Wanting to be a journalist is probably the first and only thing I have ever been so sure about in my life. And over the years a lot of my ideas about journalism have also been shaped by my access to the internet. When I was younger, my idea about journalism was simply restricted to writing for printed newspapers or reading the news and reporting for the handful of news channels we had in Bangladesh, who I thought were thoroughly unimaginative. However, as I grew, so did the number of news channels in TV and my access to the internet that allowed me to venture into different aspects of journalism. I learned to understand that the field of journalism does not have to be restricted to which I thought it was. It is now much bigger, somewhat easier to get into and if I work hard enough, I would be able to gain experiences that not many other fields would be willing to offer me.
The internet has caused the world to become smaller, in a sense that people now have more connectivity and greater access to information. Publishing ones work is much easier nowadays. This is also a result of a greater readership online. Being able to publish my work, allows me to have a greater audience than what I would even five or ten years back. Internet platforms like blogging sites are some great places where I get practice of having my work published. I can start to gain experiences, something which I already am, and a bigger firsthand knowledge of the life that I eventually wish to embrace.
Coming from a third world country, technology, especially the internet, allows young girls like me to come in contact with the most wonderful things that the world has to offer without having to get up from our seats almost at all. Some of us lucky ones have learnt to dream big, bigger than what our parents could at our age, and we strive each and every day so that we can realize them. I say ‘some’ because there are still many people here in Bangladesh who are yet to come in contact with the wonders that technology and the internet has to offer. I have always wanted to work for CNN and work as my country’s first ever correspondent to the news casting giant. But I guess, part of my dream is also to be able to empower people more, especially girls and women, technologically through my work so that they can also start to dream big like I do now.
Honestly, I am one of the lucky minorities who had access to the internet (women and men included). However, due to the huge amount of electricity outages, added to the high prices of computer hardware, discrimination, superstitions and unawareness by people living in rural areas, it automatically becomes hard to create a good working environment with computers. The issues of superstition, unawareness and discrimination go hand in hand in Bangladesh in most cases. Most of the public computers, outside the two largest cities, Dhaka and Chittagong, with internet access (which can be very rare) are usually occupied by men and they rarely let women work in them. This is also supported by the fact that a lot of people believe that this will create problems to their lives, they also feel threatened in many cases when women get access to the internet since they see this ‘unsupervised activities by women as inappropriate’ and threatening to relationships. This is justified by the fact that people from the rural areas lack the knowledge in the benefits that technology and internet can provide.
These are some of the basic issues why most women are so far away from logging on and participating fully online in Bangladesh. In retrospect, coming from a poor country like ours, most women here living outside a city centered cosmopolitan environment do not even know what the internet is and even if they do, they do not know how to use it. This could be because of the issue of lack of access and training in computer technology for most of the women living outside the main cities here, since that’s where they have the least access.
Bangladesh is starting to take its baby steps towards more accessibility of the digital world, however we also have more pressing issues in the physical world that need to be dealt with first. People, especially women, find their physical safety threatened even in the most unexpected of places here and this is just a single rock in the mountain. Similarly, there is a serious lack of women-friendly spaces in most parts of the country which adds to women fearing for their safety. Unless these are tackled properly first, the aim of having people logging on and participating fully online can be an extremely hard goal to achieve.
On a more positive note, I can happily claim that Bengalis are famously considered the ‘knowledge-cravers’ in this part of the world. Hence, the local libraries can have almost a pivotal effect when it comes to making internet more accessible and easier to use. The most effective way to make the access easier for women by the local library at this moment would be to introduce separate computers with internet access for women only. Assists could be provided to those who are completely new to this, so that in the future they themselves can contribute to helping others be more active online. The initiators, however, need to make sure that this is seen through and that this does not get discontinued eventually. It is not uncommon here in Bangladesh for an initiative to be discontinued (usually simply out of the lethargy of initiators) after carrying it out for some time. Unfortunately one of the reasons for this can be that people can be very rigid of change.
Currently working as, besides continuing my education, the Action Officer for Durnibar Foundation, a new non-profit organization, we are trying to work with schools in rural areas so that we can provide free classes and training in computers and how to use the internet to students, especially to girls. We believe that they deserve to experience the wonders that computers and the internet has to offer which sadly is something most of us part of the ‘modern’ generation have learnt to take for granted. We also plan to help support local libraries in rural areas so that they can set up computers with internet access so that a wider range of people can get access to this as well.
After having tackled so many problems just to be able to create a good working environment with the computer, there is always the other big issue that surfaces: i.e. cyber-crime. When it comes to my safety in accessing the internet, anti-viruses and firewalls definitely offer me some security which I feel safe about. And then the fact that I’m mostly browsing from my personal computer. But the question still remains. Cyber-crime is still there, and on the rise. And like anything else, this cannot simply be fought singularly. Everyone needs to come together for it. For companies: they need to keep up with recent crime incidents and offer updates accordingly and regularly. For the governments: They need to monitor sites that are hosted on the web and check whether they are appropriate and ‘safe’ for use.
There is also the topic with rising importance: Body Image Issues. The internet has also given people greater access to criticism and negativity. By being anonymous online, people are often protected by the same technology that liberates so many others, while they criticism, stigmatize and reinforce the structural discrimination that exists in society, online. This is especially harmful for women as they are often criticized much more harshly, leading to body-image complications, losing confidence and faith, harassment over the internet and often leading to severe results (even suicides). So greater awareness about internet etiquette and protecting oneself from the same should come alongside greater access to this new technology. Governments and technology companies simultaneously need to review laws and repercussions to protect victims against such behavior.
There is still a very long way to go when it comes to women from all walks of life participating fully online. However, like many others, I do dream to be there when this will actually happen. Till then, let’s keep our hopes up. Let us keep ourselves safe. Let’s strive for a safer activity online amongst women so that everyone can dream as big as I do now.