Protecting and promoting women's voices online

I believe in the strength of women and the power of women’s voices.

I believe that women gain strength and solidarity when they support each other.

Given these beliefs, I have dedicated my career to building initiatives aimed at empowering women.

Yesterday, I had the honour of launching the eSafety Office’s new pilot program: Women Influencing Tech Spaces (WITS).

WITS is an initiative to protect and promote women’s voices online. It is based on the premise that every woman deserves to have a safe, positive and empowering experience online.

Critically, WITS draws upon the stories, skills and strategies of women who have experienced and successfully worked to combat cyber abuse.

Having worked in the high tech industry over the past 20 years, I have been at the forefront of advances in technology and the immense benefits this has brought. Technology can serve as a great leveller and I have seen social media become a powerful tool for women to engage, connect, communicate, learn and grow.

Sadly, I have also witnessed a dwindling civility in online discourse, with women disproportionately having personalised, sexualised and gender-focused vitriol aimed squarely at them on the Internet. I came to the realisation that social media does surface the reality—and the underbelly—of humanity.

Women of stature and with opinions, like those in politics and media, women from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, women who identify as LGBTQI and women with disabilities are especially targeted. Even female athletes who are excelling on the field or the court are finding that their online profiles have become a contact sport as well.

When it comes to reports into the eSafety Office, women are also over-represented. Two thirds of our cyber abuse and image-based abuse complaints involve women. It troubles me greatly that social media, which should be a tool for women to raise their voices, is often the platform on which they are silenced.

Cyber abuse targeted at women is a complex issue. It is intrinsically connected to the misogyny and gender inequality that exists within society.

I know this is a difficult issue to discuss but the Internet should not be used as a tool for debasement. We can—indeed we must, take steps to address this issue.

As eSafety Commissioner, WITS is part of my commitment to addressing the issue. My clear objective is to give women the psychological armour to counteract cyber abuse and interact online with impact and confidence.

We do this through the WITS online platform. Here, women can access a collection of videos of inspiring women sharing their experiences of cyber abuse and how to combat it.

They can also access information about taking action and a range of resilience skills and strategies. The resilience tips and techniques, in particular, is a suite of new materials aimed at enhancing the mental wellbeing of women online.

Part of this initative includes the eSafety Office co-hosting quarterly WITS workshops with corporates and other organisations who are committed to empowering and protecting women. This is about equipping women with the knowledge of when to engage, how to engage—and when to digitally walk away.

And most importantly, we’re using social media to amplify the WITS message. Through the hashtag #womenwithWITS, women can share their stories, skills and strategies for combatting cyber abuse.

By joining the WITS conversation, women will not only empower themselves: they will empower other women.

But as I said earlier, this is not a women’s issue. It is a societal issue.

We must all therefore commit to addressing cyber abuse targeted at women.

We must all contribute to protecting and promoting women’s voices online.

In creating a more respectful and tolerant online world for women, we will create a better online world for everyone.

This is our opportunity.

I look forward to seeing you online—#womenwithWITS.