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Findings on digital gender-based violence inform conference in Amman

IDRC-supported researchers shared knowledge and findings at the Canada-hosted 2023 FemParl Middle East and North Africa conference in Jordan in February. Launched in 2018, FemParl brings women politicians and leaders from across the region together and stems from Canada’s commitment to gender equality and empowerment and the belief that women belong everywhere decisions are being made.
One male and two female panelists sit in white armchairs onstage at the FemParl 2023 conference.
Aloula Events
IDRC-supported researcher Nadia Al-Sakkaf (centre) with Canadian senator Marilou McPhedran (left) and Ali Omari from the National Democratic Institute at FemParl 2023 in Amman, Jordan.

“By bringing together women politicians and leaders from across the region to learn from each other, build collaborative relationships and engage in interactive discussions with subject-matter experts from government, civil society and think tanks, FemParl aims to galvanize efforts to advocate for more inclusive policies and to pave the way for more women to engage in politics and take on leadership roles,” explained Canada’s Ambassador to Jordan, Tarik Ali Khan.

This year’s conference focused on forms of technology-facilitated violence that face women in the public sphere. The issue is only starting to be understood and there is a distinct lack of statistically significant research on the digital experiences of women in the Global South. There is also a poor understanding of how mis- and dis-information affects women in their public life.

IDRC has been supporting research to improve understanding of digital gender-based violence since 2016. Nadia Al-Sakkaf presented initial findings from a global IDRC-supported survey, in addition to regional research on the psycho-social impacts of digital violence. The survey found that women in Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are impacted by digital violence at a rate of 77% as compared to 66% for men, with Facebook identified as the platform where most of the violence and harassment occurs.

Al-Sakkaf also explained that women experience digital violence differently. “While digital violence affects all, gender-based violence affects women more than men and in the Middle East and North Africa, culture, lack of strong regulations and low resources make violence against women much more devastating. This needs to change,” said Al-Sakkaf. She spoke of an Egyptian woman who underwent plastic surgery to change her appearance after she was blackmailed by her husband with intimate videos he shared of her online (known as the non-consensual distribution of intimate images). She also spoke about an Iraqi activist who had to move after a political rival disclosed her address (known as doxing), thereby instigating violence against her. Both stories demonstrate the offline impacts of online violence towards women.

Al-Sakkaf is collaborating with the organization SalamatMENA to analyze qualitative research supported by the Sec Dev Foundation and quantitative data from a global survey of online experiences in the Global South with a focus on gender-based violence that is supported by IDRC and led by the Centre for International Governance Innovation. The intention is for this data to help governments, the private sector, social media platforms, civil society and development actors improve the design of their responses to technology-facilitated gender-based violence with regulations, by building movements, through education and with legal recourse.

Two other prominent IDRC-supported researchers were also invited to speak at FemParl. Rawan Damen, Director General of Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism and Shermeen Sarbast, Communications and Partnerships Officer at Arabi Facts Hub and Open Transformation Lab discussed the information disorder and experimental work to counter misinformation in the Arabic language.

Jordan’s Minister of Social Development, Wafa Bani Mustafa, a keynote speaker at the conference, observed that “women should not bear additional costs as a result of their participation in public affairs or political work. A safe electronic space must be provided for women involved in public affairs, in which society is aware of the importance of women’s role as partners in decision-making.”