Friday, December 24, 2010

Logging into (In)Security: ICTs and Gender Violence

Official Press Release

Chennai, 10 December: With the increased use of Information, Communications and Technology (ICT), there is increased potential for the abuse of ICT, with often humiliating and tragic consequences for women users. This was discussed at Logging into (In)Security, a seminar on ICT and Gender Violence, organised by Prajnya as part of the 2010 16 Days Campaign against Gender Violence, in partnership with Empowering women in IT (eWIT).

“Everyone is impacted by ICT, whether as users or non-users. We often assume that access to the ICTs automatically means inclusion and therefore empowerment. But there are digital dangers, with implications for the security of women”, said Ms. Chloe Zollman of Bangalore-based IT for Change.

Dr Rama Subramaniam, criminologist and CEO of Valiant Technologies pointed out that the majority of victims online are not aware that they had been victimized. “It is not possible for any individual to monitor every single website every day to see if his/her photo has been misused. By the time s/he discovers it by chance, the damage has been done”, he said.

Discussing the challenges that law enforcement officials commonly face, Dr. Sudhakar IPS, Asst. Commissioner, Cyber Crimes Cell, Chennai Police, reiterated the urgent need for a global law. “We are trying to address a problem that has an international dimension with a local law. We need something that will help us gather any required information from various intermediaries”, he said. He cited several examples of online abuse directed at women, especially after the breakup of a relationship or a marriage.

Ms. Jamuna Swamy, Head, Information Security, Hexaware Technologies, drew attention to the importance of both prevention and deterrence, as methods to anticipate and address online violence. All the speakers pointed out that technology itself can be used to fight back against exploitation. “It is possible to challenge violence and power in constructive ways, using digital technology to create safe spaces where people can meet, in a non-threatening way. But for this, we have to teach others to use the tools”, emphasised Ms. Zollman.

“A programme of this type is hugely beneficial to women in the IT and ITES industries, who are perhaps the largest users of ICT and therefore most vulnerable to its abuse”, pointed out Ms. Vijayalakshmi Rao, President, eWIT. “For Prajnya, the real challenge is to create the awareness that enables victims to identify what they experience as violence, and as something that is not their fault, whether in the real world or cyberspace”, said Dr. Swarna Rajagopalan, Managing Trustee, Prajnya.

The seminar, the first in partnership between eWIT and Prajnya, was chaired by Kalyani Narayanan, Vice President - eWIT and attended by a cross-section of IT professionals, students and other concerned citizens.

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