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27 November, 2021 05:52:36 PM
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Ensure a safe digital space for technology-based women

While the spread of ICT and increasing internet penetration are seen as good markers of our country's prosperity, their combination with certain pre-existing social-physiological circumstances and a lack of legislative safeguards has resulted in a rise in cyber violence against technology-based women.
Nowshin Islam
Ensure a safe digital space for technology-based women

COVID-19 has been cruel to the world and its economy in general, with protracted lockdowns and social distancing measures affecting both supply and demand-side enterprises. But, it has aided the growth of a few industries, like digital/contactless payments, e-commerce, and Facebook commerce (or f-commerce). For the past few years, Bangladesh's e-commerce business has been quickly expanded, with an increasing number of consumers purchasing things online, and with it, the number of women entrepreneurs has become larger.

Women preferably choose to run their online based small and medium enterprises (SMEs) online as it is convenient working from home along with balancing their reproductive roles. However, things are not always charming as it seems. During the Covid-19 outbreak, as with the expansion of online businesses run by women, online violence against them has escalated at an alarming rate in Bangladesh. While many reports show that domestic violence or other offline gender-based violence against women has been intensified, cyber violence against women especially technology-based women entrepreneurs has also increased which is yet to be addressed.

While the spread of ICT and increasing internet penetration are seen as good markers of our country's prosperity, their combination with certain pre-existing social-physiological circumstances and a lack of legislative safeguards has resulted in a rise in cyber violence against technology-based women. COVID-19 has introduced our people to a new mode of shopping, online shopping more preferred for leading the new normal life. As a result e-commerce platform has become a booming sector for women in our country. According to news reports, Bangladesh presently has 2,500 e-commerce sites and a huge number of unofficial online shops run by women selling items worth over $2 billion, making it the 46th largest country in terms of e-commerce sales globally.

Furthermore, according to the Industrial Development Leasing Company of Bangladesh Limited's monthly business assessment (2019), Facebook is used by more than 300,000 Bangladeshi retailers. Women own more than 50% of these businesses. Bangladesh's internet business scene has been revolutionized by Facebook and other social media. In the country, the social networking platform has 30 million members and 50,000 company sites. No doubt, this sector is helping our women to be financially empowered. Like women entrepreneurs, the growth of social media influencers in the e-commerce sector has become pivotal for advertising several goods and products as well. They along with women entrepreneurs make numerous video content, photo shooting with paid partnerships for branding products of certain online or offline-based shops. Their stories, videos, and photos help other women entrepreneurs to catch more customers. The followers of the influencers in social media often show a clear reflection of their popularity nowadays.

But in times of doing live videos for promoting their products as well as showcasing their business products in other forms like uploading photos and videos, these tech women are continuously facing different sorts of dangerous speeches. From body shaming to hate speech, women entrepreneurs are continuously facing online violence against them. Along with competition and cyber-attacks, online violence against them is creating an extra burden. Nowadays on the internet, women entrepreneurs have become the principal targets of unwanted and frequently aggressive sexual propositions and libelous communications from anonymous and fictitious sources. Spam, sex-act videos, rape threats, and indecent propositions have all become the new standard on social media, along with false and altered unclothed images of women. These tech women frequently get harassing and threatening texts and videos from numerous accounts in the name of a customer.

Online violence against technology-based women is a hotbed of danger, both intersectional and intergenerational. As the coronavirus spread, attacks on women increased not just in families but increasingly online; nevertheless, this component was rarely addressed in the papers, prompting us to emphasize. We often see in terms of celebrity women, defaming news go viral more than that of men in our social media. In terms of women entrepreneurs and social media influencers, they face the same challenges.

The consequences of this sort of online violence have a long-term effect.  Along with psychological effects, this online violence is creating a depressing situation for them. Moreover, online violence done by the perpetrators intentionally or unintentionally is causing tech women vulnerable physically, socially, or psychologically. Threats and abuse on the internet not only attempt to stifle or restrict their voices and businesses, but they also have an influence on women's safety offline. This is because gender-based violence against women on the internet is an expression of violence against women in the real world. Threats of violence online are causing many women in public life to fear for their physical safety offline, jeopardizing their ability to do their professions.

No doubt, tech women are fighting to bridge the existing gap between men and women in our country. Through their financial independence, they are actively participating in decision-making and other pivotal activities of their families. They are also contributing to the national income as well as helping to minimize the unemployment problem. But it is a matter of regret that like other sorts of physical violence, women are the worst sufferers in the cyber sector too. Many women entrepreneurs are now backing off from their businesses and potential women are becoming demotivated for not having the courage to face online violence against them.

To deal with the growing number of cyber threats, Bangladesh police have established a cyber-wing, which is in charge of monitoring cybercrime and chasing down offenders. However, online gender-based violence is not addressed as a separate activity. Moreover, tech women are extremely sufferers due to not having any legal regulatory body for complaining against online violence.  

We are living in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) era, which allows people all over the world to connect, network, and exchange ideas in ways that were before impossible. The internet, like the real world, has become dangerous for technology-based women entrepreneurs along with general women and young girls.Women's violence is now widely recognized as a public health issue and a major human rights violation on a global scale. It is a significant risk factor for women's health problems, with far-reaching implications for their physical and emotional well-being. For creating awareness of all forms of violence against women the United Nation has declared 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Today is the international day for the elimination of violence against women. Our society needs to recognize the contribution of online women entrepreneurs in terms of helping them to be empowered. Moreover, the agenda of making digital Bangladesh and women empowerment won’t be possible without creating a safe place for these tech women. Civil society and women organizations should come forward to address this online violence against online women entrepreneurs in Bangladesh to combat this issue for creating a safe place for tech women in the e-commerce sector.

The writer is Program Manager, MGR.

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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