Online safety and privacy challenges for women in South Asia

The media reports on meaningful online participation challenges for women in South Asia, where the main challenge is ensuring their safety and privacy. A large-scale study led by Nithya in partnership with universities and teams from Google, looks into challenges faced by women in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Data shows  that South Asia faces one of the largest gender disparities online in the world, where women are‘28% less likely to own a phone and 57% less likely to connect to the mobile Internet than men’. Ensuring women’s privacy and safety is the biggest challenge because they often share their devices with family members ‘for cultural and economic reasons’. Use of online platforms for women is potentially a life-threatening risk, such was the case of Qandeel Baloch, a social media celebrity in Pakistan, who was murdered by her brother for publishing selfies online. The research team conducted multiple interviews with 199 participants from India (103), Pakistan (52), and Bangladesh (44), out of which 11 identified as queer, lesbian, or transgender male-to-female. It was noted that many of participants in the interview said: ‘Privacy is not for me, it’s for those rich women’. 72% of participants reported experiencing digital abuse, like unwanted messages or the non-consensual release of information about them. Emotional harm and damage to reputation were the most common consequences reported (55% and 43%, respectively). As one of the examples of consequences of online abuse in real life is a case of a 21 year old women from India who hanged herself after her scarcely dressed pictures went viral on Facebook.