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Is Online Abuse Against Women An Extension Of Misogyny Offline?

Rape threats and abuse against women have become commonplace on the Internet. Is it because of the limits of our law or the fact that only a few women seek legal guidance in such matters?

Imagine you posted a personal picture from your vacation. Immediately a comment pops in, abusing you. Shocking isn’t it? But this is the kind of abuse women face with stocking density in the big bad virtual world today.

If you thought being whistled or ogled at on the street was bad enough, think again. Rape threats and abuse in the virtual world have turned out to be a new way of harassing women. According to a survey commissioned by cybersecurity solutions firm Norton by Symantec in 2017, 8 out of 10 people in India have experienced some form of online harassment while 41% of women have faced sexual harassment on the web.

Trolling Women Is The New Cult

Since ages, women have been considered meek and treated as objects that need to know their limits. An empowered and free-thinking woman doesn’t match the standards of a patriarchal society. Posting views or pictures and wearing clothes of their choice offend patriarchal mindsets. Thus, they get trolled by people driven by misogynist thoughts. In most cases, the threats are simply put out because the person on social media is a woman and the idea is to silence her.

Online harassment has become a real nightmare for women who constantly have to deal with unpleasant comments for their views on almost everything. The barrage of such trolls and rape threats targeting women is a new menace. Starting from pornography to cyber-stalking and voyeurism, web-based businesses thrive on such anti-women activities finding little or no regulatory hurdles.

Every day, women, female journalists, and celebrities post disturbing rape threat stories received for their posts. Open any newspaper or news portal, incidents of women being trolled are nothing new. They get harassed by trolls and their momentous response acing every second. According to an Amnesty International Report, 23% of the women surveyed across the 8 countries had experienced online abuse or harassment at least once, 59% of women revealed the abusers were strangers. Social media trolling is usually targeted at one person but then more people join in and the trolling continues for days and at times even for months together.

The Mask Of Anonymity

Although our country is in a transition phase from developing to developed country, it is worthy to note that societal development including women empowerment is at a slow pace. Women being abused and harassed on streets is nothing new to hear. However, abusers online wear a mask of anonymity which makes it easy to slip away from the clutches of law. While it may not be common or easy to call someone a slut, body shame or scare to gang rape her in the real world, it becomes effortless to express these sentiments freely, without fear in the online world.

So what does one do when faced with online abuse? Many go to the police, lodge a complaint yet the anonymity of social media account handles makes it difficult even for the law to track down the culprit. Tracing the culprit through their IP addresses seems impossible as they are often masked.

Many experts suggest to report about the abuse on the particular platforms. However, almost all social media promoters such as Facebook and Twitter have their headquarters abroad. In that case, whenever a complaint is raised they take time to revert back with the identity of the abuser. Though the comment is deleted immediately, revelation about the account details takes time.

Is The Law Equipped To Deal With Culprits?

The kind of trolling that is happening to women on social media platforms, especially Twitter, is painting a sad picture to the idea of free speech. Here, one needs to quickly realize that we do not have adequate legal mechanisms and redressal options to deal with such situations. When companies like Facebook and Twitter or any other international company headquartered abroad does not respond to a complaint or objectionable content, immediate redressal of the issue becomes a challenge.

Although online harassment cases are new in India, we need to be aware and keep abreast with the latest technology to deal with the situation. The Indian Penal Code under Section 354A has the provision of imprisonment for 1 year and fine for posting lewd comment on social media. Under Section 354D, a person can be held up to 3 to 5 years, if attempts to contact a woman to foster personal interaction despite her clear disinterest, monitoring her through Internet, email or through any other electronic communication. However, limited awareness about these laws often make the offender go scot-free for the crime.

The government here needs to invoke strict monitoring and implementation of these laws in the direction of regulating online intimidation. Strong deterrent legal provisions need to be put under the Indian Cyber Law to deal with the current plight.

While the authorities have not done enough to deal with rising incidents, we need individuals to imbibe the culture of safe surfing. Following few tips like periodic review of internet contacts and online activities to prune out everyone you are no longer in contact with. Block people you don’t want to interact with. You don’t have to accept invitations to be friends with people just because they ask. People often find it difficult to turn someone down and creeps count on this very thing. If anyone has been subjected to any form of harassment report it at once.

Together, the onus lies on all the stakeholders and the government to make constant efforts to make the online world more safe and secure. The foreign service provider cannot act as mute spectators to the rising threats of abuse and cyber crime on women. They need to implement strong and steady redressal mechanisms to protect their female users.

By Team CCSE (Centre for CSR & Sustainability Excellence)

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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