The introduction of digital technology was seen as a game-changer. The anonymity of cyberspace gave us the ability to destabilise gender differences, alter gender relations and empower women even more. However, the real doubt arises when one questions its attainment.
Cybercrime is a comprehensive term that encompasses all illicit operations carried out with the use of digital technology with the intent of causing harm to an individual’s or group’s physical, psychological, or financial well-being.
Whilst men are also vulnerable to online gender-based abuse, research suggests that women are disproportionately victimised and endure significant ramifications, like being silenced, particularly women of specific religions, ethnic or racial groupings, sexual orientation, economic status, and with disabilities.
According to a survey conducted by Bumble India, 83 per cent of women have reported that they have been victims of online harassment in some form, and 1 in 3 have reported that they experience it every week. The numbers are devastating.
WHY DO GENDER-BASED CRIMES TAKE PLACE?
It is important to realise that the internet is a virtual extension of our real lives. The prejudices, stereotypes and oppressive social systems transcend into the realm of the worldwide web wreaking havoc for female users.
Recent incidents such as the Bulli Bai app, sexual assault taking place in Meta’s virtual reality platform and a report stating that Indian women politicians face one of the highest levels of online abuse- are outrageous outcomes of patriarchy and deep-rooted prejudices against women and minority social groups.
According to the ITU’s 2017 data, men continue to use the internet at a higher rate than women in two-thirds of the world’s countries, with around 200 million fewer women online than men. This not only indicates the exclusion of women from online space but also points out that men are more likely to get an opportunity to be technologically advanced. This leads to women being more susceptible to cyber-attacks. In most cases, the victim does not know what course of action to take due to the lack of awareness about laws along with the fear of being sidelined by society.
The anonymity of cyberspace acts as a safe haven that allows oppressors to indulge in cybercrimes. A large chunk of the gender-based online abuse is faced by women who have actively raised their voices against systemic oppression. These women are not only targeted for their identity but also because of the influence they wield in the digital space.
The lack of access to sex education and gender sensitivity is also among the primary causes of gender-based cyber-crimes. The objectification of women which takes place online would cease to exist if children are taught the nuances of gender sensitivity from an early age. However, the lack of sexual education leads to adolescents looking for answers online from, more often than not, unreliable sources which act as underbellies of the patriarchal mindset.
‘Online abuse seeks to maintain gender hierarchies and prevent the complete emancipation of women’
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
· To counter gender-based cyber-crimes, states have put laws in place however, that does not relieve the state of its obligation to ensure a safe digital space for women. The state has the responsibility to adopt and implement measures to eradicate prejudices, stereotypes and practices which act as the structural root causes of gender-based cyber-crimes. If online sexism and misogyny is not appropriately countered, it adds to a culture in which subordination of women is normalised and institutionalised, which the state should reverse.
· Sex education and gender sensitivity should be made mandatory especially for adolescents.
· Digital platforms through which these atrocities take place should be held accountable, considering that they not only economically profit from these abuses but have policies that reflect a gender bias.
· Most citizens lack digital awareness thus there is a need to Impart knowledge about redressal mechanisms and remedies available in law, in case they or their peers fall prey to online perpetrators
– Silencing women in the digital age by- Louise Arimatsu
– Cyber Safety through a Gender Lens© Red Dot Foundation & Cyber Saathi Foundation