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international women's day 2018

Internet Democracy Project: Fighting gendered surveillance and access disparities in India

This post is part of a series honoring International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, in which we recognize the critical work being done to defend the rights of women, transgender, and gender non-conforming individuals in digital spaces. These organizations are each working to overcome the long history of gender inequality, gender-based violence, and forms of discrimination that threaten the full enjoyment of human rights for all.

As we come to a close in the celebration of Women’s History Month — acknowledging the contributions of women, transgender and non-binary persons to digital rights — we are also reminded of the disparate access and online risks experienced by these users year-round.

For instance, the gender gap with regard to access to information represents a significant challenge, particularly in some regions of the world. This divide is evident in India. GSMA’s recent research found that 26% of Indian men but only 8% of women had accessed the mobile internet in the last three months. Even when women are able to get online, their freedom of information rights are further threatened by the fact that they are closely monitored by male family members.

The Internet Democracy Project (IDP), based in New Delhi, documents how technology can further deepen the scrutiny that women are subject to in the digital age, and fights back against gender-based restrictions to privacy and free expression. Their research helps build an understanding of these challenges and promotes policy debates to address them.

IDP explains: “In a conservative society like India, the new spaces for privacy, exploration, and action that the internet offers can have a genuinely transformative effect for many women and people belonging to sexual minorities. But that potential is curtailed by communities that restrict or even block young women’s access, by online harassers who try to shut down anyone who has anything to say that challenges traditional gender roles, and by social practices and legal gaps that make it increasingly difficult to control your own information online, even when it is as sensitive as about health issues.”

IDP is taking on the important work of making digital spaces safer for women and other users at risk, as well as ensuring that the benefits of the internet are more widely accessible to all. The internet has proven to be a vital tool for women to amplify their voices, and to connect with other women about their experiences. In a report IDP submitted the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, IDP highlighted the importance of protecting women’s ability to remain anonymous while taking advantage of these opportunities online, to stay safe in patriarchal culture that seeks to stop them from doing so.

In February of 2017, the organization also published the report ‘Chupke, Chupke’: Going Behind the Mobile Phone Bans in North India, which shines a light on the decision by village elders in Sisouli and other villages across Haryana and Western UP  to ban young women’s use of mobile phones, because of misguided concerns for safeguarding their morality. This report has fueled public debate and raised international concerns.

Organizations like IDP are essential to the digital rights space. Access Now is honored to support their work in advocating for greater inclusion online, and in challenging gender-based threats to individuals’ full enjoyment of their human rights. We are also pleased to welcome members of the Internet Democracy Project to RightsCon in Toronto, May 16-18, 2018, where they will be joining a community of global experts to explore next steps in the fight for a more inclusive internet.

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