When we talk about women’s rights, freedom of expression and their autonomy, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology’s (MEITY) guidelines for women’s safety in online space comes as a great shocker. Today, women are fighting for a life where the society is not constantly telling them how to behave in public, what to do, say or wear. Yet, how MEITY’s Information Security Awareness starts with this: “Since ages, women were taught how to be safe and how to maintain privacy. They were made aware about identifying positives and negatives of the opposite person to protect themselves. With these practices women grew stronger and independent.”
The person who wrote this seems to want to portray women as naïve and easy to fool, which is completely untrue. It then goes on to say that women are equal to men in today’s generation. If this is true, then why do we have less than 12% representation in politics? Why is it that the Female Labour Force Participation (FLFP) rate has been going down at 28.5% every year from the past decade? Why is it that the reportage of crimes against women is ever-increasing? And why do we have only 27% working women in the country as compared to 79% working men? These figures sure don’t show any gender equality even today.
Since the guidelines cater to the digital space, the ministry does recognize the various ways society attacks women in the online arena like harassment via email, social networking, morphing, cyber defamation, hacking, pornography, cyber bulling and flirting. However, it misses one of the biggest issues women, especially female public figures, face online and that is trolling. It is such a crucial form of gendered virtual crimes today, yet the ministry fails to even mention it.
Then it proceeds to suggest some ways by which women can “protect” themselves online and they are pretty bizarre, to be honest. It starts with “beware of fake profiles, maintain your privacy online, and don’t let others peep into your accounts” and while maintaining privacy and activating account settings are an important aspect, women also get on social media platforms to forge business relations. So they are accessible to people who try to reach out to them for collaborations etc. If their profiles are unreachable, how are they ever going to grow and forge significant relations in terms of business?
The guidelines after this get exceedingly hilarious and cringe-worthy as the ministry doesn’t want women to participate in chat rooms and adds, “they are not for us”. So does the ministry imply that chat rooms have become another boy-zone with a giant no-women-allowed tag? What the ministry should invest its energy on is to make these chat rooms women-friendly so they don’t feel unsafe. But that seems like too much work and what’s easier is to throw women out of them.
“Don’t feel motivated for likes on your pics and upload more”, the ministry’s approach to women’s safety online is clearly out-dated as it fails to identify that we live in an influencer-culture today
The next in line is “Don’t be happy if someone praises you online”. There is no way this could be on a ministry’s website, but it is. Professional women put up their hard work on the internet and if they do get a compliment on it, should they not feel happy about it? Or if they do have a happy news to share and people congratulate on that, should they not feel elated? And if they put up a picture or video of themselves out there as several women do and if people want to write nice things about it, then what is the problem in feeling validated?
- While the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology recognises crimes such hacking, cyberbullying, morphing etc, it doesn’t mention one of the biggest problems: trolling.
- Its guidelines for women’s online safety border on the bizarre: don’t upload too many pictures, don’t participate in chat rooms, etc.
Another extremely sexist and whacky suggestion from the ministry is, “Don’t get motivated for likes on your pics and upload more”. The ministry’s approach to women’s safety online is clearly out-dated as it fails to identify the influencer-culture we live in today. There is a significant percentage of women who are making money only off the lakhs of followers they have in the online space and so they have to constantly maintain a profile, upload pictures and videos etc. on social media platforms. And this process means creating content in the virtual world. This new profession is booming in the current times and requires all that the ministry prohibits women to do.
There is a greater need for the ministry to have sensitization and awareness within itself before putting out such regressive guidelines for women.
Picture credit- The Nation