Countries Failing to Protect Women Online, Reports the World Wide Web Foundation

A while back we reported that women face higher rates of online sexual harassment and online stalking, but a new report suggests that the problem may be systemic. Countries are doing far too little to protect women online, according to new information published by the Web Index. “Only 30% of the Web Index countries score higher than a five for implementing concrete targets for gender equity in ICT access and use,” says the study. “Almost all of them are high-income countries that have already achieved high levels of gender parity in other spheres of life.” So in essence, we may be making strides in socioeconomic realms, but it’s definitely not happening on the Web. That’s a policy-making problem, and the fact that it’s not being implemented to protect women online is troublesome.

For those unfamiliar, the Web Index is maintained by the World Wide Web Foundation and calls itself “the world’s first measure of the World Wide Web’s contribution to social, economic, and political progress in countries across the world.” The site focuses on aggregating data for Web use worldwide and makes it available on its website in order to better understand the social effects of the Internet. It’s easy to navigate and provides some eye-opening information about inequality on economic, social, and political planes. Some of its most unnerving findings come from its section on gender inequality ingrained in Web culture and how little attention the topic receives.

“Inasmuch as they can enhance fights for women’s rights, social networks can also amplify misogyny and gender-based violence,” says the study. It cites specific examples such as online stalking and “revenge porn,” adding, “In 74 percent of Web Index countries, including many high-income nations, law enforcement agencies and the courts are failing to take appropriate actions in situations where Web-enabled ICTs are used to commit acts of gender-based violence.”

Among the lowest-scoring countries with poor policing of sexism online are Estonia, Tunisia, and Turkey. The United States scores highest alongside France and Denmark for best policy-making to protect women on the Web — but given the current injustices faced by women online even here, this is nothing if not a clear indicator that more needs to be done to protect against online abuses. “Online service providers must improve their own user policies, including through providing transparency on their reporting and redress procedures,” says Web Index, “engaging with the perspectives of women beyond North America and Europe; and broadening their human rights policies to include clear commitment and standards for respecting women’s rights.” Amen.

Read the full report here.

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