Covid-19 has been cruel to the world and its economy in general, with protracted lockdowns and social distancing measures affecting both supply and demand-side enterprises. But, it has aided the growth of a few industries, like digital/contactless payments, e-commerce, and Facebook commerce (or f-commerce). For the past few years, Bangladesh's e-commerce business has quickly expanded with an increasing number of consumers purchasing things online, and with it, the number of women entrepreneurs has increased. Women preferably choose to run their online-based small and medium enterprises (SMEs) as it is convenient working from home along with balancing their parenting roles. However, things are not always charming as it seems. During the Covid-19 outbreak, as with the expansion of online businesses run by women, online violence against them has escalated at an alarming rate in Bangladesh. While many reports show that domestic violence or other offline gender-based violence against women has been intensified, cyber violence against women, especially technology-based women entrepreneurs, has also increased.
While the spread of ICT and increasing internet penetration become good markers of our country's prosperity, their combination with certain pre-existing socio-psychological circumstances and a lack of legislative safeguards has resulted in a rise in cyber violence against women. The pandemic has introduced our people to a new mode of shopping— online shopping, more preferred for leading the new normal life. As a result, e-commerce platform has become a booming sector in our country. According to news reports, Bangladesh currently has 2,500 e-commerce sites and a huge number of unofficial online shops run by women selling items worth over $2 billion, making it the 46th largest country in terms of e-commerce sales globally. Furthermore, according to the monthly business assessment (2019) of the Industrial Development Leasing Company of Bangladesh Limited, more than 300,000 Bangladeshi retailers use Facebook accounts for business purposes. Women own more than 50% of these businesses. Bangladesh's internet business scene has been revolutionised by Facebook and other social media. In the country, the social networking platform has 30 million members and 50,000 company sites. No doubt, this sector is helping our women to be financially empowered. Like women entrepreneurs, the growth of social media influencers in the e-commerce sector has become pivotal for advertising several goods and products as well. They, along with women entrepreneurs, make numerous video contents and take photographs with paid partnerships for branding products of certain online or offline-based shops. Their stories, videos, and photos help other women entrepreneurs to catch more customers. The followers of the influencers in social media often show a clear reflection of their popularity nowadays.
Online violence against technology-based women is a hotbed of danger, both intersectional and intergenerational. As the coronavirus spread, attacks on women increased both in families and online, but online violence is rarely addressed in newspapers, prompting us to emphasise. We often see in terms of celebrity women, defaming news go viral more than that of men in our social media. In terms of women entrepreneurs and social media influencers, they face the same challenges.
These sorts of online violence have long-term consequences. This online violence is creating a depressing situation for women. Moreover, online violence done by the perpetrators intentionally or unintentionally is causing tech-based female entrepreneurs vulnerable physically, socially or psychologically. Threats and abuse on the internet not only attempt to stifle or restrict their voices and businesses, but they also have an influence on women's safety offline. This is because gender-based violence against women on the internet is an expression of violence against women in the real world. Threats of violence online are causing many women to fear for their physical safety offline, jeopardising their ability to continue their professions. No doubt, these entrepreneurs are fighting to bridge the existing gap between men and women in our country. Through their financial independence, they are actively participating in decision-making and other pivotal activities of their families. They are also contributing to the national economy as well as helping reduce the unemployment problem. But it is a matter of regret that like other sorts of physical violence, women are the worst sufferers in the cyber sector too. Many women entrepreneurs are now backing off from their businesses for not having the courage to face online violence against them.
To deal with the growing number of cyber threats, Bangladesh police have established a cyber-wing, which is in charge of monitoring cybercrime and chasing down offenders. However, online gender-based violence is not addressed as a separate activity. Moreover, tech women are extremely suffering due to not having any legal regulatory body to tackle online violence against women.
We are living in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) era, which allows people all over the world to connect, network and exchange ideas in ways that were before impossible. The internet, like the real world, has become dangerous for technology-based women entrepreneurs along with general women and young girls. Violence against women is now widely recognised as a public health issue and a major human rights violation on a global scale. It is a significant risk factor for women's health, with far-reaching implications for their physical and emotional wellbeing. For creating awareness of all forms of violence against women, the United Nation has declared 25 November as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Our society needs to recognise the contribution of online women entrepreneurs for helping them to be empowered. Moreover, the agenda of making digital Bangladesh and women empowerment would not be possible without creating a safe place for these women. Civil society and women organisations should come forward to address this online violence against women to combat this issue for creating a safe place for women entrepreneurs in the e-commerce sector.
organisation at Dhaka University