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APC member in India Point of View (PoV) has been awarded an Omidyar Network Digital Society Challenge grant to create a platform that will provide low-income women in India access to digital safety information. PoV will also roll out a helpline to assist women facing issues such as harassment and fraud online.
The Digital Society Challenge is a grant that supports those who are working to make the internet safer, especially for those who will be coming online in India as first-time internet users in coming years.
We spoke with PoV’s founder and executive director, Bishakha Datta, to talk about the Digital Society Challenge grant, their vision for this new platform for women online, and how the private sector can become an important catalyst in upholding the digital rights of women.
PoV’s work at the intersection of tech, sexuality and gender
In India, nearly 58% of young women have faced harassment online. There is also an access issue, especially in low-income households, as women are not prioritised in sharing a device or given the opportunity to access the internet. Bishakha explained that Point of View’s programmes were conceptualised with the core goal of helping young women across India to be able to use the internet safely.
“We find that a lot of women, transgender and queer people do not know what to do when they face a problem online. They don’t know that there are reporting mechanisms that they can use,” she noted. “We hold workshops where we talk about these security measures and how they can use these mechanisms to access aid.”
She also shared that all the learnings from working with grassroots communities were then turned into policy recommendations. PoV advocates for laws and policies that uphold the rights and freedoms of girls, especially those who belong to the marginalised sectors of the society.
The Digital Society Challenge grant and the “phygital” helpline for young women in India
Given PoV’s core advocacy to help young women in need, they did not hesitate to apply for the Digital Society Challenge grant offered by Omidyar Network India.
Bishakha noted that they were thrilled when they learned that their proposed platform had been accepted for the grant.
“When we saw the call for applications, we were really interested. It was really about ensuring security measures for the next half billion of people who are coming online, especially from low-income communities, she recalled. “We wanted to scale up our work, we wanted to be ambitious. This is a grant that helped us dream bigger,” she added.
The platform that bagged the grant for PoV is a digital literacy programme that aims to give women access to daily digital safety information in a format and language that they can readily understand.
The platform aims to build capacities of these women to ensure that they are practising habits that will keep them safe online. These safety tips will be first rolled out in Hindi, one of the main languages in India. Further on, the tips will be accessible in other local languages. A digital helpline will also be launched for women who have experienced harassment or fraud online. Those who need the services of the helpline can also access it via voice call, to cover communities that do not have good connection to the internet.
The helpline will be run by women volunteers who come from the same communities where it will be piloted. Bishakha noted that it is important to hear someone who can be trusted, someone who can be a friend, because the act of reporting harassment or fraud can be traumatising enough.
For those who access the helpline, Bishakha explained that they are handheld throughout the process, but the ultimate decision on what to do with their case still lies on the person.
“Ultimately, the choice and the decision is with the person who makes the call. We present the options, and we think through the options with them. But we strive to preserve the agency of the caller,” she noted.
The digital platform, which will be available via a hotline, is connected to an open-source reporting software which handles and summarises all the data processed through the helpline. Bishakha stressed that they are taking strict measures to protect the data collected and processed by their platform.
Potential users may also access the platform via text, social media, email and WhatsApp.
The role of the private sector in promoting digital rights
In the future, PoV plans to scale up these solutions and reach more communities in India. They also want to collaborate with other helplines in the country that deal with physical violence and build their capacities in handling digital-related issues too.
Bishakha commented that the recognition from the Digital Society Challenge of Omidyar Network India is an indication that foundations are cognisant of the diverse relationship between tech and society. However, with the ever-growing issues that threaten people’s digital rights, Bishakha underscored that civil society organisations cannot take on the full responsibility alone.
“Civil society can model or pilot a solution. We cannot take on the full responsibility of addressing these issues, but we can demonstrate effective ways of addressing them,” she explained.
And Bishakha has a message for all the young women in India who dream of an internet that is truly inclusive and freeing: “Don’t give up hope. This is a space that is created for you, even if it may not seem like it. There are people who are working to reduce the barriers that prevent young girls, women and trans persons from using the internet freely.”
For more information about Point of View: https://pointofview.in/