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Threats of rape and murder: Widespread digital violence against Tunisian women activists

Threats of rape and murder: Widespread digital violence against Tunisian women activists

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Life Women’s Rights

Thursday 22 June 202303:21 pm
إقرأ باللغة العربية:

تهديدات بالقتل والاغتصاب... انتشار العنف الرقمي ضد الناشطات التونسيات


Growing concerns among human rights and feminist organizations in Tunisia about the growing phenomenon of digital violence against women in virtual spaces, and its negative impact on their daily lives and mental health, have led to calls for the need to establish laws that criminalize this type of violence.

A study titled "Digital Violence against Women Activists in the Public Sphere", presented by the "Aswat Nissa" (Voices of Women) association, revealed the remarkable targeting of women active or involved in public affairs due to their activities and public positions on media platforms and social media, in light of a populist and emotionally charged climate that fuels violence.

Feminist activists, advocates for rights and freedoms, and women journalists are more exposed and vulnerable than others to electronic violence, smear campaigns, stigmatization, and violations of their moral dignity simply because they are women. This is also seen as punishment for speaking the truth and defending women's rights, according to the same study.

They threatened to kill my son!

Zeina Zaidi, a journalist who works for the private radio station Shems FM, faced a fierce online campaign led by a group of pages on social media platforms against her.

Concerns among human rights and feminist organizations in Tunisia about the growing phenomenon of digital violence against women in virtual spaces and its negative impact, have led to calls for the need to establish laws that criminalize this type of violence

While speaking to Raseef22, Zeina Zaidi says, "After the exceptional measures announced by the Tunisian president, I continued to host my political program and tried to work with neutrality, hosting all parties and political orientations. However, with every episode I broadcasted, I faced a campaign of insults, defamation, and threats on social media."

She adds, "Each time, I ignored these campaigns and continued to address sensitive issues and important political topics until I received a message from an anonymous person threatening to kill my son. That person told me, 'Consider your son a martyr'."

Continuing her account, she says, "At that moment, I realized that the digital violence against me had gone beyond insults, defamation, and vilification, reaching the point of death threats and physical harm to my family members. This had a significant impact on my well-being, and I resorted to the judiciary to seek justice and hold the attackers accountable."

Insults, defamation, and threats of rape

Women's organizations and human rights advocates recognize that digital violence has become a serious phenomenon that threatens women active in public affairs, in light of a legal inadequacy and failure in combating this phenomenon and holding the perpetrators accountable, as cyber violence is still not recognized as a stand-alone crime in Tunisian laws.

Sara Medini, the legal affairs officer at the "Aswat Nissa" association, says, "Digital violence targeting women active in public affairs in Tunisia has turned in recent years into a dangerous phenomenon that must be addressed and not ignored."

Medini added in her conversation with Raseef22, "Activists in the political, human rights, and media fields are particularly vulnerable to digital violence, especially when expressing their opinions on political, social, or economic issues through social media platforms."

Digital violence targeting women active in public affairs in Tunisia has turned in recent years into a dangerous phenomenon that must be addressed and not ignored."

Continuing her statement, she says, "Whenever Tunisian women activists express their opinions on a specific issue, they are bombarded with insulting comments, defamation, death threats, and rape threats from groups hiding behind fake pages and accounts."

The feminist activist emphasizes that digital violence against women has become a dangerous phenomenon that threatens women and their mental health, in the absence of legal provisions criminalizing electronic violence and in a societal environment where impunity prevails.

In this context, she recommends the addition of new provisions to the 2017 law related to combating violence against women in Tunisia, criminalizing digital violence against women.

Gender-based violence

For her part, sociology professor Fethia Saidi states that women activists in the public sphere in Tunisia are subjected to online harassment through social media platforms due to their posts, opinions, or media interventions.

Saidi adds in her conversation with Raseef22 that the populist social climate in Tunisia has significantly contributed to the rise of digital violence against women, as this climate is primarily based on emotions and capitalizing on anger.

Whenever Tunisian women activists express their opinions on a specific issue, they are bombarded with insulting comments, defamation, death threats, and rape threats from groups hiding behind fake pages and accounts

Saidi, who conducted the study, confirms that thousands of attacks targeting female civil society activists have been recorded, especially in the period leading up to and after the referendum on the new constitution (the 2022 Constitution).

She points out that feminists, women activists, and female journalists can be counted as victims of cyber political violence based on gender, which is violence perpetrated by individuals and groups targeting Tunisian women activists based on their political stances, when they express dissenting opinions, or oppose the policies of the current regime in Tunisia.

Saidi believes that "digital violence in Tunisia, like a snowball rolling down a hill, growing in size day by day, and it must be confronted by labeling it as a crime punishable by law, as well as through intensifying awareness campaigns and imposing regulations on platforms to delete comments that are abusive and offensive towards women."

International warnings

The ARTICLE 19 organization had called for combating digital violence against women in Tunisia and promoting their rights to equality and freedom of expression, expressing concern about the "spread of violence against women and girls that has swept the digital space, including online media platforms."

The organization urged "various stakeholders and actors in the media field, media institutions, and components of civil society, in addition to public institutions concerned with defending and protecting women's rights, to mobilize their efforts and coordinate strategically to combat violence against women and girls in the digital space."

On the other hand, the organization praised the role of Tunisian women in public life and the gains they have achieved in the framework of promoting equality and their persistent efforts to make an impact in all fields, regardless of their position, and their commitment to their free voices, whether in physical or digital spaces.

A study conducted by the Centre for Research, Studies, Documentation and Information on Women (CREDIF) revealed the prevalence of digital violence on Facebook, stating that "89% of surveyed women have experienced violence in all its forms in the digital space." The results also indicated that 71% of the perpetrators of violence were men, and 60% of women who use Facebook do not feel safe in the digital space.



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