The stories of women barred from accessing mobile phones, computers, internet, social media are not at all new. Unfortunately, the patriarchal reservation that men enjoy or exploit, has reached to the virtual spaces too.
Envisaged as platforms of communication, networking and forging newer relationships, social media is being looked at as platforms of exploitation by some who restrict their sister, daughter, wife, mother to not use them. Ironically, they themselves cherish the newer bonding on the virtual spaces. Their restrictions are nothing but a form of establishing their control over the lives of women under the name of protection.
While it is also true that lack of resources is another reason for the absence of many women but the statistics do indicate that women are not allowed to be on virtual spaces for various reasons like family honor, safety etc.
Today the internet penetration rate in India is 35% as compared to 50% globally. There has also been a 40% increase in the number of social media users in India but sadly only 24% of the social media users are female. This speaks volumes about the fear and pressure women and the girls are imbibed with for using social media. We have 2.789 billion users of social media in the world and with an annual growth rate of 21%, it is expected to be the largest platform of expression and communication. But the missing women representation on social media will only lead to a unidirectional discourse once again.
#LahuKaLagaan, #PinjraTod and many more such campaigns have brilliantly highlighted women’s issues and initiated discourse on social media. And it is important that women come forward and speak about their problems to the world. That’s where social media comes in. It’s the access to Internet which will empower the women today. Social media is fast becoming the medium where people can express their concerns and seek support from across the globe.
While we do vouch for the fact that women must mark their presence on social media, there is a need to ensure that they have a safe virtual experience. The kind of hate speech, abuse and trolling that is prevailing is also one of the reasons why users are backing off from social media platforms.
Just this past week, a video of 14 men molesting two girls in a village in UP was published on Facebook. The video has sparked anger across the nation and people are demanding serious punishment for all the accused. Police has been only able to nab one accused till now. In 2015, video of a gangrape was shot and published on social media. The Jharkhand police was able to track all the accused by identifying them through the videos.
The two cases mentioned above also indicate the use of social media for defaming women, harassing and blackmailing them in the name of honor. In such a scenario, what we need is stricter and fast action to be taken against the accused. The social media platforms also need to look at the issue of women avoiding social media spaces and come up with better and ensuring policies to make them feel safe.