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A monthly series from the Web Foundation

We need a web that works for women and girls

As offices and schools around the world close in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the web is a lifeline — keeping us connected to work and school, vital health information, and our loved ones.

But, as we depend on the web more than ever, almost two billion women and girls across the globe can’t access it at all — and for many who can, the web just isn’t safe enough.

In a letter marking the web's 31st birthday, web inventor and Web Foundation co-founder Sir Tim Berners-Lee sounded the alarm about a growing crisis of online abuse and discrimination that is keeping women and girls offline and threatening progress on gender equality.

Here, we untangle these threats — and explain why we need urgent action to make the web work for women and girls everywhere.

The online crisis facing women and girls, in numbers

21% — Men remain 21% more likely to be online than women — rising to 52% in the world's least developed countries (Web Foundation / Inclusive Internet Index)

2 billion — Nearly 2 billion women across the globe don't have access to the web at all — depriving them of opportunities to learn, earn and have their voices heard  (ITU)

52% — 52% of young women in a global survey have experienced online abuse, including threatening messages, sexual harassment and the sharing of private photos and videos without permission (Web Foundation and World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts)

87% — 87% of young women in a global survey think the problem of online harassment is getting worse (Web Foundation and World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts)

43% — 43% of girls admitted to holding back their opinion on social media for fear of abuse (Plan International UK)

40% — 40% of women journalists said they avoided reporting on certain stories because of anticipated abuse (International Women's Media Foundation)
"The coronavirus outbreak demonstrates just how urgently we need action. When offices and schools close, the web is a lifeline that allows us to keep working, educating our children and reading information vital to keeping us safe and healthy. A world where so many women and girls are deprived of these basics is completely unacceptable. When we need it more than ever, the web has to work for everyone."
 

Resources to build a web that works for women and girls

We’re proud to work alongside inspiring organisations around the world working day in and day out to build a better online world for women — and in turn, a better world for everyone!

 
Helping women experiencing abuse by providing information and support

Chayn’s Do-It-Yourself Online Safety guide – available in nine languages – offers practical measures women can take to stay safe online.

 
Campaigning for an end to violence against women online

Is your friend being attacked online?’ is Take Back the Tech’s practical guide to help you identify, respond and stand up for someone you know being attacked online.

 
Working to end online abuse through digital security workshops

Discussing online gender based-violence is hard but necessary. The Fix the Glitch toolkit makes these conversations easier, by helping individuals spark interactive conversations in their communities about how to end violence online.

 
Empowering people by promoting trustworthy, high-quality news and information

Internews’ free, comprehensive Safe Sisters Toolkit is a common-sense guide to digital safety for women and girls in Sub-Saharan Africa.

 
Tackling digital abuse to build a safer, more positive online community

The Cybersmile Foundation’s Cyberbullying and Digital Abuse Help Centre provides support on issues including digital abuse, gaming, mental health and online harassment.

 
Defending and celebrating freedom of expression around the world

Pen America's Online Harassment Field Manual outlines effective strategies that writers, journalists and their allies can use to fight online abuse.

It's up to all of us to make the web work for everyone

The web has the potential to be a tremendous force for equality and democracy. We can’t let the crisis of online abuse and discrimination undermine this promise.

In his letter, Sir Tim Berners-Lee calls on us to channel an ambitious, collaborative spirit to make the web work for women and girls — and therefore for us all.

He outlines the key actions that governments, companies and citizens can all take to build the web we want — a web that is safe and empowering for everyone.

  • Prioritise the problem: 2020 must be the year governments and companies tackle online harms against women as a top priority.
  • Provide better data: Companies and governments must tackle the data void around online violence by systematically recording and publishing data on what women experience online.
  • Embed ‘gender equality by design’: Governments and companies must create all products, policies, and services based on data and feedback from women of all backgrounds.
  • Build legal protections: Governments must develop laws that hold perpetrators of online gender-based violence to account, and resource law enforcement to respond and prosecute when those laws are violated.
  • Be active bystanders: We must all speak up when we see harms against women and girls online.
Read Sir Tim Berners-Lee's letter
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World Wide Web Foundation, CC BY 4.0 2020

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