ORF is partnering with Twitter India for the launch of #PositionOfStrength, a women’s empowerment initiative led by Twitter, to explore the new and innovative ways women can use online platforms to expand their reach and influence.

One of ORF’s focus areas, both in digital and other fields, pertains to norms around access and inclusion. While universal connectivity remains a goal, mere access is not enough – online tools must be leveraged so that access is meaningful. A rough poll of Twitter users in the office suggests that most people follow nearly twice as many men on the platform than women. In India, this can be blamed partly on the user ratio: women make up only 29 percent of the 400 million internet users in the country, so it follows that fewer women would be on Twitter. But it’s also indicative of a wider, unconscious bias that reflects and echoes the offline world. Amplifying women’s voices online can only lead to more enriching online debates and conversations. Varied perspectives are especially necessary in national and international policy formation, where the impacts of decisions made are felt by many over a sustained period of time.

The challenges faced by women online are well known and numerous – from casual sexist trolling to serious, graphic threats – making it seem safer to stay silent and offline. This is where efforts like #PositionOfStrength come in, and can help women reclaim online space from those (often seemingly anonymous) people who aim to silence them. Understanding how women use the internet, and what they want from it will pave the way for a more balanced online space. #PositionOfStrength is designed to help women learn how to use Twitter’s platform safely and confidently, and to help them build their networks online.

Previous ORF research has looked at a range of issues including the interaction between online presence and political participation among women in India, the impact of ICTs on gender relations in India and Africa, identity politics and social media and more. At the third CyFy: The India Conference on Cyber Security and Internet Governance, held in October, international panellists considered questions about gender-based violence and bullying online as well as how digital empowerment can provide opportunities for advancement.

Global internet governance has shifted to a multi-stakeholder model, meaning that all internet users potentially have a voice in the decision-making process of running the internet. If such a democratic framework is to be successful, equal participation by women is paramount. This holds true for the growth of Indian democracy as well. As the country strives for inclusive and sustainable development, the exclusion of women, intentionally or otherwise, from online arenas must not be countenanced.

Online platforms present a way for Indian women to operate free of the restrictive traditional norms that dictate participation in governance and policy discussions. The internet widens the audience, enabling women’s perspectives to reach sections of society which may have been much more difficult to access without such a medium. Historically, policy decisions which affect women have been ultimately made by the predominantly male political class, often ignoring the nuances of these issues. The advent of the internet empowers women to become more active stakeholders in policy forums. Women’s leadership is essential for sustainable governance, and in order to achieve that goal their participation in any forum – online or off – must be robust.

2016 will be the year that Twitter, ORF and other partners co-host a series of #PositionOfStrength workshops in India, starting tomorrow, to support women empowerment online. For more information, follow the conversation on Twitter at #PositionOfStrength.

The views expressed above belong to the author(s).

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