Cyber Harassment and Violence: Building a Safer World Online for Women

On the occasion of International Women’s Day March 6, 2023, in the seminar room of the Department of Criminology at Dhaka University, a study circle was organized under the initiative of the Training, Research, and Library Sub-committee of the Bangladesh Mahila Parishad (BMP). The topic of the study circle was “Cyber Harassment and Violence: Building a Safer World Online for Women”. Shaharia Afreen, chairperson of the department, presided over the study circle, and Professor Dr. Zia Rahman, the dean of Social Science, University of Dhaka, attended as a special guest. The Senior Research Training Officer of BMP, Shahazadi Shamima Afzali, and the Senior Advocate, Fatema Begum, presented their speeches. Afroja Arman, Research Officer of BMP, gave the welcoming address.

Professor Zia Rahman, in the study circle, spoke about the history of women’s struggle worldwide and the establishment of women’s rights due to the contribution of multiple national and international organizations. He expressed hope that the Department of Criminology would undertake various workshops, training programs, and campaigns to combat crime in collaboration with BMP.

Shahzadi Shamima Afzali said that the very first educational institute of an individual is his family. Therefore, everyone has to initiate education on crime prevention, resistance, and protest within their families. Awareness will spread among people, only after that. She suggested that actions regarding awareness for the protection of women’s rights should not be limited to only specific days but rather maintained throughout the year as a national program. She urged both men and women, who are victims of online harassment to protest against the injustice towards them.

Afroja Arman firmly stated that human rights are incomplete without women’s rights. She urges the young generation to take the lead in ensuring women’s rights and a society establishing equality.

Senior Advocate of BMP, Fatema Begum, informed everyone about the preventive and punitive laws regarding cybercrime and how to ensure the online safety of women. Later, she took questions from the students present in the study circle related to cybercrime against women and the prevention of harassment and answered them.

The opinions provided by the youths who participated in the study circle are:

● Though cybercrime occurs online, all kinds of discussions or workshops take place offline. When an incident occurs, people discuss it for a few days, have discussions about it, or promote it through hashtags. They keep the particular incident limited to a specific day, so the work and protests are not ongoing. It is not possible to reduce the level of crime without controlling the criminal mindset. To prevent violence against women, the young generation needs to learn about the law and the rich history of women’s movements. We can also send short-form messages through mobile phones. For example, just like we have seen how telecommunication messages were sent to wear a mask, we can use it for this purpose as well. But it should not be limited to only March 8 or any specific event; rather, it needs to be promoted throughout the year to increase awareness.
● Various types of spam messages are sent to girls through Facebook or social media, as well as being added to groups related to harassment. Through these, girls are constantly harassed by irrelevant, disgusting comments and various forms of harassment and bullying. These are only targeted at girls. When a woman or girl becomes a victim of cyberbullying, they fear speaking out. It would be beneficial, only if BMP could acquire a sense of trust towards the victims. The hotline policy needs to be extended so that a person can get immediate assistance in case any incident occurs.
● School and college-going girls, especially those who are from rural or suburban areas, are highly victimized by harassment. The presence of girls of this age is higher on social media. They are not aware of what to do if they become victims of cyberbullying online. Hence, it is absolutely necessary to increase awareness among these young girls by expanding our area of work.

Many remain silent, thinking about their family or the fear of losing respect in society. The criminals take advantage of this situation. There should be a strong bond between the child and their parents, older siblings, and friends. The definition of cyberbullying and the reasons why private information shouldn’t be shared with everyone should be explained to them. They need to pay attention to which direction they are more inclined in the virtual world and make friends in that direction. Public awareness is also essential in this regard.

● The most important thing a victim of cyberbullying needs is mental support. Efforts should be made to understand the problems of the younger member of the family, by not getting angry because of their abnormal behaviors. One needs to help them on how to come out from this problem.
● Women are highly victimized by cyberbullying, and they still do not feel comfortable sharing their issues with their families, it is absolutely necessary to inform someone close if they become victims of cyberbullying. In cases of online violence and cyber harassment, the hotline numbers available (such as Counter Terrorism and Transnational Crime’s Cyber Crime Investigation Division, Cyber Police Centre, Hello City App, Report to RAB App, 999, 1098 for children’s assistance, and 109 for women’s and children’s assistance) to seek help. The promotion of these helplines needs to be expanded.

To prevent cyberbullying socially, meetings and seminars related to cyberbullying can be organized. Alongside raising awareness about how people from different classes and professions are unknowingly or willingly involved in cyberbullying, discussions should be held on the potential harm it can cause to society. As a result, a conscious generation against cyberbullying can be developed.

Begum Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain, the pioneer of women’s awakening, was shown respect by the attendees in the study circle. Finally, the chairperson of the department, Shaharia Afreen, expressed her gratitude by thanking the relevant persons for their involvement in organizing the event.

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