As a space for learning, leisure and accessing information, the Internet plays an essential role in shaping our conception of the world, our opinions and our values. Gender stereotypes existing in the offline environment – which are the root of inequality between men and women, and at the origin of gender violence – are also present in the online world.
Children and young people are in the process of forming their opinions and attitudes about norms and acceptable behaviour, and also about sexuality. Their attitudes toward women and men, their present and future conduct and roles are being strongly influenced by Internet content. Certain online services and easily available violent and sexist material can also put them at risk.
The challenge is how to protect their full enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression and access to information in online environments and at the same time prevent the damaging effects of gender-related harmful content. This is indispensable for achieving de facto equality between men and women.
On the Internet women can be exposed to risks such as surveillance, harassment, stalking, identity theft and manipulation, which are also related to consequences offline, such as persecution in private and professional environments, defamation or bodily harm. The tracking of mobile phones is seen as a useful innovation; however, it is often used for stalking.
Being aware about the way individuals think about gender, including stereotypes and how discrimination and gender roles hurt people, can help understand how Internet contents of a sexual and violent nature can lead to violence and discrimination against women.
The Council of Europe is supporting the introduction of a gender perspective when discussing Internet content and its regulation, so that policy-makers and the private sector can better understand how the Internet impacts women and men differently, and how this can contribute to fighting gender inequality and the violence related to it.
Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence
The Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence was opened for signature in April 2011. It is the first international treaty in Europe creating a comprehensive legal framework to prevent violence, to protect victims and to end with the impunity of perpetrators of violence.
The convention criminalises various forms of violence against women, including forced marriage, female genital mutilation, stalking, physical and psychological violence and sexual violence. While respecting the right to freedom of expression, the treaty encourages the information technology sector and the media to participate in developing policies to prevent violence against women and to enhance respect for their dignity, as well as to set guidelines and self regulatory standards.