UK participation at Commission on the Status of Women

Helene Reardon-Bond delivers speech reaffirming the UK's commitment to addressing violence against women and girls in all its forms.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Helene Reardon-Bond at CSW

Online representation, misogyny and violence against women

Thank you Salla
, and thank you all for coming today.

I am delighted to share a platform with Manu Sareen, Denmark’s Minister for Gender Equality, and Laura Higgins, of the Safer Internet Centre, and Kenneth Reinicke of Roskilde University.

The UK Government welcomes UN Women’s review of the Platform for Action, and the global recommitment to achieving equality for all women and girls everywhere.

This is an important opportunity to share our efforts to advance gender equality, learn from global approaches and think about ways we can work together to fulfil the promises made in Beijing.

In 1995 at the 4th World Conference on Women, violence against women and girls and the sexist and stereotyped representation of women in mass media were identified as critical barriers to achieving gender equality.

As we recommit to eradicating violence against women and girls in all its forms we face new challenges – including the prevalence of online abuse and violence. Today we will address growing international concerns about the abuse of women and girls online.

Twenty years ago, the Internet and digital media were not new phenomenon, but most people were reliant still on older means of transmitting information. I recently met with some women who attended Beijing and they described to me how they frantically searched for printers and faxes they could use to ensure their views were included in the Platform for Action.

We could not have foreseen in 1995 how the rapid transformation of technology would change the media landscape and how digital and social media would come to be so prominent in our daily lives. Online newspapers and apps, blogging, and social media have become important platforms for sharing news and views. Many of you will tweet to a global audience today.

Technology is a huge enabler for women across the whole world; digital and social media are vital tools for campaigning against, challenging and raising awareness about gender inequality. However, in the wrong hands, they are powerful tools for those who wish to insult, harass, threaten, degrade and limit women’s voices.

The ability to interact with others anonymously online creates a new space where individuals can be bullied and where misogyny can flourish. While we know that abuse online is not only an issue for women and girls, we know that in many cases abuse is gendered in its nature. Just look at the scale of twitter trolling that has targeted many women’s rights activists.

There is also an increasing worry that online dissemination of private images of a sexual nature, without consent, objectifies women and is a form of censorship through public humiliation.

And it is extremely worrying that perpetrators of domestic abuse now routinely use social media as a platform to commit crimes against those they victimise.

Today we are here to raise awareness of the online representation, misogyny and violence against women, to share some of the UK projects developed to tackle this growing problem, and to learn more about what other countries are doing to address this international concern.

So what we have done in the UK?

The UK government is committed to eradicating the unacceptable crime of violence against women and girls in all its forms and wherever it occurs. To tackle online abuse and violence we are taking the following steps

1. We are supporting public debate and empowering consumers to take action by:

  • Adding Internet safety to the national curriculum to equip children and young people with the skills to stay safe online and report online abuse.
  • Publishing a new teaching guide to help warn young people about the criminal consequences of abusive online behaviour and revenge porn.
  • Providing £500,000 funding to the UK’s Safer Internet Centre to provide support to schools, teachers and parents. Their range of support materials for parents, teachers and children have been downloaded over 200,000 times.
  • Supporting the UK’s Child Exploitation and Online Protection Command of the National Crime Agency, in the national roll out of Parentinfo – a new parent support pack to guide parents through the often-complex world of on line use.
  • Introducing new laws on revenge pornography and rape pornography .
  • We have funded a new Revenge Porn helpline to provide vital support and guidance to victims. This is a shocking crime and one of the issues Laura will address in her presentation.

2. Supporting industry-led approaches that promote best practice

The UK government has been clear that we respect the fundamental right of free speech and the independence of media.

We firmly believe that a culture change needs to take place, which, has to be industry led.

So, we are working in partnership with industry to ensure best practice in Internet safety controls.

Our Body Confidence Campaign works with relevant industry partners to encourage more diverse and realistic representation of women and men’s bodies and,

We have issued tougher guidelines on the use of sexualised images in advertising and banned a number of street ads that do not meet these requirements. Working with a range of partners to develop materials that encourage young people to become more informed. Our packs for parents and teachers have been downloaded 35,000 times and are helping children to critically analyse the portrayal of women and men in the media.

3.Encouraging greater diversity and representation of women in senior industry roles

Continuing to encourage more companies, including the media, to sign up Think, Act, Report which asks employers to think about equality between men and women in their workforces, and collect and review data on issues like recruitment, retention, promotion and pay.

Supporting Lord Davies’ voluntary, business-led approach to increase the number of women in the boards of the FTSE 100.

Taking early action to broaden girls’ aspirations and develop their confidence to take up non-traditional subjects and careers – Including in the media industry.

Role of others

But the challenge is not just for governments. Gender equality is everyone’s business:

The media have a large role to play and it is encouraging that the big 4 internet service providers in the UK have introduced network level parental controls for their customers and are helping to educated parents about how to keep their children safe online.

Consumers and civil society also need to be informed, empowered and able to take action.

This is crucial as some of the most effective action to challenge the limited and sexist portrayal of women in the media is led by consumer pressure.

Influential campaigns in the UK such as the No More Page Three Campaign and Lose the Lads Mags call on editors, retailers and the wider industry to respond to consumer pressure and make voluntary changes.

These campaigns are in many instances contributing to a shift in public opinion – where a growing signatory from the general public, editors, manufacturers and retailers are saying they do not see the sexual display of women as harmless fun.

The ‘Everyday Sexism Project’, which catalogues instances of sexism experienced by women daily, is driving a significant rise in awareness about everyday online and offline sexism and abuse.

The UK Government has taken important steps in addressing online representation, misogyny and abuse of women, but we know there is still much more to do.

The unacceptable crime of violence against women and girls persists because gender inequality persists, and so we continue to address persisting discrimination and everyday sexism to secure lasting change.

We are looking forward to hearing from other member states and actors to share best practice in:

  • supporting industry-led initiatives to promote good practice
  • encouraging greater diversity and representation of women 
in senior industry roles
  • ensuring an effective and accessible regulatory and 
legislative framework
  • empowering consumers to take action and driving public 

I hope I have demonstrated how strongly my government feels about this issue and how determined we are to end discrimination and violence against women and girls.

Today in Geneva, Karen Pierce the UK Ambassador to the UN and other international organisations, is also raising awareness of this important issue at the Human Rights Council on Child sexual exploitation and calling for a coordinated global response to the online abuse and exploitation of children.

We look forward to working with you all to ensure we achieve the promises made in Beijing, and to place women and girls at the heart of the post-2015 development framework. We must work together to tackle these new and emerging areas whenever discrimination occurs.

Published 10 March 2015