Tech, Policy, and Society: Protecting Women in the Digital Age

cyber security challenges diversity & inclusion women in cyber security Jul 04, 2023

Europe stands at a crossroads. The dual trials of a post-pandemic recovery and societal reformation serve both as challenges and opportunities. These are further complicated by global issues such as the persistent conflict in Ukraine and an escalating climate crisis, all of which are intensified by the rapid pace of digital transformation we find ourselves in the middle of.

As societies continue their relentless march into the digital age, industry leaders and policymakers have an even greater responsibility to counteract potential misuse of digital products and services. The advantages of digitalization are abundant, yet so too are the challenges it brings. A significant one is the worrying trend of increasing cyber violence against women, an issue brought into sharp relief with one in ten women experiencing some form of cyber violence since the age of 15, as stated by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE).

This digital landscape, while rich with opportunities, has also enabled a new platform for violence against women, ranging from cyber stalking to gender-based harassment. Addressing this issue is not merely urgent but necessary to ensure the digital public space remains safe and empowering for everyone, not just women and young girls. Initiatives such as the European Union's recent proposal to combat violence against women and domestic violence, and policy tools like the Cyber Resilience Act, the Digital Services Act, the Code of Conduct on Hate Speech or the Code of Practice on Disinformation, all play a pivotal role in reshaping our digital ecosystem to mitigate the risks women face online.

On Tuesday 27th June, Women in International Security Brussels hosted in partnership with Microsoft Brussels ‘Conversations Unscripted: Digital safety for women - the role of tech and policy. The conversation today brings together voices from civil society, policy-making circles, and the tech sector to discuss ways to enhance the safety of cyberspace for all, with a particular focus on women. In this critical dialogue, I moderated the panel with speakers Nikolas Ott, Government Affairs Manager at Microsoft, and Laura Kaun, Policy and Campaigns Director at the European Women’s Lobby.

Through interactive discussions with the panel members and the audience, we explored the topic in more depth and reached 13 key take aways listed below to help policy makers, tech giants and civil society join forces and build a safer and secure cyber space for women and young girls.

 

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Blending Online and Offline Experiences

We lead one life that merges online and offline experiences. Online violence can start on digital platforms and transition into the physical world. Acknowledging this continuity is the first step towards formulating effective solutions.

Empowering Women Online

Organizations such as the European Women's Lobby are encouraging women to participate in politics and enhance their online presence. Projects like 'Her Net, her Rights' aim to equip women with theoretical knowledge about violence and practical solutions to combat it.

Ensuring Stakeholder Accountability

Transparency and accountability are key in tackling online violence. Stakeholders implementing regulations and laws must be held responsible through dedicated reports and assessments. Without transparency, it becomes challenging to evaluate progress accurately.

Overcoming Measurement Challenges

The rapidly changing landscape of digital technology and its borderless nature complicate the task of measuring progress in cyberspace. Yet, this should not deter us. It's vital to develop innovative tools and methodologies to measure the real-world impact of policies.

Promoting Stakeholder Engagement

The engagement of diverse stakeholders, from tech companies to NGOs and government bodies, is crucial. The more diverse the perspectives, the more holistic our understanding and approaches will be.

The Need for A Multi-Stakeholder Response

The complexities of online violence require a multi-faceted response that extends beyond legislation and technology. Our response should incorporate education, awareness-raising, and cultural transformation to change the underlying mindsets that allow such acts to occur.

Facilitating Cross-Sector Conversations

One thing that we can do to combat online violence is to foster an environment that allows for open, cross-sector discussions. It's essential to bring together individuals from various fields, such as tech, education, law, and government, to ensure a comprehensive approach to the problem. Through these open discussions, we can share experiences, learn from each other, and find effective solutions that cater to the diverse needs of internet users.

Unlearning the Violence in Public Discourse

In many ways, the violence we see online is a reflection of our public discourse. Our interactions online and offline are often shaped by the language of violence and hate. To address online harassment and violence, we need to unlearn this violence in our public discourse. This requires education and cultural transformation that encourages empathy, respect, and understanding over hostility and intolerance.

Recognizing the Beneficiaries of Violence

Another important aspect to consider is understanding who benefits from violence, both online and offline. Recognizing this can help us target the root causes and systems that perpetuate violence. It also underscores the need for transparency and accountability in all sectors, particularly in the tech industry, to prevent the misuse and abuse of digital platforms.

Relearning Engagement Based on Shared Humanity

To combat online violence, we also need to relearn how to engage with each other based on our shared humanity. This means fostering a culture of mutual respect and understanding in the online space, where differences are acknowledged and respected, rather than being used as grounds for discrimination or violence.

Remembering Our Shared Human Connection

It is crucial to remember that behind our screens and technology, we are human beings. This common thread of humanity should guide our actions, behaviors, and policies in the digital realm. In other words, the golden rule of treating others how you want to be treated should still apply, even in the anonymous vastness of cyberspace.

Removing Barriers to Foster Inclusivity

Paraphrasing the renowned poet Rumi, we need to think about how we can "remove the barriers we have built between each other" - barriers of violence, hatred, and fear. By focusing on inclusivity, connection and respect, we can help to dismantle these walls, fostering a digital environment that is safe and welcoming for all. Credit to Daria Nashat.

Fostering Continuous Learning and Adaptation

As the digital landscape continues to evolve, so too will the challenges we face. Consequently, a critical takeaway is the importance of fostering a culture of continuous learning and adaptation. This means staying informed about emerging trends, technologies, and challenges in the digital world. It also involves being open to new ideas, perspectives, and solutions, and being willing to adapt our strategies as needed. This culture of ongoing learning and adaptation will enable us to stay ahead of the curve and continue to combat online violence effectively, no matter how the landscape changes.

 

In conclusion, it's clear that addressing the issue of online violence requires a multi-pronged approach. It involves facilitating open dialogues across different sectors, unlearning the culture of violence, understanding the beneficiaries of violence, and relearning to engage with each other based on our shared humanity. It's a journey towards remembering our shared human connection and working together to remove barriers that divide us. By taking these steps, we can make significant strides towards creating a safer and more inclusive digital space for everyone.

The 'Digital Safety for Women - The Role of Tech and Policy' breakfast discussions form a segment of the multi-stakeholder initiative, 'Conversations Unscripted'. This initiative is brought to life by the collaboration of several partners including: Young Professionals in Foreign Policy Brussels, Women in Tech, European Cooperation in Science and Technology, Women4Cyber, European Cyber Security Organization, Womenpreneur Initiative, Women in International Security Brussels, and The Brussels Binder.





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