“Owning our story can be hard, but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it!”
The dangerous attack of the coronavirus pandemic has affected people around the globe. The four walls of their houses have become their park, temple, club and mall. With barely any occasion to step out, staying in has been nothing less than a herculean task for all, especially women.
This pandemic has equally affected all the genders of society, yet it was on the end of survival for women. The labyrinth that this pandemic created has classified women broadly into two categories: frontline workers and secondly those who experienced domestic violence but had isolated with their abusers. These two are the aptest categories of women from countless ones that will help the masses understand the hardships faced by women.
While the government did its best by imposing a lockdown to curb the spread of this deadly virus, it thought little about the well being of women. But the only fortunate and unfortunate thing to happen during this time was our closeness with a 5-inch screen.
It is a strenuous task for young adults to envision that life existed before the discovery of the internet and other advanced technologies. Happiness and peace before the internet era is a myth to them. Nevertheless, people have accepted and adopted this evolution. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project (2005), young adults born after the mid-1980s socialise online and use the internet more than previous generations.
A constant rise in the number of domestic violence, sexual harassment and eve-teasing cases has made it evident that people are still the same from within. Even in such tough times when all should be holding hands and supporting each other, the male counterpart of our society has made their priorities clear. Breakthrough is a non-profit organisation that works towards uprooting this deep-rooted stereotypical thinking of the society that has formed its own notion of how women should conduct themselves. “You need support for the victim, counselling, support from police, and most importantly, you need to change the way people think”, said Sonali Khan, a journalist, turned member of this organisation.
These tiring times have further accelerated the need to create ‘virtual safe spaces’ where women and girls can unfold their experiences and thoughts without the fear of getting judged. We are all familiar with the term ‘safe places’; it is a type of place, formal or informal, where women feel emotionally and physically safe and secure. The word ‘safe’ is an umbrella term that includes safe from trauma, safe from stress, safe from violence, safe from abuse. It is a place where women are the only beneficiaries. They interact with other women and experience freedom.
The truth is that the pandemic has restricted our movement within the bedroom, kitchen and dining. Therefore now it is very important to create and make virtual safe places accessible to all women. A virtual safe space is, at its essence, an online place where all people present are encouraged to share their experiences, opinions, ideas and feelings without fear of judgement.
Why virtual safe places for women?
Suppression of women is common in all societies around the globe. In most societies, public spaces are often taken up by the male members of the society, thereby leaving homes as the only safe place for women. For many girls in the developing world, the opportunity to move freely in the community becomes limited at the onset of puberty. As a result, parents try to protect their daughters by keeping them inside, alienating them from any male interaction.
This restriction continues for the rest of their lives. The virtual safe space model is designed to facilitate access to information and services in a way that is safe, culturally appropriate and accessible to adolescent girls, particularly those who face higher levels of marginalisation, such as girls with disabilities and married girls. Virtual safe places open up a broad stage for all those women willing to communicate. Women from around the globe can participate and interact with each other.
AskingForIt is a campaign launched by Breakthrough that reclaims the lost space for women. The aim of this campaign is to change the perspective of bystanders and educate them enough to take a step towards sexual harassment. The digital era helped Breakthrough to reach out to a wider audience.
A safe place for girls has become a matter of prime importance because of the following reasons:
- Physical and emotional safety is the fundamental right of every child.
- Freedom of expression must be made accessible to every child.
- Public spaces are often largely inhabited by men, thereby closing down avenues for women to come out of their shells.
- Safe spaces offer a great platform for girls to build their social assets.
- Each girl has the right to education, and it must be made available to her.
Advanced technology is a prerequisite for making a virtual safe place. However, precautions have to be taken, and organisations need to make sure that there is no security breach.
With so many options available online to share your views with, you might land in the wrong place. Here are a few names that you can trust!
‘Listen Up’ is a page managed by Bhavika where she encourages people just to drop a DM if they want to talk. Apart from this, ‘Words To Art’ is also a good place to find some like-minded people, managed by a 24YO artist Sonkasha Iyengar. This page has helped a lot of people. ‘Words To Art’ is an outcome of her experiences. Back in school, she was bullied and coming back home; she would turn to the internet.
People have written pages on women empowerment, and I cannot emphasise it further. Still, the true essence of this is not yet met. We need to work together to make a society where women can talk their minds without the fear of getting judged or being labelled as ‘not sanskaari’.
These platforms are going to be equally beneficial for women in the topmost and lowermost positions of the hierarchy and everyone in between. Such platforms will restore their lost confidence and belief within them, enable them to take a stand for themselves and be their best version.
Women and girls are advised to be cautious by themselves.
Look for safer options. Look for a secure way of sharing information about the pandemic. And do not share any important and personal details online. While there are too many needy people around us, there are a few perverts wandering as well!!
To register a complaint against online harassment, visit https://cybercrime.gov.in.