“We need to make sure that women can live a life free from violence, online and offline” - Ciné-ONU Vienna film screening of ‘#FatUglySlut – Online Abuse Against Women’ marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and Girls

“Violence against women and girls continues to be the most pervasive and pressing human rights issue in the world today,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his message to mark this year’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women on 25 November (read the full statement). This day also starts the annual campaign of 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, with the theme this year “Orange the world: End violence against women now!” Ciné-ONU Vienna screened the documentary ”#FatUglySlut – Online Abuse Against Women“ on 22 November 2021 to highlight the campaign. The screening and subsequent panel discussion were conducted virtually because of COVID-19 measures in Austria.

The documentary “#FatUglySlut – Online Abuse Against Women” explores the topic of online harassment targeting women. The film features interviews with female public figures such as journalists, politicians and authors who recount their experiences with online harassment. “#FatUglySlut” also touches on the effects that the disproportionate abuse of women online – overwhelmingly by men - has on public discourse on social media platforms and offline.

The virtual Ciné-ONU Vienna film screening of “#FatUglySlut – Online Abuse Against Women” was organized by the United Nations Information Service (UNIS) Vienna in cooperation with the Permanent Mission of Belgium to the United Nations (Vienna) and UN Women Austria. The screening was followed by a panel discussion with Javier Luque Martinez, Head of Digital Communications at the International Press Institute (IPI); Nayelly Loya, Head of the Global Programme on Cybercrime at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC); and Gloria Bozyigit, Team Lead at UN Women Austria. UNIS Director Martin Nesirky moderated the conversation. Ambassador Ghislain D'hoop, Permanent Representative of Belgium to the UN (Vienna), delivered opening remarks on the serious nature of the topic depicted in the documentary.

The panel discussion focused on the impacts of online abuse against women as well as possible preventive and protective measures against it.   Luque Martinez pointed out that “online abuse has real-life impact”. He explained that online harassment against female journalists is often very threatening, leading to a “chilling effect” on their work. He stated that this is “a problem that affects us all”. However, he also noted that female journalists often use the tools of their profession to report on the abuse they receive. Luque Martinez also explained that IPI was working with newsrooms to be “the first line of defence”, providing training on analyzing and publicizing such incidents. He noted that “counter speech is a very powerful tool” to lessen the impact of the harassment. 

Loya pointed out that female public figures face many different types of abuse online. She also noted that cybercrime was often difficult to investigate due to a number of factors. She said more awareness about the nature of cybercrimes was necessary for it to be sufficiently addressed by policy makers, internet service providers and tech companies. Loya highlighted that “this type of crime does not make a lot of noise” and that those targeted are thus less visible. However, the UN was working on this as part of the negotiations about a possible cybercrime convention, she said. Loya recommended those being targeted to document the online abuse, for example by having screenshots available if they choose to report it.

Bozyigit focused on how online abuse can be the first step towards real-life violence, stating that “words turn into action”. She spotlighted the “Orange the world” campaign of UN Women and stressed the importance of raising awareness. She mentioned that UN Women has documented that online violence increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that it “must be taken very seriously”. Bozyigit issued a call to action to the audience, inviting them to join the “Orange the world” campaign through online posts or offline awareness-raising. She also urged the audience to “call out if you see any form of violence”. To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) “we need to make sure that women can live a life free from violence, online and offline”.

UNIS Director Martin Nesirky also highlighted the importance of this topic, noting that it was “a painful subject for too many women around the world”. He also informed the audience about the UN initiative “Verified”, which aims to counter misinformation online, including through the  #PledgetoPause campaign. He also pointed to the Virtual is Real campaign of UNFPA, the UN Population Fund.