New Delhi: At a time when the #MeToo movement has drawn global attention to sexual harassment at the work place, gender-power relations and hostile sexism endured by women, the pernicious issue of online sexual harassment of women and girls has not gained any traction in the public consciousnesses and continues to be missing from the larger narrative on violence against women.
An online anti-harassment campaign is now trying to bring public attention to the growing incidence of cyber violence and sexual abuse faced by women in India. Through hashtags, short videos, tweets, blog posts and the creative use of social media, the campaign called “#Digital Hifazat” is seeking to raise awareness about the recent but rampant, phenomenon of online harassment and the problem with existing legislation.
The #Digital Hifazat campaign was the winner of the SM4E awards in the “Online Safety” category, organized by the Digital Empowerment Foundation in 2017.
It was initiated by a digital magazine, Feminism in India (FII), which focuses on the feminist perspective on issues ranging from sexuality, violence and body image to health, sports and science. This gender-oriented platform was started in 2013 by 28-year-old Delhi-based researcher and writer Japleen Pasricha.
The movement has sought to raise awareness about cyber harassment by crowd-sourcing articles and online content from followers and writers on experiences of online abuse, provide legal analysis of cybercrime prevention laws in India, and suggests steps towards making the Internet safe, secure and accessible. FII publishes articles on image-based sexual abuse (revenge porn), online abuse, laws that help victims of cybercrimes and cyber violence against women on social media and online dating apps, the need for women to reclaim the Internet, and feminist principles of the Internet.
“We published deeply-researched articles each day of our month-long campaign, which were shared widely on social media and received a lot of engagement from our audience,” says Pasricha.
The idea for the #Digital Hifazat,” Pasricha says, came after she was commissioned to write a report on cyber violence against women in India by US-based NGO Freedom House. After the report was published, she used the findings to design the campaign in late 2016.
“Online VAW is still a new form of violence globally and especially in India, and not many women’s rights NGOs in India work on it. Being a digital-only platform and an organization that faces online harassment almost daily, it became important for us to take up this issue and work extensively on it,” she notes.
Cyber harassment includes stalking, offending a person online with unwanted sexually explicit messages, and threats of violence or hate speech. The most disturbing form of online violence is non-consensual pornography.
Research shows that an estimated one in 10 women globally have already experienced some form of cyber violence since the age of 15.
According to a 2015 UN report, “Cyber Violence against Women and Girls: a Worldwide Wake-Up Call”, online violence is just as lethal to women as physical violence, and has warned that women are growing even more vulnerable to cyber violence as internet access spreads to more areas. It estimates that 73% of women have endured cyber violence, and that women are 27 times more likely than men to be harassed online.
Pasricha’s report also found that women in India have trouble thinking about the attacks they experience on social media platforms as “violent”, and are likely to ignore or block their assailants. Many lacked awareness of their legal rights as victims of cyber stalking and other crimes.
FII has been actively using all the three major social media channels—Facebook, Twitter and Instagram—to reach a wider audience for its campaign. Pasricha underlines that social media is an intrinsic part of the organization, as it is the main way in which it disseminates daily content.
“Our expertise in social media has also led us to conduct training and workshops on social media management for NGOs, NPOs and social enterprises,” she says.
The digital magazine draws maximum engagement from Facebook, where FII has over 41,000 likes.
On its page, FII shares a variety of multimedia content including posts, images, and short and engaging videos. It usually schedules 7-8 posts daily, with short write-ups of articles and a thumbnail link to them. It also uses Facebook to share info-graphics and posters about campaigns and to mobilise the writers’ community.
On Twitter, a dynamic two-way engagement is generated. FII has over 12,000 followers on this micro-blogging site. On Instagram, where FII has about 2200 followers, it shares behind-the-scenes photos and videos from its office space, and advocacy campaigns.
“Most of the feminist media websites available online were American. I wanted to make feminist content, which the young people will read and consume using pop culture and social media. I also wanted it to be free and accessible knowledge in terms of language,” she says.
Despite the impact, Pasricha highlights, FII has had difficulty in finding partners willing to pay for digital media services irrespective of the massive outreach it promises.
Also, recognizing that most of its writers belong to a privileged section of the society, FII is actively seeking out voices from marginalized communities and aims to diversify its writers’ pool.
“We also plan to engage college youth this year with workshops and (a) campus ambassador program,” she marks.
Mint has a strategic partnership with Digital Empowerment Foundation, which hosts the Manthan and mBillionth awards.