International Women’s Day 2023 Special: Though 8 in 10 urban Indian women are now using internet for a range of activities, many struggle with harassment, abuse, trolling, etc.; Demand actions from Government and Platforms to make internet safer
- ● Key concerns of urban Indian women when using the internet include online sexual harassment, trolling, abuse, extortion and fraud
- ● Demand creation of a “Women Cyber Grievance” national hotline (web and phone) be started by the Central Government which responds within 24 of complaint and evidence submission and coordinates with local police to drive timely action while ensuring zero police harassment of the complainant
- ● 40% of respondents want “mandatory action by all platforms with presence in India within 24 hours of submission of evidence”
March 7, 2023, New Delhi: Online and ICT-facilitated violence against women and girls is evolving and expanding, including sexual harassment, stalking, and whatsapp & zoom bombing (the practice of disrupting or infiltrating a video-conference call and showing racially charged or sexually explicit material to the unexpecting participants). Innovations, including virtual reality and the metaverse, are creating new digital spaces for misogyny and sexual violence. Those relying on an online presence for their work, including women journalists, politicians, and activists, are disproportionately affected, states Ms Sima Bahous, Broadband Commissioner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director, in an op-ed posted online in September 2022.
One global study found that the majority of girls surveyed were only 14 to 16 years old when they first experienced online sexual harassment. Women belonging to ethnic minorities, indigenous women, lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, and women with disabilities are at even greater risk of online violence, points out Bahous.
India has the second largest internet-using population and the third highest number of bullying cases, mostly online, according to the National Commission for Women (NCW). In the case of cyber-crime, statistics show 98% of crimes are committed against women. In November 2022, the NCW launched the fourth version of The Digital Shakti Program, originally launched in 2018, to train women to fight cyber-crime. Through this project, over 3 lakh women across India have been made aware of the cyber safety tips and tricks, the reporting and redressal mechanisms, data privacy and the usage of technology, for their benefits. The latest version of Digital Shakti Program aims to train one million women from schools, colleges and universities apart from housewives.
On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2023, LocalCircles reached out to families across urban India via a survey to understand how women are using the internet and what should be done to make internet a safer space. The survey received over 23,000 responses from citizens located in 301 urban districts of India. 61% respondents were men while 39% respondents were women. 48% respondents were from tier 1, 35% from tier 2 and 17% respondents were from tier 3 & 4 districts.
76% of urban Indian women are using internet to stay in touch with family, friends, etc. while 57% are using it for finding information, entertainment, etc.
The first question in the survey sought to understand from family representatives across urban India on how women in their family are using the internet. It asked them “What are all the different activities for which women in your family are using devices like smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc.?”. Not so surprising given the hectic pace of life in urban India, the majority or 76% of those surveyed indicated they use it for “staying in touch with family, friends, etc.” Many of the 10,759 respondents across urban India indicated more than one activity for which women in their family were using the internet through such devices. According to the survey data, 57% of those surveyed indicated that they use the internet linked to their device to find information; 57% use the devices for online entertainment like movies, music, etc.; 46% use the device for online shopping; 35% use it for booking or paying for various tickets/ services; 19% use it to raise various issues/ using social media; 14% for their employment; 5% for running a business and 14% for other reasons. At 76%, staying in touch with family and friends stood out as the top reason for which 3 in 4 women in urban India use the internet.
83% of those surveyed believe more actions need to be taken to make it safer for women to use the internet without being trolled, harassed, abused, facing extortion and fraud
Given the variety activities that urban Indian women are using via devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops, etc. and the sizable number of issues they face while engaging in such activities, the next question in the survey asked survey respondents “What all should be done to make the internet a safer space for women by reducing trolling, harassment, abuse, extortion and fraud?” A total of 13,238 responded to this query with many choosing more than one option. 46% respondents favored “Women Cyber Grievance hotline (web and phone) should be started by the Central Government which responds within 24 of complaint and evidence submission”; 60% respondents prioritized “National Women Cyber Grievance hotline should coordinate with the local police to drive timely action while ensuring zero police harassment of the complainant”; 40% of respondents wanted “mandatory action by all platforms with presence in India within 24 hours of submission of evidence”; 29% favoured “National level awareness drives must be conducted on this issue”; 6% wanted other actions should also be taken and 6% opted for “Can’t Say”. Surprisingly, 11% of the respondents to this query indicated “Women should not have special privileges like the ones listed above”. In all, 83% of those surveyed believe more actions need to be taken to make it safer for women to use the internet without being trolled, harassed, abused, facing extortion and fraud.
Currently, the revamped Cybercrime reporting portal launched in 2019 does claim to provide special focus on cybercrimes against women & children. Incidents reported on this portal are supposed to be routed automatically to the respective States/UTs Police based on the information provided by the complainant. A dedicated website for information security awareness (https://www.infosecawareness.in) provides relevant awareness material. However, feedback from citizens does not seem to confirm its effectiveness as in none of the community discussions, the above portal was cited by citizens. Majority of those who have faced sexual harassment online, abuse, trolling, etc. have had to go to the local police station to file their complaints and with no women officer present in majority of the stations, the experience has been a difficult one for most.
In summary, women shouldn’t have to pay a penalty for keeping up with the latest technology to seek information, entertainment, social media interaction, employment or even conduct business. The government, cyber-crime branch and the regulator should heed the voice of the respondent as the clear ask is for creation of a “Women Cyber Grievance” national hotline that not only registers cyber complaints from women but also coordinates with the local police to drive timely action while ensuring zero police harassment of the complainant. This is a major issue according to many women where because of the cumbersome system, lack of women police officers in even urban districts, most women don’t even consider filing a police complaint when faced with online sexual harassment, trolling, abuse, extortion or fraud. The Government should also heed the demand by 40% of respondents to ensure “mandatory action by all platforms with presence in India within 24 hours of submission of evidence”.
As the committee, set up by the Ministry of Home Affairs, observes in a report presented in parliament, so far about 13,000 police personnel, judicial officers and prosecutors have been provided training on cybercrime awareness, investigation, forensics, etc. Unfortunately, so far many of the States/UTs have not come onboard for the purpose. Doing so, with a focus on women and children first will help in combating cybercrimes against them more effectively through a concerted centralized effort. It will also facilitate faster and easier redressal of cybercrime cases as the respondents to the survey have made known.
LocalCircles will be sharing the survey findings with the relevant central government ministries i.e. Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Women and Child Development, Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology and the parliamentary committees on IT and Women and Children for further action.
The survey received over 23,000 responses from citizens located in 301 urban districts of India. 61% respondents were men while 39% respondents were women. 48% respondents were from tier 1, 35% from tier 2 and 17% respondents were from tier 3 & 4 districts. The survey was conducted via LocalCircles platform and all participants were validated citizens who had to be registered with LocalCircles to participate in this survey.
LocalCircles, India’s leading Community Social Media platform enables citizens and small businesses to escalate issues for policy and enforcement interventions and enables Government to make policies that are citizen and small business centric. LocalCircles is also India’s # 1 pollster on issues of governance, public and consumer interest. More about LocalCircles can be found on https://www.localcircles.com
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