By Mary Hearty

Despite the tremendous positive impacts brought by the World Wide Web, there is a rise of online abuse which is increasing threats to global progress on women’s rights and empowerment.

Also, majority of women are not connected to the web, preventing millions from using the web to learn, earn and make their voices heard.

Sir Tim Berners-Lee in his open letter during the 31st birthday of the web said that he is seriously concerned that online harms are threatening the significant development that has been made on gender equality.

According to a new global research conducted by Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s Web Foundation and the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scout, more than half of young women have experienced online abuse and harassment.

Among them include aggressive messages, sexual harassments and the sharing of private images without their consent.

Maria, a young leader for the Girl Guides Association of Cyprus was surveyed on the issue.

She said, “As a girl, I spent time learning from the Internet. However, I was not prepared for the inappropriate photos and comments I would receive from people online, for people making fun of me, for being blackmailed.”

“Online harassment has a deep impact on the girls being targeted and allows a harmful, silencing culture to develop,” she added.

The online mistreatment forces women out of jobs and causes girls to drop out of school. In addition, it damages relationships leading to terrific distress.

Constant online harassment makes women quiet and denies the world of their opinions and ideas, with female journalists and politicians pushed off social media and bullied out of office.

Moreover, a survey from United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) found that 40% of women journalists said they avoided reporting on certain stories because of expected harassment.

Similarly, continuous abuse directed at female politicians on social media is reducing their confidence to seek re-election.

The survey also found that the odds of young women who have undergone social media abuse attempting suicide were 3.1 times higher than those who have not experienced it.

Many companies and governments are working hard to fight online gender discrimination among women but their action towards it has been too slow and too small.

“The crisis facing women and girls online is one of global proportions. We need a world where women can go online without being harassed; where they can run for office without fear of anti-feminist abuse,” said Emily Sharpe, Web Foundation Director of Policy.

For instance, the coronavirus outbreak greatly demonstrates just how urgently we need a collective action responsibility. This is because the pandemic has forced offices and schools to be closed.

Consequently, it has left everyone with no choice but to resort to telecommuting, educating our children and reading important information over the web to keep us safe.

As 2020 marks 25 years since 189 countries agreed on an ambitious global plan to empower women, and just ten years from the global deadline to reach gender equality, it is critical to resolve online gender inequality.

“2020 is a year of opportunity to radically accelerate women’s empowerment, as decision-makers from around the world debate plans to achieve gender equality by 2030. Committed action to tackle online threats to women and girls must be at the heart of those discussions,” said Sharpe.

Therefore, to ensure the web empowers women, we need the attention of all those that shape technology, from CEOs and engineers to academics and public officials.

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