How Technology-Facilitated Gender-Based Violence Impacts Women and Girls


Globally, approximately 736 million women — almost one in three — endure violence at least once in their life. The most prevalent form of violence against women globally is intimate partner violence (affecting around 641 million). However, this problem goes beyond interpersonal relationships and reaches into diverse environments, including online platforms. Online violence against women and girls has escalated rapidly in recent years, posing major threats to safety and well-being.

Online violence against women and girls

The digital transformation brings about substantial opportunities, but it also constitutes a space where harm can be perpetrated.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) raises concerns about protecting and promoting human rights. Societal biases linked to gender roles and identities are ingrained in social programmes and services through automated decision-making. Algorithms and devices have the potential to spread and reinforce harmful gender stereotypes. These gender biases pose a risk of further stigmatising and marginalising women on a global scale.

The COVID-19 pandemic increased digital violence as women and girls moved online for work, school and social activities. The importance of technology in realising gender equality and fostering inclusive development has never been more evident or pressing.

What is Technology-Facilitated Gender-Based Violence?

Technology-Facilitated Gender-Based Violence is “any act that is committed, assisted, aggravated or amplified by  the  use  of  information  communication  technologies  or  other  digital  tools  which   results   in   or   is   likely   to   result   in   physical,   sexual,   psychological,   social,   political   or   economic  harm or other infringements of rights and freedoms.”

Who is most affected?

Technology-Facilitated Gender-Based Violence targets all women who use technology. Certain groups of women are more prone to this type of violence because of their activities, identities, or access to specific information and services. Notably, human rights defenders, journalists and lawmakers, politicians, women activists and feminists, academics and young people face increased rates of violence.

For instance, 73% of women journalists have experienced online violence in the course of their work.

Technology-Facilitated Gender-Based Violence can disproportionately impact women and girls on an intersectional basis, considering factors such as race and ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, religion, gender identity/expression, socioeconomic status, disability, and refugee status. Women encountering various types of discrimination, including women with disabilities, women of colour, migrant women, and LGBTIQ+ individuals, bear unequal consequences.

Woman working on her laptop
The enduring effects of violence can have a significant impact on a woman’s health and well-being, persisting throughout her lifetime.

What are the forms of violence against women occurring online?

Technology-Facilitated Gender-Based Violence takes many forms, including sextortion (blackmail by threatening to publish sexual information, photos or videos); image-based abuse (sharing intimate photos without consent); doxxing (publishing private personal information); cyberbullying; online gender and sexual harassment; cyberstalking; online grooming for sexual assault; hacking; hate speech; online impersonation; and using technology to locate survivors of abuse in order to inflict further violence, among many others. Digital tools can also exacerbate violence occurring offline, including intimate partner/domestic violence and trafficking.

The most common forms of violence reported included: misinformation and defamation (67%), cyber harassment (66%), hate speech (65%), impersonation (63%), hacking and stalking (63%), astroturfing (a coordinated effort to concurrently share damaging content across platforms, 58%), video and image-based abuse (57%), doxxing (55%), violent threats (52%), and unwanted images or sexually explicit content (43%).

According to the EU Rights Agency, one in 10 women in the European Union has experienced cyber-harassment since the age of 15, including having received unwanted and/or offensive sexually explicit emails or SMS messages, or offensive and/or inappropriate advances on social networking sites.

What is the impact of Technology-Facilitated Gender-Based Violence?

The enduring effects of violence can have a significant impact on a woman’s health and well-being, persisting throughout her lifetime. It is associated with an elevated risk of injuries, depression, anxiety disorders, unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections (including HIV), and various other health challenges. The effects on mental health are profound, with survivors reporting severe consequences such as stress, anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), suicidal thoughts, and even attempts at suicide.

Technology-Facilitated Gender-Based Violence
From 25 November to 10 December 2023, UN Women is marking the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, under the global theme set by the UN Secretary-General: UNiTE campaign: “under the theme “UNITE!”

It also carries important health, safety, political and economic consequences. This form of violence not only silences women in online spaces, but also diminishes their engagement in public and political life, democratic processes, and leadership roles. Furthermore, it reinforces patriarchal roles, norms, and structures, serving as a significant obstacle to achieving gender equality and the Sustainable Development Goals.

What measures can we take to anticipate and mitigate these risks?

There is an urgent need to address online abuse, and to harness the power of technology as a force for good. Preventing and addressing Technology-Facilitated Gender-Based Violence necessitates collaborative efforts involving national governments, technology companies, digital rights and feminist movements, gender-based violence service providers, academics, and, most importantly, survivors. When developing AI technologies, it is important to prioritise diversity and inclusiveness.

Among others, States are urged to recognise violence against women and girls in digital contexts as a human rights violation. States must establish effective laws, policies, and regulatory frameworks aligned with existing international human rights instruments. Simultaneously, technology companies should adopt a collaborative approach in crafting digital platforms. Transparency is crucial in their deployment of algorithms, content moderation, policies, and complaint mechanisms, coupled with a commitment to assume responsibility for the repercussions stemming from neglecting harmful content and the inappropriate utilisation of technology.

More information:

AI: Transformative power and governance challenges

Facts and figures: Ending violence against women (UN Women)

FAQs: Trolling, stalking, doxing and other forms of violence against women in the digital age (UN Women)

Technology-Facilitated Gender-Based Violence in an Era of Generative AI (UNESCO)

UNESCO’s Global Survey on Online Violence against Women Journalists

Artificial Intelligence and Gender Equality (UNESCO)

Six ways tech can help end gender-based violence (UNICEF)

Devastatingly pervasive: 1 in 3 women globally experience violence (WHO)

What is technology-facilitated gender-based violence? (UNFPA)

Technology-facilitated Gender-based Violence Data and Measurement: Methodology Matters (UNFPA)

Technology-Facilitated Gender-Based Violence: A Growing Threat (UNFPA)

Violence against women: an EU-wide survey (EU Rights Agency)


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