Digital technologies have only served to intensify tensions among a range of connected concerns: national security, the security of individuals, and policies or laws set in place to ensure such security in the digital ecosystem. This is especially apparent when it comes to the security of women and girls. As a matter of fact, the orientation of digital data is such – devoid of attention to people and places1 – that it sheds light on the fragility of legal certainties and boundaries, which becomes ‘increasingly “undone” by digital technologies and future-oriented security practices’.2 To address these rapid changes, policymakers have opted to explore areas of new knowledge as they emerge in controversies of mass surveillance, fraud, harassment, and the like as they would in the physical realm. Unfortunately, this has taken place through systems of governance that, once again, leave out the interests of certain groups, be it women, sexual minorities, or other minority groups. What is required now is the advancement of more critical approaches to digital security, especially for the protection of women and girls.
In March 2022, the Singapore government tabled a white paper3 on women’s development following a year-long consultation with the public. The paper acknowledged, along with other key areas for change, the need for greater efforts to create safe spaces in the digital ecosystem. Singapore is among the safest cities in the world yet sexual harassment and other forms of offence against women persist and have taken on new arenas such as going online. “Efforts must begin upstream,” the white paper highlights. Hence, Singapore will continue efforts to educate students on appropriate behaviours and laws that protect them against sexual abuse and harassment either online or in-person. “Refreshed” Character and Citizenship Education (CCE) in schools, gradually implemented since 2021, “emphasizes moral values, cyber wellness, and the importance of respecting personal boundaries online and in person”.4 While targeting younger users of digital space at an early age through school curricula is an excellent way of sensitising users of the various dangers lurking online, equal emphasis should be placed on the creation of content and services, (upstream) the flow of information (along various pathways) and consumption of information and content (downstream). This would include appropriate checks and follow-up actions at each of these points along the value chain, and periodic evaluations of these checks and actions to assess their effectiveness in protecting users, female users in particular.
This NTS Insight examines the commitment to create online safe spaces for women and girls in Singapore. An online safe space is a virtual platform where women and girls can freely state their opinions, seek support, and engage in discussions without fear of harassment or judgment. Safe spaces can also be spaces where women and girls feel free to express themselves on common digital fora without any repercussions. This space will have to be governed with a gendered understanding of the use of different online platforms. The central premise of the Insight lies in why there is a need for such spaces and recommends additional measures to ensure that online violence against women and girls is eradicated.