Alison MacKenzie

Alison MacKenzie is a Senior Lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast (and former secondary school teacher in Scotland). She is the Programme Director for the master’s programme in Special Educational Needs and Inclusion, and former Director of the Postgraduate Certificate in Teacher Education at Queen’s University. Her research interest and publications are primarily concerned with social injustice, which she examines through epistemic injustice, epistemology of deceit and ignorance, feminism, and the Capabilities Approach; she also has a keen interest in Bourdieu’s sociological analysis of inequality. Alison has been nominated, short-listed for, and won numerous awards related to her teaching and supervision.

Violence Against Women and Girls Online: Why Digital Platforms Must Have a Code of Practice and Adhere to Human Rights Conventions 

The abuse of women and girls online is extensive and endemic. In the UK, for example, one in three women have experienced online abuse or harassment on social media or another online platform, 62% of which is experienced by young women. 1 in 6 experienced this abuse from a partner or an ex-partner. Data from 2017-2021 shows that 4 in 5 victims of online grooming offences are girls. Black women are 84% more likely to experience this abuse than white women. The UN Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) has reported that women and girls across the world are expressing concerns at the harmful, sexist, misogynistic and violent content and behaviour online. The Internet is a critical part of the widespread and systemic structural discrimination and gender-based violence against women and girls.

In the UK at least, despite the rate and prevalence, platforms are under no legal obligation to address the abuse. The British Government’s Online Safety Bill promises to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online while guaranteeing freedom of expression. Platforms will have a duty of care to protect children from harmful content, including material relating to child sexual abuse and exploitation. They will also have to address legal but harmful material accessed by adults which can result in harassment or exposure to content leading to self-harm or eating disorders. However important though this Bill is, it does not address the sexism, misogyny or violence against women and girls perpetrated in the digital sphere. A coalition of UK experts on VAWG has asked the British Government to amend the Bill and include a Code of Practice which specifically addresses violence against women and girls and to make this issue its top priority. The Code of Practice aims to give guidance to all tech companies on their obligations to protect users against adverse human rights abuses arising from the design, development, deployment and use of their products or services. As the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner observes, there is evidence that the use and misuse of technologies can have online and offline impacts on a wide range of other human rights.

In this keynote, she will discuss why a Code of Practice is important to safeguarding young women and girls online against adverse human rights abuses, and the role that schools can play in educating young people about online harm and VAWG, including embedding the UNCRC into teacher education and school curricula.