Online Resilience, Women and Cyber Safety
As I write this post after a good couple of months into the Digital Shakti campaign that we launched in collaboration with Facebook and the National Commission for Women, there are some interesting and some worrisome findings through the project. The campaign overall is doing great and we have already reached out tens of thousands of women across the country. Not only has it been a delight speaking to women on issues of online safety but it is empowering even for us, the implementors of this project to be able to make a difference on the ground. When we rolled out, we had a plan to reach out to different areas and conduct engaging workshops with women. While on the subject of plans, one pressing issue came forward- “Is this going to be a one-time activity and no follow up thereafter?” It couldn’t be so and as an organisation working for the community, we wouldn’t let it happen. It was then that we integrated a citizen helpline and broadcast messaging service into the campaign with the help of which we have been able to stay in touch with participants, answer their queries, keep them updated and help them in cases of cybercrimes. Tens of cases have been handled and solved and there are many under investigation at different law enforcement centres across the country and we couldn’t have been happier tending to these issues and facilitating their resolution.
That’s the good part. One worrisome issue that I would like to share with readers today is a homogeneous response from women across India to my question on the problem of rising revenge pornography and sextortion cases. To a simple query of who do they think is responsible when someone threatens or blackmails them with a nude/semi-nude picture that they sent in confidence during a relationship, their simple answer is “the girl who sent the picture is responsible, she is at fault”. While I am not on any moral high ground or some position to make cultural conclusions, what I would strictly point out is that a feeling hits a woman when something like this happens to her- that she is the one to blame and she is the one responsible even when someone else is committing an illegal act (blackmailing, threatening, publishing pictures, violating privacy etc.). She feels even the police will question her integrity and her character. She can’t tell her parents in the backdrop, suffers a great deal and well, if she is strong enough she makes through it, if not, at the least it affects her mental health. There are reported cases of suicides due to these problems. And I feel this has to change. Through our workshops and the activities that we conduct, we have been able to do it to some extent but the situation is most certainly worrisome. Also not because it just is- it is because these young women when asked this question don’t say it with hesitation or with eyes rolled to one side-they say it with smiling faces. What it speaks about where we are with the online safety of women is that such blame on the victim has been normalised and to my utmost surprise this normalisation has reached even the victims. There are lots of other thoughts and things to share but the word count keeps me on the toes. I’d end by stressing on each one of our responsibility to empower women with things they can do on their own, educate them about laws, procedures, rights, liabilities. Don’t give them dependence, let them savour independence for a moment and you can see the wonders they can pull off.