In 2012, Malala Yousafazi was attacked on her way to school by the Taliban who aimed to punish her for her promotion of girl schooling. She was 15 years old and had published diary entries on the Taliban’s violence on a BBC blog. Malala survived the attack with severe injuries. By now, she is a well-known Nobel Peace Prize winner. Nighat Dad is a Pakistani lawyer and leader of the Digital Rights Foundation which educates women in secure online communication. After she took position on the attack on Malala, who she knew through her teaching, she herself was threatened online in a way that made her and her daugther go hiding for two weeks (Ebeling, 2015).
Providing digital access to women has been focus of many development agencies’ agendas due to the digital gender gap. According to Renee Wittener (Ted 2011), Director of Social Impact at Intel, 23% fewer women than men are online in development countries. But apart from the lack of appropriate resources, such as access to a computer or money for a cell phone, cultural norms also make it difficult to follow what is a global trend: Being online. Being Connected. Nighat Dad points out that many Pakistani women use the internet secretly, afraid of their family’s suspicion concerning new online relationships with men. Kenaw (2015) reports that many Ethiopian men buy phones for their wives to have better control over them. And many more reports online record online harassment and threatening of women in many other parts of the world, including the so called ‘developed countries‘. Violence happens in the 2.0 world as much as it does in ‚real life‘.
So while the internet is being celebrated as the liberator of all oppression and enabler of democracy, it shall not be forgotten that not only access is a limiting factor for billions of people on the globe who do not have it, but also culture is. Wittener (ted, 2011) points out that 1 in 5 women in India thinks that using the Internet is inappropriate for them. Engrained cultural norms, shielding women from the digital world, can lead to new forms of inequality and enforce existing gender differences. The digital divide in general is what Molinari (2011) calls „new illiteracy“: People excluded from it miss out on opportunities. The No Ceilings Project of the Clinton Foundation reveals that of the women with access to Internet and phones, 30 percent report earning additional income, 45 percent report searching for jobs, and 80 percent report improving their education (ictWorks, 2015). Missing out on Internet connection means missing out on opportunities. Nowadays, the Internet is „a basic social necessity“ (Molinari, 2011).
What needs to be done? The Internet is full of ideas. While promoting internet access by means of improved and cheaper technology and educating people in how to use the world wide web, education especially needs to focus on how to protect oneself online, starting from choosing the right password to data protection ending with aid-platforms to turn to in case of serious online harassment in short: increasing the so-called „media literacy“. Nighat Dad examples such approach with the trainings she runs; Reporting systems such as sms-to-web reporting in emergency situations can both help the victim while „harass maps” provide a real-time warning system for others, preventing them from going to certain areas in which violence ranks high. Awareness needs to be risen not only to female users of the internet but also to those threatening their liberty: Consequences of cyber bullying and harassment need to be communicated. For that to happen, legislation pursuing and punishing these ‚new‘ forms of violence need to be in place first. Looking at the existing lack of gender-sensitive legislative in the world, this seems to be the most ambitious and difficult target. Maisonet-Guzman (2015) stresses the need to pilot indicators for measuring digital violence so that a methodology applicable across countries and recognized by international organizations can be created. Open data on gender-based violence can be of use for this venture “for learning, analysis, and invention“ leading to better policy and implementation securing internet security for women (Hussain, 2015).
Ebeling, F. (2015). Viele Frauen nutzen Facebook heimlich. [Interview with Nighat Dad, Digital Rights Foundataion]. Kulturaustausch, (4), 23.
Hussain, H. (2015). Missed Opportunities in Using Tech to Fight Violence Against Women. Retrieved from http://www.ictworks.org/2015/08/05/missed-opportunities-in-using-tech-to-fight-violence-against-women/
Kenaw, S. (2015). Der Spion, der mich liebte. Kulturaustausch, (4), 28.
Maisonet-Guzman, O. (2015) “Gender-Violence 2.0: The Digital Safety Gap for Women. Retrieved from http://www.ictworks.org/2015/01/12/gender-violence-2-0-the-digital-safety-gap-for-women/
Molinari, A. (2011). Let’s bridge the digital divide. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/aleph_molinari_let_s_bridge_the_digital_divide
Rosenthal, L. (2013). Eliminate Violence Against Women and Girls? There’s An App for That Retrieved from: https://scienceprogress.org/2013/03/eliminate-violence-against-women-and-girls-worldwide-there%E2%80%99s-an-app-for-that/
ted (2011). Magdalene and Naema: Bridging the gender digital divide. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/watch/ted-institute/ted-intel/magdalene-and-naema