Speakers decry online harassment and highlight shared responsibility to create a safer digital world
April 20, 2023
Imagine at age 17 being able to say that you’ve developed a device to detect lead-contaminated water, conceptualized a service to thwart cyber bullying and appeared on the cover of Time magazine.
Those are just a few of the accomplishments of Gitanjali Rao, one of the inspirational women and girls applauded at the United Nations observance of International Women’s Day.
Rao was motivated to develop a water testing device after learning about contaminated water plaguing the people of Flint, Michigan (The Story Ministry of Presbyterian Disaster Assistance has documented the crisis in its film, “Flint: The Poisoning of an American City.”).
“I’ve always grown up in this environment where I was taught that you can’t just wait for someone else to do something; you have to take that first step,” said Rao, who is from Colorado. “If you don’t like the way the world works, fix it.”
More than 1,800 people, most of them women, looked on as Rao and other panelists chatted during “DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality,” a special program at the 67th session of the Commission on the Status of Women. Nearly 60 delegates from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Presbyterian Women attended #CSW67 online and in person.
“Being in person allows our delegates the opportunity to go into the United Nations headquarters, to be in the same room with other leaders from around the world, with the common goal of gender equality,” said Ivy Lopedito of the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations.
DigitALL included remarks by global leaders, such as U.N. Under-Secretary-General Sima Bahous, and host Sade Baderwina, a New York broadcaster who promoted the idea of buying young girls microscopes instead of dolls to spur their interest in STEM.
“I love this day because as women we get to celebrate who we are,” Baderwina said. “We celebrate our brilliance, our achievements, our power and collective voice,” and in spite of adversity, “we keep soldiering on because we know there is still so much more work to do.”
DigitALL was designed to lift up “the women and girls who are championing the advancement of transformative technology and digital education and curtailing the impact of the digital gender gap,” according to promotional materials. But it also touched on the sinister side of the tech world.
Sports journalist Marion Reimers, an outspoken proponent of LGBTQIA+ rights, talked about the hurt inflicted by online harassment, which she described as feeling like “a death by 1,000 knives.”
“I have been a victim of online harassment for a very long time,” Reimers said. “There are paid campaigns, and I’m not the only woman suffering in Mexico and throughout the world.”
Marie Bjerre, minister for digitalization, IT technology and gender equality in Denmark, said education, training and global partnerships are key to fighting such abuse. “The digital world is a new world for us,” she said, “and like we learn how to drive a car, we have to learn how to behave online.”
Women in Uganda also experience online abuse, said Irene Mwenda. She leads feminist movement building and advocacy for Pollicy.org, a team of technologists, data scientists, creatives and academics working at the intersection of data, design and technology.
The work of Mwenda’s organization includes putting research into simple language that even youths can understand and making games available to promote online safety and discourage “fake news.” The group also helps to empower women politicians in Africa.
The goal is to help them “understand the power of technology and data in their lives,” so that when they interact with other leaders, “they will be able to debate better,” and communities will receive policies that meet the needs of both women and men, Mwenda said.
Rao stressed the importance of harnessing the ingenuity of youths when trying to solve the world’s problems.
“Now more than ever is the time to maximize innovation and creativity, right?” she said. “We should be taking these opportunities to look at the ways in which we can support girls, especially by digitizing content online, and honestly, supporting them in every way possible, whether that’s through the work that they’re doing or making sure that they’re safe online as well.”
Darla Carter, Communications Strategist, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Today’s Focus: International Women’s Day
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Susan Barnett, Coordinator, Research Services, Administrative Services Group (A Corp)
David Barnhart, Associate, Story Ministry & Documentary Filmmaker, Compassion, Peace & Justice, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Let us pray
For those who open to us the words of Scripture, we give you thanks, great God. As Scripture is opened, as hearts are transformed, may the church of Jesus Christ thrive and bloom for this and all generations. Amen.