The UN report produced in partnership with Brazilian leaderships “Violence against women on the Internet: diagnosis, solutions, and challenges” launched in 2017 at the Internet Forum has contributed to establishing and mapping the different manifestations of violence on digital media, in which aggressive speeches try to silence voices and annul freedoms of girls and women throughout Brazil. The document is the result of meetings and debates among networks of organizations, lawyers, jurists, human rights activists, and activists who advocate for digital rights, sexual and reproductive rights.  

           Challenging online hate speech is increasingly important, but there are at least two major obstacles that turn this challenge even more difficult: (1) the identification of offensive messages (what can be considered hate speech?); (2) what are the legal solutions to this problem? The report shows that justice remains inaccessible to some victims due to socioeconomic reasons. And when these women get care, they face other kinds of prejudice, such as racism and homophobia.

           The document highlights that violence against women, non-heteronormative and non-binary identities in Brazil is historical and tends to affect people who are not mobilized or engaged in the fight against discrimination. According to the report, conservatism over gender and sexuality has deep roots in the religious matrix of colonizers as Christianity denied women autonomy.  

            Most attacks can cause moral and material damage. For example, disseminating or threatening to disclose intimate images may be framed in various illegal acts, such as threatening, extortion, exposure of intimacy and exposure of personal data. Data on violence and discrimination against women on the Internet collected and monitored by the NGO SaferNet reveals that complaints of online hate speech towards women jumped from 961 in 2017 to 16.717 in  2018.

             Some important reflections are highlighted at the end of the report:

  • Like all rights, the right to freedom of expression is not absolute and is underpinned by other rights such as non-discrimination.
  • Some platforms have not given room to cultural differences in their terms of use, and this practice has been used to prevent the free circulation of ideas regarding gender, sexual and reproductive rights that deviate from historically constructed heteronormative, racist, and sexist patterns.
  • Privacy protection and pseudo-anonymity are also instrumental in protecting women who are more vocal on these platforms.
  • Any answer to the question should consider the multi-sectoral governance character of the online network, especially in a country where gender, race and class inequalities make conflict resolution through judicial tools quite difficult.


By Kátia Gaspar (Universidade Estácio de Sá – Brazil)


The full report can be accessed here: