In this digital age, everyday life for anyone without the internet is difficult to imagine almost anywhere in the world. Our dependence on the internet has grown even more pronounced this year during the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
To what extent could the concept of social distancing - the principal feature of the ‘non-pharmaceutical interventions’ that were all we had to work with in tackling the novel coronavirus when it was first reported out of Wuhan, China -have worked, without the internet?
There is no denying that the internet opened up a new realm of opportunities for the people that could scarcely be dreamt of before.
However, the virtual world we have built ourselves is also vulnerable to manifestations of some of the same vices and other weaknesses that have bedevilled humanity through its entire history. As you might have guessed, it is the women and the children who are most vulnerable to being targeted by cyberbullies and online troll armies on an almost daily basis.
For women especially, the Bangladeshi cyberspace is as vicious a territory as any, where everything from character assassination to slut-shaming and casual sexism reign supreme. Rape threats are almost blasé.
That is why the ‘Safe Web, Save Women’ initiative of DemocracyWatch, the social renovation platform that splintered off a British Council-supported program on youth leadership, is nothing if not timely.
Dedicated to ensuring, as the name suggests, a safer cyberspace for the female population of the country, it has been operational as a full-time youth volunteering project since December 2019.
Reconciling with the UN’s SDG-5, the objective is to develop social awareness and provide a platform for raising voices against online sexual harassment and bullying in social media and on the internet in general in Bangladesh.
“At the initial stage, the SWSW team participated in a project showcasing competition arranged by DemocracyWatch in collaboration with the British Council, and secured a praiseworthy position,” said Faria Afrin, one of the Active Citizen enlisted under the project.
Later, SWSW was awarded a grant from that very competition for its unique, well-timed, and momentous idea, as well as its workplan.
Having started less than a year ago, the project helps netizens to learn the cyber laws and legislations and become aware of their cyber rights.
The project successfully performed a field survey at Dhaka University, and arranged a session at Jahangirnagar University on "Cyber Harassment and Safety".
“The basic approach to the sessions was to raise awareness of our youths about their lawful rights and about cyberbullying especially against harassment of women in social media,” Faria told UNB.
Their touchy video promotion “Be Kind Behind The Screen” to develop self-actualisation regarding cyberbullying and cyber harassment among the youth has made waves too.
“During this pandemic period, we are arranging online sessions on women’s cybersecurity, women’s safety, and mental health,” another Active Citizen Rakib Hossain told UNB.
Safe Web Save Women’s core governing team member Sanjida Ahmed said part of their goal is to ensure confidentiality, integrity, and availability of women into the online world.
“Our vision is to mitigate cyber violence against women, boosting women’s involvement in the safe technological field by enlightening them with the knowledge of cyber law, and safe browsing,” Sanjida told UNB.
One Active Citizen Tareque Rahman Nipun told UNB the project is working within Dhaka City at the moment but soon it will expand to other parts of the country.
DemocracyWatch project coordinator Rafayet Ara told UNB that the project stemmed from a unique idea. “Our volunteers are putting in extraordinary efforts. We hope their initiative will be a success in bringing gender equality.”
“We are constantly working for inspiring women to raise their voices against cyberbullying, to make people aware of ICT rights, and to support women mentally and lawfully by providing the right information at the right time,” she added.
Safe Web Save Women project advisor Juela Zebunnesa Khan who is also Dhaka City Branch Movements Secretary of the Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (Women’s Council) stated that youthful volunteers from Safe Web Save Women are giving their effort relentlessly for the safety of women and children.
“I am expecting triumphs in all ventures taken by them,” she added.
The Safe Web Save Women project also aims to create Active Citizen cells in different educational institutions for helping and counseling victimised female students.