Government and law enforcement agencies around the world, including in South Africa, are not doing enough to protect women from online abuse or prosecute perpetrators, according to the 2014-2015 Web Foundation Web Index.

The Web Index researches the internet’s contribution to social, economic and political progress around the world and measures levels of political, economic, gender and social inequality on the web in 86 countries, ranking each country from best to worst.

A look at the gender equality chapter on the Web Index reveals that in 74% of the ranked countries, responses to ICT-related violence against women remains wholly inadequate because law enforcement and courts not taking appropriate action in situations where internet tools (such as social media) are used to commit acts of gender-based violence.

The index looked at implementation and policy commitment, assessing the extent to which government and civil society groups are using the internet to expand access to sexual and reproductive health rights advice and services, and to give support to victims of gender-based violence.

The map below shows South Africa scored four out of 10 for the support it provides to victims of online abuse and a low three out of 10 for prosecution of perpetrators. (The US is ranked as the country that offers the best support and prosecution for online gender-based violence.)

“Policy action to assess and overcome the gender gap has been sluggish. Only 30% of the Web Index countries score higher than a five for implementing concrete targets for gender equity in ICT access and use,” says The Web Foundation. “Better training and clear, balanced legal guidance for police and courts is a priority to ensure an effective law enforcement response without trampling on freedom of expression or privacy,” the foundation says.

At the moment, no formal regulation against online gender abuse exists in South Africa.

Online service providers also have a part to play, says the foundation, by improving “their own user policies, including through providing transparency on their reporting and redress procedures; engaging with the perspectives of women beyond North America and Europe and broadening their human rights policies to include clear commitment and standards for respecting women’s rights.”

The foundation has also issued out a calling on policy-makers to create opportunities for women and poor and marginalised groups by investing more in ICTs to overcome key barriers in health, education, agriculture and gender equity.

You can read the full report and see how South Africa ranks in other chapters on The Web Index’s website.

[Source – The Web Index, Image – CC 2.0 by Wikimedia Commons]