THE BLOG

Taking an Intersectional Approach to Online Violence

06/30/2015 04:20 pm ET | Updated Jun 30, 2016

Why do we call women's issues "women's issues"? So much of the inequality and violence that women encounter are relevant to men as well. The problems of patriarchy are not exclusively damaging to women -- they hurt men, too. But these problems are even more nuanced than that. Women's issues are not simply divisible into two genders.

So-called "women's issues" affect different women with unique experiences and identities in radically different ways. Women's issues are intersectional and layered. The problems a queer black woman faces are different from those of a white cisgender woman. Her identities are not siloed -- woman, black, queer. Rather, these elements of her identity, fused together, can -- and in most cases, do -- lead to greater levels of oppression than that of a white woman.

According to Pew Research, "Young women experience certain severe types of harassment at disproportionately high levels: 26% of these young women have been stalked online, and 25% were the target of online sexual harassment." Danielle Citron, author of Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, reports in Forbes:

A 2009 study of 992 undergraduate students found that nonwhite females faced cyber harassment more than any other group and white women came in next...It appears that being a woman arguably raises one's risk of cyberstalking and cyber harassment, and for women of color and women from minority groups, the risk may be higher.

Offline, in "real life," these statistics on abuse are not any more encouraging for marginalized women. While 17.6% of American women overall are victims of rape or attempted rape, a staggering 34.1% and 24.4% of American Indian/Alaskan and mixed race women, respectively, can say the same. More than 37% of women with disabilities have faced domestic violence, compared with just over 20% of American women overall. And perhaps most shockingly, 83% of women with disabilities will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes.

If we are to fix these problems, it is crucial that we recognize the different ways they affect those of different gender and sexual identities, ethnicities, abilities, and cultures -- and develop solutions that address these nuances. Solutions to gender-based violence that take a one-size-fits-all approach will not reach those who need them the most.

Especially in the tech space, it is difficult -- impossible, really -- to escape these issues of gendered discrimination, harassment and, too often, outright violence. We need to stop siloing gendered issues and take an intersectional approach to addressing violence against women. This problem belongs to us all and we need to recognize the varied and nuanced ways it affects different groups of women, and how women can seize technology to improve their lives and the lives of others.

What happens when tech fails to protect its marginalized users? Unsurprisingly, many women self-censor or have removed themselves entirely from conversations surrounding women's issues online. The daily, incessant dog piling of trolling, harassment, stalking, doxxing, and threats of rape and murder proves to be too much for some. Who can blame them?

And of course, these threats and harassment are layered and more acute for women of color. In an interview with AlterNet, actress Pia Jones describes the harassment she faces on Twitter:

I've had lynching threats. People send me terrible historical pictures of our ancestors being lynched... When a white woman gets terrible harassment about being raped, attacked or killed, that's very serious as well. But there's no way she can get the lynching threats with historical pictures of black people. So there's a whole other section of ugly, hideous things people feel they can say to us.

Writer Heather Barmore says, "It's been fascinating to see how discussions around race have transformed thanks to the online space. I used to be terrified to discuss race because I didn't have a feeling that there were people who understood and now I am far more vocal." But, she explains, "There is still that sense of 'feminism is for white women'...Inclusion and acceptance doesn't happen in a vacuum. We all need to speak up and speak out."

Clearly we and our tech institutions are failing when women are receiving such extreme forms of abuse and little is being done to stop it. It is a shame that tech simultaneously fails so many women in so many ways, while so many have proven that it can be a formidable force for good in the fight to prevent and end gender-based violence.

While tech alone isn't a silver bullet to in the fight to prevent and end gender-based violence, several organizations are taking powerful, practical, intersectional approaches to helping women of all identities:

Take Back the Tech!: This activist organization "calls on all ICT users -- especially women and girls -- to take control of technology and strategically use any ICT platform at hand (mobile phones, instant messengers, blogs, websites, digital cameras, email, podcasts and more) for activism against gender-based violence." Most recently, Take Back the Tech! joined and amplified #FemHack to highlight the lack of women and queer and trans people in tech and champion "feminist approaches to technology that respect diversity, autonomy, agency and social resistance."

CHAYN: Volunteers at this "open-source project that leverages technology to empower women against violence and oppression so they can live happier and healthier lives" have produced a host of documents and resources that help women escape abusive situations. The guides come in multiple languages and address different cultural, health, temporal, and physical issues that can prevent women from seeking help.

Safe Hub Collective: This Boston, Massachusetts based activist organization focused on preventing and ending harassment and violence against women in its city coordinates monthly hackathons with the intention of creating safe intersectional spaces for women interested in tech: "Our hackerspace is for People of Color, Trans + Non-Binary People, Queer People, and White Women that may not always feel safe or comfortable in other tech spaces."

While these organizations and resources are invaluable in the fight against online and offline harassment for women of many identities, we still face hostile online and offline environments that harm women mentally, emotionally, and physically. It is unreasonable to think that these resources can keep pace with the incredible harassment and violence women face every day. Women and men of all backgrounds must work to end these problems. Differences in our identities cannot give us an excuse to shy away from addressing these issues when women's lives and well-beings are in danger.

The Womanity Foundation is committed to supporting organizations making impactful change in the fight to prevent and end violence against women. The Womanity Award, co-financed by the Trafigura Foundation, launched in 2013 with the vision of supporting innovative and effective solutions focused on violence against women, by helping them to make a wider, deeper impact. This year, the Award will highlight programs that are adapting new technologies to prevent violence against women and support expansion of this work with professional services, learning opportunities, and relevant resources. The call for nominations is open. Submit your nominee here by August 28, 2015 and follow along on Twitter #ICTforWomanity.