There is a growing need to end online violence against women and thus reverse the trend of leaving women behind in the digital economy.
The pandemic-induced lockdowns, across the world, exacerbated online abuse against women, inflicting damage on many who aspired to transition to digital platforms to reinstate their professions or speak as global netizens.One of the earliest comprehensive reports that underlined the premise that the use of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) would be essentially handicapped without the prohibition of online gender-induced violence in society was a report submitted to the Human Rights Council in 2018 by the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women. Acknowledging that online violence can be a significant deterrent to women’s digital skill development, the G20 Digital Economy Ministerial Declaration of Hamburg, 2017 recognised the need for prevention, protection, and raising resources and awareness of women and girls in the cyber world. Some G20 members like France have ensured that cyberbullying against women and girls is introduced as a new criminal offence. Italy included the unlawful dissemination of sexually explicit images or videos as a new criminal offence. Cybercrimes against women in India have also surged alarmingly accordingly to the National Crime Research Bureau (NCRB) between 2018 and 2020 with a 110 percent spurt in cases lodged for publishing sexually explicit content. Although budget allocations for centrally sponsored schemes approved under the Schemes for the Safety of Women such as the Cyber Crime Prevention against Women and Children have been raised, a lot remains to be achieved. Online gender-based violence surged globally during the pandemic and most nations struggled to grapple with the violation of women’s online lives in the absence of a strong legislative framework. People of all genders are falling victim to online abuse but an overall majority of them happen to be women and girls. It is particularly hurting women and girls who stand at the intersectionality of social disadvantage such as race, class, caste, religion and disability. Amongst women, women of colour are more susceptible to online violence, while women belonging to ethnic or religious minorities and women with disabilities, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex women (LBTI) are facing brickbats on social media platforms. Peer inflicted online abuse is not only limited to young people but also extends to women who wield power. It’s also turning out as a power play and dominance often targeting those who dare to transgress patriarchal stereotypes and are propounding gender empowerment. Time and again, the digital space has zeroed down on women’s leadership, be it politicians, celebrities, public figures, journalists, environmentalists, influencers, and other activists. Many have been subject to relentless trolling and smear campaigns that undermine their agency and delegitimising their workplace.
Cybercrimes against women in India have also surged alarmingly accordingly to the National Crime Research Bureau (NCRB) between 2018 and 2020 with a 110 percent spurt in cases lodged for publishing sexually explicit content.
Social media platforms should formulate robust gender-sensitive policies and redressal systems in place to let women navigate virtual spaces without fear by simply blocking or taking down offensive posts.Fighting off online crimes against women then needs deep introspection of the challenges of deep-rooted inequalities like misogyny, hurtful social norms and mindsets that aid in consolidating violence. A multi-pronged and proactive approach perhaps can go a long way in tackling these crimes head-on. States on their part should able to ensure that online victims of violence are able to report crimes without fear of re-victimisation. Social media platforms should formulate robust gender-sensitive policies and redressal systems in place to let women navigate virtual spaces without fear by simply blocking or taking down offensive posts. As the decentralised cyber world grows unabated globally, it creates challenges in governance and regulation requiring new legal safeguards that promote women’s rights. One huge lacuna that needs attention is perhaps to raise professionals within law enforcement agencies to be able to investigate and prosecute online offenders. Guaranteeing digital security necessitates the need to raise public awareness and equip schools with knowledge systems which can disseminate information about the perils of the digital space. A United Nations report identifies the gaps in cyberspace as a global challenge, reinforcing the fact that online violence has disproportionately impacted women and girls and evicted them out of public dialogue. Turning a blind eye to digital violence against women will further fortify women’s self-censorship and erode them of their self-esteem. As we dedicate this day to honouring the socio- economic, cultural, and political accomplishments of women lets us call for immediate action to unpack the changing nature landscape of violence against women while we step up concerted efforts for women’s digital rights to work towards achieving our unified commitment to gender development and women’s justice.
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Arundhatie Biswas, Ph.D is Senior Fellow at ORF. Her research traverses through multi-disciplinary research in international development with strong emphasis on the transformative approaches to ...Read More +