Can a 'phygital' friend help women feel safe online?

Can a 'phygital' friend help women feel safe online?

Image Credit: Point Of View

The internet can often be an unwelcoming space for women. Nearly 58 percent of young females in India have faced online harassment or abuse. This creates a form of self-censorship, with nearly a fifth leaving internet platforms altogether, and another twelve percent changing the way they express themselves online. The perception of insecurity also leads to societal discrimination, wherein young women are either not given a phone, or given one that is inferior to their brother's. The internet's anonymity and scale embolden miscreants to harass women with impunity, with little fear of consequences. As a result, the Indian internet has a gender divide, with men outnumbering women online in a ratio of two-to-one. If the internet is to truly be as inclusive and empowering as was once promised, this half of the population needs to feel safe and empowered online.

The primary responsibility of ensuring this rests with the internet platforms and government regulators. But while we wait for those conditions to fall in place, young female internet users can be equipped with the knowledge and tools to keep themselves safe online.

This is the journey that Bishakha Dutta from Mumbai-based NGO Point of View (POV) has been on. In the past five years, POV has strengthened digital skills and capacities in over 10,000 women, girls and queer people in low-income households through over 100 training workshops, and other information dissemination channels. At these workshops, participants learn about how to use a mobile phone, how to keep their data and passwords secure, and about popular platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook. POV's online publications reach a wider audience on issues like technology-enabled violence and changing digital gender norms.

POV is now gearing up to take its digital literacy program to the next level through a tech platform that will give low-income women daily digital safety information. Such bite-sized tips will be in the local language, in a tone and format that they are accustomed to (think of the "˜good morning' messages on WhatsApp) and will build greater digital resilience by continuously reinforcing online safety practices. POV will also roll out a helpline for women who need handholding support in navigating issues like fraud and harassment online. This helpline will be run by locally-trained women who come from the same community and therefore better understand the local cultural context. POV will work with its wide network of grassroots NGO partners to take the platform to women who need it the most.

Women often feel a sense of shame when they face harassment online and are therefore reticent to talk about it. Point Of View seeks to create a safe space where women don't feel either tech-shamed or judged. Moreover, the design of the platform is based on the realisation that "˜voice' is the chosen mode of communication for low-income households. When an aggrieved girl calls the helpline, she will be greeted by a soothing and friendly voice. When she receives digital safety tips, it will reflect her needs and aspirations, rather than be preachy. In this way, POV seeks to create a physical and digital (or 'phygital') friend and confidant that women can turn to and navigate the internet with greater confidence and security.

To find out more about Point Of View, go to

This is the second of a seven-part series on new ideas to make every Indian feel empowered and safe online. The earlier post featured World Comics India which is running workshops that train participants to express themselves through grassroots comics and draw out their experiences with the mobile phone

Coming up next week:
Centre for Internet and Society: Developing a browser plug-in that will help individuals protect themselves and their children from gender-based violence on social media