Internet World Stats reports that there has been a gigantic increase in the number of internet users across the globe, rising from less than 1% to 40% (over three billion users). But fewer women across the globe have been the beneficiaries of the technology. The escalating gender gap and its absence from the state level discourse are leading towards a huge divide on the virtual space. The Women and the Web report by Intel, mentions that Internet’s access and usage increases women’s income potential, women’s sense of equity and sense of empowerment. A dedicated global effort to address the Internet gender gap could double the number of women online within three years. Although access to the Internet is spreading rapidly in developing countries, women are nearly 25 percent less likely than men to be online. This gender gap—which today prevents a staggering 200 million women from participating online—is projected to perpetuate.
The need of the hour is to create a comprehensive understanding of gender equity and social justice as key components of internet usage. Identifying the factors that could be the possible blockages for the women and girls to use the Internet or the reasons for them to shy away from it, will definitely help the public and private sector influencers to either change the way Internet is looked at or bring in the desired controls for the user’s convenience. The primary reason that has been the pull factor of discouraging a lot of users, is the privacy, security and control of their information online. As it is estimated that 450 million new women users (Source: Women and the Web, a report by Intel) are expected to come online, it is time to identify, rectify and present Internet as a platform that empowers rather than an accessible tool for criminal activities.
Access is empowerment, the idea that has to be supported and highlighted, to fill the users with a sense of security along with the benefits that they can actually reap of Internet. Talking about the pull factors, Cyber Bullying, Trolling, Hate Speech, Security and Privacy Issues, Fake Identities, Report mechanisms, Community Standards, Safety Policies etc. are the ones that top the chart and needs to be resolved at the earliest to prevent the clipping out of a very potential user base. The tools that are provided on Internet or specifically on the social media networks do serve the purpose of securing information, but being safe online is beyond this. Sensitization of the users to counter the hate speech is also a necessity, because the need to promote the culture of mutual respect and behavior holds the same importance in the virtual world as much as the real one.
At CSR, we have initiated programmes to address the negativity which comes with the virtual world becoming more real. Primitive and regressive ideas like patriarchy, racism, and other discriminating power structures are also being observed in the online world. So how do we change it? Well, the only way to beat hate speech is by engaging in more positive, nuanced, and informed speech.
If we intend to have gender equity and the realization of women’s rights and empowerment in its real sense, then the virtual space can certainly not and should not be ignored. The reach that the social media platforms have today is vast and the need of the hour is to channelize the resources and minds towards creating safe online spaces for all.
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