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Cyber Violence against Women and Girls: A World-Wide Wake-Up Call

Nitol Dewan Recently while I was watching Monica Lewinsky’s Ted Talk (The Price of Shame) on YouTube, I was compelled to rethink the invasion of information and communication technology in our lives. During the talk, when Ms. Lewinsky was going through examples (including her own story) and the aftermath of so called cyber bullying on affected people around the world, I realized that I have also contributed to cyberbullying, if not directly. I guess we all have, to some extent, without even realising it.

Cyber bullying is not a widely talked about topic in Bangladesh, which makes people a little confused about whether they should consider it a good or bad sign. This ‘not much discussion on the issue’ does not verify the fact that this crime is not prevalent in the country or that people are well aware about it.

However, a lot of attention is being drawn to cyber bullying issues in Europe, North America and many other countries especially when it affects women and young girls.

A report titled “Cyber Violence against Women and Girls: A World-Wide Wake-Up Call” was published by UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development Working Group on Broadband and Gender in 2015. According to the report, 76% women and 72% men in the world use social networking sites. Among those women, 73% claimed to have been abused online. Moreover, the report revealed that 9 million women have experienced some form of serious cyber violence since the age of 15. Considering the number, it is a serious issue which needs dire attention and quick action. Now, what is the situation like in Bangladesh?

We all remember the incident of a well-known TV actor whose private video was deliberately leaked on the internet by her alleged ex-lover few years back. The aftermath is also known to everyone. The video went viral and worse, it became a source of entertainment for young folks. The victim could not want for any more attention. For your information, the culprit did not have to face any sort of punishment. That is when the so called ‘Culture of Humiliation’ merged with our culture. Because such incidents continued to take place in our society and are still continuing, with the culprit strongly immune to punitive measures.

A research carried out on students aged 12-18 years old in Bangladesh, Thailand and Malaysia by Telenor Group in the beginning of this year revealed some horrifying facts about cyber bullying in the countries. The research found out that 49% of school students in Bangladesh have been victims of cyber bullying in some way or another. Of this, around 38% mentioned consulting parents if faced with online issues that they cannot solve. Now, this scenario is only a small part of the whole picture, as women over 18 years old are not included in the research. The number of victims would probably be more if the real information was found through proper research.

It was mentioned in the beginning that we are somewhat responsible for the increase of cybercrimes. How? By clicking! Yes, by clicking! It is that simple, and no wonder the perpetrators find it very easy to use the internet to humiliate a person. What do we do? We make more harassing comments about the victim or speak up for him/her. How do we do the latter? We put up a status on Facebook or other social media sites. If more, some human chains get created in some parts of the country. Then naturally a question arises, why can’t we withdraw ourselves from clicking on such links which will contribute to further humiliation of the victim? Do we realise that we are letting some people make money out of this for the wrong reasons? And who pays the biggest price? The victim! Cyber bullying comes with a nice package of mental trauma, harassment, and shaming by the society.

It is time we start caring about the people who fall victims to cyber bullying. We should not justify our lack of interest in such cases by saying that he/she is not my friend or family member. Most importantly we should be careful in taking advantage of advanced information and communication technology. Instead of creating more hassle for the victim, let us be more compassionate. During the talk Monica Lewinsky said something that’s worth sharing. She said,

“We talk a lot about our right to freedom of expression, but we need to talk more about our responsibility to freedom of expression. We all want to be heard, but let’s acknowledge the difference between speaking up with intention and speaking up for attention.”

A long list of activities to be done at individual level can be prepared. But what about the existing law? What is it doing to halt the problem? According to section 57 of The Information and Communication Technology Act, 2006,

“If any person deliberately publishes or transmits or causes to be published or transmitted in the website or in electronic form any material which is fake and obscene… he shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years and with fine which may extend to Taka one crore.”

Now the question is how many of the offenders are actually facing this punishment? There should be proper investigation on the issue and due action needs to be taken by the respective authority. Examples should be established that no one can escape the law when a cyber-offense is committed, by punishing the culprits. Finally just a simple question. Why humiliate a person in such a way which would make if difficult for him/her to lead a normal life, when we can do so much to make a person happy and the world a better place?

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