The Internet is an open playground, where people from various socio-cultural, economic and political backgrounds find a common space to interact and engage with each other. While the internet, especially social media, can be an empowering space for women due to its free and democratic nature, the safety of the Internet is deceptive. Violence occurring in the real world can (and does) seep unmitigated into the cyber world in the forms of social media slander, threats, being stalked and harassed, having intimate details, photos or other media released, unauthorized use of personal details and so on. The Internet becomes particularly dangerous because it offers the veil of anonymity to perpetrators, and also the space to perpetuate group violence easily. Making the internet a safe, abuse-free, non-violent, and most importantly, a respectful space for women and girls has to become a high priority concern in today’s digital society.
Making the internet a safe space for women needs to be a multi-level and collaborative project, whereby women’s organisations, internet users, governments, and those providing content and technology join forces to prevent cyber VAWG (violence against women and girls). The first step is to recognizing and raising awareness about the various forms of cyber VAWG. The perception that online behaviours or attitudes cannot be as dangerous or violent in their consequences as real life instances needs to be deconstructed. Social media becomes a powerful tool for this purpose, in initiating campaigns in the very space where such violence occurs. It also becomes way to reclaim online space for women. Individuals can be sensitized to violent and abusive behaviours online, and taught that it is each person’s responsibility to ensure the safety and privacy of their friends, family and people that they follow online. Women and girls should be made aware of basic online security – changing passwords often, not divulging location and other personal details, choosing safe user IDs that do not reveal personal details, being aware of privacy terms and ‘report abuse’ options of the services they use.
It is also the responsibility of content and tech providers to make the internet a safe space by providing heightened privacy settings so that personal details can be protected. Not only should security options be increased, service providers should also have technology in place that is able to detect violent behaviour as well as evidence trails left online to apprehend perpetrators. Constant updates should be made to strengthening security of the services provided by them. At a governmental level, laws that are specifically targeted towards protecting women and girls online need to be implemented; this can be made possible through collaboration with women’s organisations and online service providers. Police forces and lawyers should be aware of IT-related laws and trained to apply such laws to cases of cyber VAWG.
Ensuring the safety of women and girls needs to be a multi-level, transnational collaborative project, and deeply ensconced within the larger frameworks of prevention of VAWG and the women’s rights movement.
About the Author
A bibliophile and an unapologetic feminist, Chitrangi is a current student at the University of Edinburgh, where she has been pursuing an MSc in Asian Studies. Her present work is interested in women’s rights, gender and victimology and social movements.