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Women with WITS

Supporting each other's voices online

I’ve written about my new experiences of working in tech spaces before. So upon being asked to attend the launch of WITS, I thought it would be another one of these new experiences where I have a small sense of being just on the edges of the conversation, not quite knowing exactly why I’m there.

But, having worked to address domestic and family violence for many years, being in a room full of women speaking about violence/abuse against women is not something new for me. The women-only space, created by the eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman-Grant and her team, to launch Women Influencing Tech Spaces (WITS) was a room full of strong women full of ideas and opinions.

Unfortunately, in the world of social media, it’s these opinions that seem to attract vitriol, abuse and even death threats. This rising form of cyber abuse is often sexualised and gender-based. Women in leadership positions and women with public personas who share their thoughts, ideas, and opinions about current issues are especially targeted.

A recent Ipsos MORI poll for Amnesty International shows that 3 in 10 women have experienced online abuse or harassment. They experience shockingly high levels of abuse from people they don’t know and likely will never meet. Why do people feel it’s ok to abuse people they don’t know? Would they say the same thing to someone’s face if they met them in the street? The answer is likely no because these people are keyboard cowards. But that doesn’t stop the abuse from affecting the women it’s targeted at and their families. Words hurt. Especially when that abuse is so personal and vile that you feel ashamed for your family and friends to read such dreadful things about you.

We’ve all heard the stories of cyber-bullying of young people and the devastating impact it has, but when you see what happened to Yassmin Abdel-Magied last year, you know this is not only about young people. Yassmin, a young Muslim woman of colour, was attacked not only by people online but also by mainstream media, all for one 40 character statement.

The WITS panel had similar stories to share. Jane Caro (writer and social commentator), Georgina Dent (journalist and editor of the Women’s Agenda), Jackie Coates (Telstra Foundation) and a talented AFL women’s footballer Darcy Vescio. Each of these women use social media for their work, to influence thinking and to speak their minds about current events. Their stories, like Yassmin’s, were of one comment made and subsequent hurling of gender-based abuse. Of course, as Julie Inman-Grant says, “This, like domestic and family violence, is not a women’s issue, it’s a societal issue.”

So, here we were - a room of women in tech spaces listening to stories of abuse, talking about how to deal with it, how to support each other and most importantly how to make it stop.

So, at Good Things Foundation, when we talk about improving lives through digital, these issues need to be addressed. Despite all the great impacts of digital technology on our lives, anyone who is starting to use social media for the first time needs to be given the strategies to deal with some of the downsides too.

I highly recommend checking out the videos and resources available on the WITS site. They are practical, useful and full of stories from strong women. And of course, they are useful to anyone experiencing abuse online.

So rather than making me want to stop being online, this initiative reaffirmed for me that social media is a positive way of sharing your own voice and it’s a place that we should feel safe to do so. I’ll finish off with my tweet of the night, which I was excited to have retweeted by Jane Caro and Tracey Spicer - *fan girl moment!*

Jess Wilson - National Director

Jess leads the work that Good Things Foundation does in Australia. She supports the team, connects with local, state, national and international stakeholders and most importantly ensures that we are building a strong, collaborative and supported network of great community organisations across the country.