sul a case of alleged rape led to women using social media to protest against sexual violence, a phenomenon that has not happened before on such a wide scale.
However, the internet has also facilitated other forms of violence against women such as:
- Online harassment
- Invasion of privacy
- Viral videos of rape
- Victims reliving the trauma of the assault every time they see images and videos online about it.
These forms of violence mediated by technology cause psychological and emotional harm and reinforce the damage already done. They also create obstacles to participation in public life.
The Program Support Network of Women of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) conducted a study that compiles cases and examines the phenomenon in Brazil.
Inequalities that women face in terms of economic power, education and access to resources also affect how women use the internet. Unfortunately, much technology is generally an all-male space. For example, in 2008, women represented only 26.8% of researchers in the field of computer engineering in Brazil. Within technological careers there is also very clearly a gender-based division of labour in the country. Women tend to work in requirements gathering and customer relationships, while men work in the development of codes or working with network infrastructures.
In Brazil, in 2012, a significant 43% of Brazilian women have never used a computer. In 54% of cases, women list a lack of skills as the main reason for not having used the internet in their lives.
Internet availability and accessibility are the most critical factors that can influence whether a woman is not connected to the network. Although, the price of broadband internet connection has decreased in many places, it still represents more than 40% of the per capita income. In richer countries, by contrast, the figure is only 1.7% of gross national income per capita. Why is it so expensive? The lack of broadband infrastructure (eg, fiber optic cables) and lack of competition in the market are two possible reasons. Within the home, cultural reasons also prevent women from accessing the internet as some husbands, for example, prohibit women from using the family computer because they are afraid of exposing women to content they consider inappropriate.
Women also participate less in public debates and political life more generally. Hence, fewer women are in positions of power. In Brazil, women represent 58% of voters, but have only 12% of the seats in Congress.
This is clearly reflected in the discussions on policies and legislative projects around the internet. If Brazilian women are the majority of the population, have access to computers, are interested in technology, and they are the majority of social network-users and can afford online shopping, then why do women not participate massively in discussions over internet regulation?
The answer is that such debates are often left to experts, jurists and academics, all predominantly male in the country. As such, public discussions are often led by a male-dominated approach, and are culturally exclusionary to women. Added to this is the normal challenges faced by women in the country, such as limited budgets, lack of free time, use of incomprehensible rules and jargon, and a lack of information.
But any new governance policies and bills relating to the internet also affect women, because they are also victims of serious violations of freedom of expression online.
- Reproductive rights under censorship
The Commission on Citizenship and Reproduction condemned the Brazilian State in the last UN Universal Periodic Review session for restricting the dissemination of information on sexual and reproductive health on the internet, specifically around the use of the drug misoprostol, through the regulatory agency ANVISA. The agency’s resolutions control the flow of information on the product on the internet, on websites and social networks, to the detriment of women.
- Women victims of private censorship
In May 2012, thousands of women took to the streets to protest against sexual violence in the “March of Women”. Many women showed their breasts and all the photos were removed by Facebook. The photos were restored to the social network only after all the “offensive material” was deleted.
- Women victims of death threats
Sometimes, gender-based bullying goes beyond the judicial sphere and threatens the physical integrity of women. On 26 July 2012, the blogger Gerlice Nunes was assaulted by the mayor of the town of Captain Aeneas during a public event in which the mayor was giving bicycles to students participating in the federal programme known as "Paths of school." Gerlice had reported on her blog that the bikes being delivered were stored for eight months at the back of the town hall, hidden by a black canvas. The blogger was recording the event with her camera when she was intercepted by the mayor who threatened her and told her to “have more respect for people” and she should be careful (“ficar esperta"). After threatening Gerlice, the mayor called some policemen and told them that the blogger had incited kids to throw rocks at the gym where the event was taking place. Many testimonies denied seeing any rocks being thrown at the gym, but in the middle of the commotion, the mayor tried to grab Gerlice’s camera and hold her violently, causing a number of bruises to her arm.
It is important to say that, although women have been more exposed and sometimes threatened for what they write, the Internet has also become a new and quite important channel to make visible the violence they face.
On 23 October 2012, Lisãnia Ghisi, journalist for the Cuiaba Gazette newspaper, started receiving threats from a policeman and the policeman’s friends after she wrote a story that quoted a phrase posted on Facebook by the policeman.
On 20 October the policemen known as “E.T.P.” posted a statement on his Facebook page in solidarity with the family of a policeman killed the previous night in the city of Varzea Grande. In the posting, he said he was mourning and that the killers would not live to see another sunrise. Lisãnia wrote an article reporting an interview with E.T.P.’s supervisor. E.T.P. reproduced the article in his Facebook and asked his friends to comment on it. In addition to many offenses directed to journalists in general and Lisãnia in particular, the Facebook users stated in their comments that after killing the murderers they would go for the journalists. Lisãnia started to receive death threats through her Facebook account.
Lisãnia affirms that after the Journalists Union of the State of Mato Grosso supported her and filling a complaint, the policeman deleted his Facebook profile.