An Unlikely Safe Space: Fight Gender-Based Violence Online

Tuesday December 10, 2019                By: Lara Ahmed

77015875_2728018160570194_4457369471274713088_oWith all the violence it can trigger, the internet must seem like the last place to find female empowerment.  But women worldwide are reshaping the image of the cold, unforgiving web.  As the “16 days of Activism” campaign draws to an end, here are some ways to make cyberspace a safe space.

Unexpected education

Anyone who is a regular internet user will admit to learning something new online. Many who have little faith in conventional education use the World Wide Web to satisfy their intellectual appetites. The internet can also be a security blanket for victims of gender violence. Assault survivors aren’t always equipped to process their feelings after their trauma. People who have suffered sexist discrimination know this too well.   Social stigma doesn’t just stop women from speaking up. It prevents them for seeing their trauma for what it really is. Blogs, social media pages, and online forums are changing all that. Entire websites are devoted to asking painful questions and sparking emotional discussions.  Young girls who might not even realize they are being abused can learn to spot patterns and fight back.

Sexism, like all forms of discrimination, requires diverse support to achieve real results. Understandably, men raised in male-dominated society are expected to have trouble empathizing with female rape victims. Certain forms of assault such as “sextortion” (blackmailing someone as a form of rape)can be explained to others in a whole new light. Moreover, people also get to open their eyes to problems with other types of sexual harassment.  Catcalling is often considered a form of flattery, especially by those who don’t experience it.  People could gain new insight after reading online threads about women who’ve had good days ruined by men hollering sexist comments at them, or by being groped and touched inappropriately.

Safe spaces

Women and men use the internet a little bit differently.  According to a study by the Pew Internet Project, women tend to share more personal emails with loved ones than men do. They are also more likely to trade advice with friends facing troubles.  A lot of women naturally try to make the internet a welcoming environment, creating designated safe spaces is just a step further.  A woman might shy away from discussing her mental health in real life, but could embrace the screen as a window to share pieces of her story.  Flashbacks after serious trauma can lead victims down a dark hole that grows more familiar every day. Women who let out bottled up emotions could be surprised to discover they have developed PTSD, anxiety or similar disorders. Online support groups are continuing to grow on websites such as Facebook.  At the very least, victims can discuss symptoms on these platforms, and suggest coping strategies that they feel have helped them personally.  Women who feel alone can lend a hand in tough situations, or just an ear for those simply looking for a temporary escape.

Tool for action

Victims of gender violence sometimes find that the only strategy keeping them from breaking is active planning.  The internet can offer women more than just kind words and inspirational quotes; it can lay down concrete steps.  Online petitions rally people to achieve justice in controversial cases of sexism.  Women suggest uncommon techniques to difficult issues, by detailing a course of action to take. Instead of just talking about seeking help, women can list the names of respected therapists in different areas.  When coming across an offensive online post, people can report it and publically reject such content. Since tactics in dealing with gender violence vary by context, sections in websites can list which techniques work best and when.  More pages can be set up to raise awareness and donate to women who are victims of gender based violence, such as domestic abuse survivors. People looking to contribute more seriously to positive causes can create networks that connect volunteers to victims who may need them the most.

Technology is best used to form meaningful connections.  From friends and strangers to the young and old, activists are the unsung heroes of the internet. After all, it’s the World Wide Web that continues to make “16 days of Activism” so successful every year.

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