Online violence against women as an obstacle to gender equality: a critical view from Europe

Barker, Kim and Jurasz, Olga (2020). Online violence against women as an obstacle to gender equality: a critical view from Europe. European Equality Law Review, 2020(1) pp. 47–60.



Online violence against women operates – in an increasingly digital society – as an obstacle to gender equality. The 2018-2023 CoE Gender Equality Strategy sets a benchmark for the initiatives and policy changes across Europe to achieve gender equality. The strategy not only recognizes that ‘violence and sexual harassment of women in public space are strongly condemned [by the Istanbul Convention]’ but also notes a number of obstacles to gender equality which are rooted in online behaviours such as violent and degrading online content (including violent sexual threats online) and sexist online hate speech. Most recently, the EU Parliament highlighted the need to tackle online forms of VAW, including online misogyny and online harassment.

Despite growing recognition at the European supranational level that violence against women is increasingly happening online, few steps have been taken in terms of law and policy making to combat these practices in a meaningful and cohesive way. In particular, limited attention has been paid to textual threats, harassment, and text-based abuse online, with the emphasis of legislators and policy makers falling predominantly on online image-based sexual abuse. Furthermore, fragmented approaches across European institutions and across EU member states compound this problem resulting in the current policy framework embodying the antithesis of equality when it comes to OVAW.

This article critically examines the shortcomings of the current approaches to law and policy, highlighting the failings to date in enacting changes to address gender inequality at the European supranational level. It concludes by proposing practical solutions to addressing OVAW, especially online forms of gender-based harassment and hate speech.

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