Online Safety of Women

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    In Context

    • Various parliament committees in India have held meetings to discuss the issue of online safety of women over the years.

    More about the news

    • One of the reasons behind notifying the new IT rules had been rooted in the growing concern regarding the safety and security of users, particularly women and children.
    • With the government showing regard for the issue of women’s safety online, there is an opportunity to discuss the following things in detail: 
      • The nature of technology-facilitated abuse, 
      • Capturing what this means, 
      • Understanding how cases impact individuals as well as communities, 
      • The language needed to capture such offences and 
      • The punishment — penalties, jail or even rehabilitation programmes for perpetrators. 

    Issue of Online safety of Women

    • What is the Cyber crime?
      • Cyber crime is a crime that involves the use of computer devices and the Internet. 
      • It can be committed against an individual, a group of people, government and private organizations.
    • Following areas in the “online world” that need “urgent” attention: 
      • Digital divide: 
        • It is a divide that keeps more than half of the world’s women offline, largely because it is too expensive, or they do not have access to the equipment or skills to use it.
      • Online safety: 
        • According to a survey, more than half of young women have experienced violence online, including sexual harassment, threatening messages and having private images shared without consent. 
          • The vast majority believe the problem is getting worse.
        • Women’s rights defenders and female journalists were targeted for abuse more than most.
      • Inadequate artificial intelligence:
        • The third threat comes from badly designed artificial intelligence systems that repeat and exacerbate discrimination. 

    Challenges

    • Issues faced by women:
      • The dangerous trend in online abuse was forcing women out of jobs, causing girls to skip school, damaging relationships and silencing female opinions, prompting him to conclude that “the web is not working for women and girls”.
    • Silent impact on people’s lives:
      • What victims are told all the time is ‘Oh, that’s nothing, ignore it, or close your account. But this has a big impact on people’s lives. 
    • Tech firms acting as mute spectators:
      • Tech firms are not neutral actors, and their decisions have real-world consequences. 
      • But for too long we’ve seen a piecemeal and often insufficient response from platforms that put users in harm’s way.
    • Offline impacts:
      • Online harassment often translates into offline impacts and consequences, with much documented evidence in this regard. 
    • Aims that can not be achieved:
      • Without tackling misogynistic online abuse, the aims of the internet & digital dividend cannot be achieved.

    Government initiatives

    • Specific provisions in IT Act for cybercrime against women:
      • Violation of privacy (section 66E)
      • Obscene material (section 67)
      • Pornography & sexually explicit act (section 67A)
      • Child pornography (section 67B)
    • Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules 2021:
      • Definition of Digital Media: 
        • It will cover digitised content that can be transmitted over the internet or computer networks.
        • It also includes intermediaries such as Twitter and Facebook, and publishers of news and current affairs content.
        • It also includes so-called curators of such content.
        • Publishers of news and current affairs content will cover online papers, news portals, news agencies, and news aggregators.
      • Three Tier Check Structure: 
        • Part III of the rules imposed three-tier complaints and adjudication structure on publishers.
          • Self-regulation.
          • Industry regulatory body headed by a former judge of the Supreme Court and High Court with additional members from an I&B ministry approved panel.
          • Oversight mechanism that includes an inter ministerial committee with the authority to block access to content.
            • The Inter ministerial Committee can also take suo motu cognisance of an issue, and any grievance flagged by the ministry.
    • The “Digital Literacy and Online Safety Programme”:
      • It aims to train 60,000 women in universities across major cities of India regarding safe use of internet, social media and email that will enable them to differentiate between the credible and questionable information available online. 
      • The programme, in its initial phase, is o to cover the states of Punjab, Manipur, Haryana, Meghalaya, Delhi-NCR, Sikkim, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. 
      • The programme seeks promoting digital literacy for women including the precautions that can be taken; raising awareness about cyber crimes; and advising the users about the resources available to women; to prevent the problems and also how to handle such crimes. 

    Solutions & Way ahead

    • Despite these efforts, it is clear that women in India won’t feel safe online anytime soon unless society lets them. 
      • What could be helpful here is to elevate the public discourse around technology-facilitated abuse.
    • Already, we know that crimes against women are the top category in India’s crime statistics, with cyber crimes a few rungs lower on the scale. 
      • Where the two intersect is where we need to focus if we are to make online space safe.
    • Social media sites can use their “algorithm power” to proactively tackle with the issue.
    • Governments need to strengthen laws that hold online abusers to account, and the public to speak up whenever they witnessed abuse online.

    Source: IE