ICJ makes a submission focusing on the gender dimensions of disinformation to the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression

In response to a Call for Inputs to inform an upcoming thematic report by the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression (the Special Rapporteur), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) provided a substantive submission providing concrete examples of gendered disinformation and of the responses by States, companies and organizations, as well as  potential solutions to combat this phenomenon. The Special Rapporteur’s report is to be presented at the UN General Assembly’s 78th Session in October 2023.  

As gendered disinformation continues to undermine the human rights and well-being of women and people of diverse genders and sexualities, the Special Rapporteur has raised specific concerns related to “gendered disinformation” in the context of gender justice in the digital age. Mirroring the definitions provided by the Special Rapporteur and the International Telecommunication Union and UNESCO, ICJ considers, for the purposes of the submission, that “gendered disinformation”  refers to “any false information that is deliberately disseminated and intended to cause harm to women, girls or people of diverse genders and sexualities.”

In the submission, ICJ demonstrates how gendered disinformation often amounts to online gender-based violence and may serve to hinder women’s participation in political life, undermining democracy and the exercise of human rights and fundamental freedoms, such as the right to freedom of expression, the right to information and the right to participation in public affairs. The submission drew on examples of targeted attacks against women from the Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Kenya, and South Africa, highlighting, in particular, how these attacks make it difficult for women in politics to engage professionally with the electorate as the focus is shifted away from their experience and expertise towards sexual and moral judgments.

Many States have attempted to combat disinformation at the expense of international human rights law. This is done through overly broad definitions of “disinformation” or “false information” which ultimately violate the right to freedom of expression.  However, States have an obligation to uphold this right while also preventing, redressing and holding accountable those responsible for gender-based violence, including violence perpetrated in online spaces. Laws and policies attempting to curtail the spread of disinformation must comply with the principles of a legitimate purpose, legality, necessity, proportionality and non-discrimination under international human rights law.

Ultimately, the ICJ concluded that the Special Rapporteur should recommend that States address and combat gendered disinformation in a manner consistent with international human rights law and standards.

The ICJ urges States to recognize gendered disinformation and online gender-based violence broadly, as an impairment to the enjoyment of human rights and as a form of discrimination and violence affecting disproportionally women, girls and persons of diverse genders and sexualities. There is also a need for further research on the impact of new and emerging technologies, such as generative artificial intelligence, on the generation and dissemination of gendered disinformation.

For more information, contact:

Kaajal Ramjathan-Keogh, ICJ Africa Director Africa Programme, Kaajal.Keogh@icj.org

Daron Tan, ICJ Associate Legal Adviser, Southeast Asia, Daron.Tan@icj.org

Mulesa Lumina, ICJ Africa Legal and Communications Associate Officer, Mulesa.Lumina@icj.org


[Submission] Gendered Disinformation – ICJ Submission to UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression – July 2023


In 2021, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion presented a report to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on the issue of gender justice and freedom of opinion and expression.

Over the past year, the Special Rapporteur has participated in a series of regional consultations with civil society to better understand the nature and impact of gendered disinformation so that more effective responses can be developed to address the phenomenon while upholding freedom of expression. The Special Rapporteur now proposes to present a report on the gender dimensions of disinformation to the UNGA at its 78th session and requested inputs thereon.

A number of international human rights instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter) guarantees the rights to equality and non-discrimination, privacy, information, freedom of expression,  and participation in public affairs. Under these instruments, States parties are obliged to prevent gendered disinformation from infringing upon the human rights of women, girls and people of diverse genders and sexualities. States parties must also ensure all persons are protected from discrimination and violence, including discriminatory gendered disinformation and other forms of online gender-based violence. The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women characterizes gender-based violence (GBV) against women as “violence which is directed against a woman because she is a woman or that affects women disproportionately.” Gendered disinformation will frequently entail a form of gender-based violence due to the harmful impacts it may have on women, girls and those of diverse genders and sexualities.

ICJ’s OGBV law checklist is aimed at assisting States to draft new laws or amend existing ones to prevent and address online gender-based violence against women, in line with their legal obligations in terms of international human rights law and standards. As emphasized in the Checklist and in the ICJ’s 8 March Principles,  criminal law responses should be interpreted consistently with international human rights law and should only prohibit forms of gendered disinformation that inflict substantial harm to the human rights and fundamental freedoms of victims/survivors, and amount to a violation of their physical, sexual or psychological integrity.

Further reading

[Checklist] ICJ Online Gender-Based Violence (OGBV) Law Checklist

[Principles] The 8 March Principles for a Human Rights-Based Approach to Criminal Law Proscribing Conduct Associated with Sex, Reproduction, Drug Use, HIV, Homelessness and Poverty

AdvocacyNon-legal submissions