Transform Schools, People For Action (PFA), is a non-profit organisation working with close to 1 lakh government schools across five States in India with its commitment to improving student learning outcomes. Students from 25 government girls’ schools participated in Transform Schools 2-day Digital Safety Workshop facilitated by digital advocacy champion Asmita Ghosh, with the focus shift towards online learning in the ongoing pandemic.
For young girls, who have recently learnt how to use a smartphone and browse content on the internet, it’s even more necessary to sensitise on the pros and cons of accessing the internet. The session kicked-off with the facilitator asking the students, “do we experience the internet and social media differently because of our gender?” to which the students expressed a strong affirmation. Currently, there prevails a gender gap in the active internet users in India dominated by 70% males as compared to females.
The workshop witnessed the students sharing their experiences of controlled digital access in their homes. “I am not allowed to create my own account on social media and my parents restrict me from uploading my picture on social media, whereas my brother is allowed to do so”, said a 16-year-old participant. Such stereotypes have made these students believe that having a social media presence is taboo and something looked down upon. To help them unlearn these stereotypes and prejudices, digital patriarchy was discussed. While most of the students expressed the wish to have unfettered internet access, societal norms made it difficult for them. A 9 grader female participant mentioned that when boys uploaded their dance videos online they were tagged as ‘cool’ but when she uploaded a selfie, people posted negative comments. Clearly, patriarchy had translated into the digital space and extended its control on the digital access by girls.
“The internet can be both a liberating space and a scary one. I loved speaking to these 100 feisty and vocal school girls from Kolkata about their experiences of using the internet, how patriarchy can seep into our digital lives, and how to make better decisions about their internet use. I was floored by their strong and empowered voices as they stood up against patriarchy. More power to them!”- Asmita Ghosh, facilitator.
The 2-day workshop was a safe platform for the girls to voice their opinion and provide them with an opportunity to get sensitised to various aspects of digital accessibility. With active internet users (approx.560 million) in India, such workshops are the need of the hour and an important topic that should be introduced in the school curriculum. Access to the internet on one hand, is a great pool of knowledge and on the other possesses its own share of disadvantages.
The workshop provided a to-do list for the students to be safe on the internet-
- To use strong passwords for social media accounts. The password should be long, should not be obvious- for example names, birthdays, best friend names, or pet names. Passwords should include numbers, symbols, and have a mix of capital letters and small letters
- Control who can see your post and info. on Social media channels (change privacy settings to ‘only friends’ or a selected group of friends).
- If someone is bothering you or you are worried about them bothering you – feel free to use redressal mechanisms like- muting and blocking, reporting.
- Do not send intimate photos online or on any app.
- If you are being blackmailed, keep a record of the communication in case you want to pursue legal recourse – screenshots, audio recordings. Do not give in to the blackmail- it is a power trip and can be used again. Reach out to the abuser’s parents if you are comfortable informing them of their child’s behaviour.
- Use legal recourse- Cyber Crime Cell
- No one should use, screenshot, or forward your photos without your permission.
- If you are a victim of online violence – remember, it is not your fault.