Why Should We Protect our Digital Identities?

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The World Bank has defined Digital Identity as a collection of electronically captured and stored identity attributes that uniquely describe a person within a given context and are used for electronic transactions. Traditionally, a physical identity was assigned to an individual/entity in the form of ID-cards, ration cards, driver’s license, etc to facilitate movement of people, goods and services, funds and other resources. This ensured that an individual/ entity is who/what they claimed to be. With technological progressions, identity was digitised as interactions and transactions advanced to the digital medium through internet and computers. To adapt to this, attributes such as biometric details, phone numbers and social security numbers were electronically encoded to allow the identification of an individual or an entity in the world of internet.

Digital identity has had a significant effect on almost every sector and industry in the global economy. It has created transparency, traceability and coherence in the functioning of the economic order. Since it is easier to identify individuals within and across borders, governments can effectively provide welfare services, entities and individuals can promptly carry out financial transactions and people can undertake cross-border travels with lower risks.

Social inclusion is the effective outcome of having digitised identity systems. While infrastructure for digital identity are in place in most of the developed countries such as US, Canada and Europe, India launched the Aadhar card, in the largest identity program in 2016. The program aims to assign a vast majority of its population a unique nationally accepted identification and allow them easy access to certain essential services such as cooking gas, water connections, healthcare etc.

Digital identity has also evolved paperless transactions and streamlined business processes by simplifying identity authentication which earlier obstructed cross border trade and transfer of resources. Moreover, debit and credit cards, one click mobile payments has upped the performance of the financial sector.

Along the lines of verification, digital identity has ensured secured travel for legitimate travelers and further enhanced the travel industry. It has largely controlled travel threats which emerge from militant activities, civil wars, insurgencies and terrorism.

 

 

Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

 

Another kind of digital identity was created when social media took over almost two generations under its wings with the advent of smartphones. With the ubiquitous nature of the cyberworld it has been impossible to stay aloof of Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, WeChat, Weibo, Renren and even LinkedIn to connect and interact worldwide. This identity is shaped by the online behaviour through interactions, clicks, games, purchases and searches.

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While we physically owned our ID-cards in the past and used it at our discretion for face-to-face authentication, the digitisation of identity managed to loosen this control. At every point of consent, we click “I agree” and place our private information in the hands of the service providers including the financial institutions, governments and private players such as social media companies, merchants, media application developers, various payment points etc. While a certain trust in the governments exists underlying the commitment to a social contract and their permanence, the use and store of our data encoded under a digitised identity remains ambiguous. Furthermore, we share private data across social media conversations, and believe that the information we provide at the time of signing up for these services is harmless — a fair trade for free use.  However, virtual world activities have influenced more than just consumerist behaviour.

There are several instances which highlight that private information was leaked by compromising the security of digital identity systems. Snowden’s disclosures on NSA spying, Hillary Clinton’s use of private email servers, the alleged Russian hacking of the Democratic National Congress’s servers, the possible plundering of 500 million Yahoo accounts, the Aadhaar biometrics data breaches are developments that demonstrate that laws have unfortunately not kept pace with the technological developments. Another significant incident that stoked the data protection debate was the recent data breach at Facebook in the Cambridge Analytica incident, reportedly influenced the voting behaviour of hundreds of Americans in favour of the election of President Donald Trump in 2016. It is imperative to understand that digital identity entails majority of the risks that a physical identity card would.

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With the use of digital technologies across the world at an all-time high, and internet connectivity to reach over 200 billion devices to the internet by 2020, the vulnerabilities remain significant.

Amidst this, European Union recently implemented the “General Data Protection Regulation” to empower individuals with the rights to demand companies reveal or delete the personal data they hold. It has brought under its ambit almost every company that holds and processes consumer data and further inform the consumer what they are “blindly” consenting to.

Although this law extends itself over a vast area of jurisdiction, until other states implement the relevant legislations and build secured infrastructures, the risks to digital identity will persist. Individually, we can only secure ourselves by making informed choices about consenting to the varied services that the digital world offers.

Shivani Gayakwad is a Volunteer Researcher at One Future Collective and a researcher for Compliance, Forensics and Intelligence at Control Risks India. She has expertise in South Asian politics and interest in women’s menstrual health and financial independence.

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Women’s Economic Empowerment: Financial Independence and Happiness

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Here’s to stronger, ambitious, content and empowered women.

The Oxford dictionary defines empowerment as “the process of becoming stronger and more confident, especially in controlling one’s life and claiming one’s rights”. While the Indian constitution bestows upon the women six fundamental rights, I believe that in most circumstances, women are not in control of their lives enough to make free-willed and rational choices. A major part of this empowerment is derived from being financially independent. To understand the importance of this thought it would be only advisable to look at the women who are financially dependent.

We are aware of the patriarchal society that we live in and hence are naturally, socially and psychologically conditioned to make choices while keeping in mind the men-folk of the family and the prospect of being answerable to them in major instances. This I believe is problematic in the larger context of a woman’s position in the society. For example, women generally chart out their career paths in such a way that the destination is marriage. Following this, they inevitably take a break to fulfil the expectations of attending to the needs of the family while surrendering themselves to the financial care of their husbands. Although the notion lacks statistics one could always look around to find many women making this choice with the guidance of the society. This presents a grave picture in the context of a report released by the Union Health Ministry stating that approximately 31 % of married women experienced physical, sexual, or emotional violence by their spouses. In addition, domestic violence remained “the most complained of” issue as stated by the Ministry of Women and Child Development from 2015–2017 in their annual report. Both these highlight that financial dependence on husbands only results in a state of helplessness further preventing them from moving out of tensed relationships. Although we have laws in place which let women be able to support themselves, the implementation is poor.

                                                                                    Source: Greenarea.me

While this is the dismal state of the dependents, there is a large number of women working across several sectors to earn their livelihoods. A paycheck or a daily wage gives a sense of achievement and confidence to make further choices without any obligations or burden. The idea of splurging on travels and shopping, making business investments or supporting one’s family during medical emergencies without worrying about borrowing money is a huge boost to the one’s self-worth. Financial independence fills oneself with confidence and the strength to control situations. This is helpful on the account of divorces which women would easily opt for if they had the financial resources to start afresh.

More importantly, financial independence allows a woman’s voice to be heard, get exposure in the world and various options to improve interpersonal relationships. Isn’t it a great boost to your morale on accounts when family members, colleagues or friends turn to you for opinions because of an understanding that these have been informed by your experiences and independent choices. The independence further instils a sense of responsibility that ensures the sustenance of their finances for the future. As this inspires other women to make such choices, it will reiterate the importance of education and vocational training to be able to earn this independence with certainty.

From the several stories I have personally heard as well as the ones I read while writing this article, these are the reasons why I believe women should strive to be financially independent:

  • To support oneself during unfortunate life occurrences such as health emergencies or death.
  • To support oneself and one’s family by paying bills and sharing the ever increasing cost of living.
  • To be able to pay for further education or make investments in dream projects.
  • To be able to buy oneself opportunities to learn, explore and save for future goals.
  • To be able to feel happy and content with one’s choices.

In this regard, there’s a famed quote by Ayn Rand which informs us about the importance of happiness and its derivation from the freedom to choose our goals and achieve them.

The pursuit of happiness means a man’s right to set his own goals, to chose his values and to achieve them. Happiness means that state of consciousness which comes from the achievement of your values. Now what can be more important than happiness. Happiness means a profound guiltless, rational feeling of self-esteem and pride in one’s own achievement.”

The need to be free and maintain a list of goals for this lends a sense of purpose to life and its achievements and outcomes will result in complete happiness.

 

Feature Image Credit: Rutgers.international

 

Shivani Gayakwad is a Volunteer Researcher at One Future Collective and a researcher for Compliance, Forensics and Intelligence at Control Risks India. She has expertise in South Asian politics and interest in women’s menstrual health and financial independence.

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Let’s Talk About Menstruation with Ease

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The significance of dialogue and discussion around ‘the red week of our month’.

 

Why do we hesitate to say that we bleed

Yes, every month for at least thirty long years

It is blood that flows through our vagina

But unfortunately on rags and cloths

Even the privilege of sanitary napkins

Is wrapped in whispers you see

We say it’s that time of the month

And that is enough a reason

To cancel our trips, dance classes

And even a temple visit

Why do we not accept this bleeding

Much biological without societal strings

This is neither impurity nor weakness

This is just menstruation, my monthly routine.

Today mainstream Hindi movies such as PadMan and Phullu have been seen to take a step to acknowledge the taboos around menstruation and unhealthy practices that prevail along with it. With this growth in the discourse regarding menstruation, it is seemingly easier to talk about it. However, hesitance still prevails among women and men while they speak of it. How many men and women actually step out with a packet of sanitary napkins without a black plastic cover or even talk about the importance of menstrual cycle, the need to keep oneself clean?

A term as basic as this is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “the process in a woman of discharging blood and other material from the lining of the uterus at intervals of about one lunar month from puberty until the menopause, except during pregnancy”. In biological terms, it is understood as the discharge of blood due to the inability of the ovum in a woman’s body to fertilise, thus causing its discharge through blood and other material at an interval of every 28 days. Despite the simplicity of its definition, we use words and phrases such as “chums”, “that time of the month”, “I’m dirty/impure”, “monthly sickness” to disguise the flow of menstrual blood. Similar descriptions are also seen to be used in multiple vernacular languages.

The problem persists deeper than just the terminology used colloquially, the fact that women bleed renders them impure. Not only does it seclude them from the community, religious and social gatherings, but it also becomes a major reason for girls to drop out of schools. The reason for this being that blood entails shame and curse. “What will happen if others find out”, “She cannot participate in physical activities”, and so on.

Members of a low-income school, run by the Teach for India group working in urban areas, observed that though the number of boys and girls is mostly equal in primary school, the number of girls hugely declines in middle school and stands at the ratio of one girl per six boys. This is sufficient to suggest a worrisome situation in rural India which is further rooted in conservatist practices wherein women sleep separately, are prohibited entry into the kitchen and places of worship during their menstrual cycle.

The issue regarding menstruation is the taboo and secrecy conditioned in us by the society, our families as well as our school teachers. It is high time that we understand that menstrual cycle isn’t any of God’s punitive actions or a result of witchcraft. More importantly, it isn’t blood cancer or any other disease as well. Why should we use cloths or rags and hide them after every wash? These practices and beliefs only worsen the reproductive health of women leaving them vulnerable to infections in the urinary tract and vagina. In addition to this, it places women at the lower end of education levels and weakens their economic contribution to the country. This, in turn, tilts the balance in favour of men allowing them to thrive on their contribution to the society and economy. The reiteration of such conservatism is strengthened by the silence surrounding menstruation. While it is important for older women to unshackle these norms, it is equally important for men to understand the cycle as a natural biological phenomenon. One way to broaden the discourse on the subject is through open discussion within families, open discussions with the fathers and even schools that the taboos may be broken.

In the course of my research about menstruation, I found that the discourse in the English language, although more recently in India, has been flexible about menstruation, its surrounding taboos and the necessity of hygienic conditions while bleeding. It is disturbing to see that information disseminated about the subject in the Hindi language is limited to the discussion about “what is menstrual cycle”, “rules to be followed during periods” and “menstruation and religious prayers”. Elementary google searches yielded that there was a lack of commentary on the subject, hence obliterating any discussion on the prevailing taboos surrounding it. Even a widely read Hindi newspaper such as Dainik Jagran had minimal articles about menstrual taboos or about the recent movies which aim to diminish them. It is undeniable that this orthodoxy is deeply embedded in our socio-religious practices. However, the language also remained obstinate in attempts to transform such beliefs.

While it is essential to talk about menstruation, it is equally important to initiate a discourse in languages which have a wider outreach to the local Indians. It is here that one needs to be able to say without shame “Yes, I bleed every month”. The moment we all accept it as a part and parcel of our normal routine, it will no longer be a reason to outcast us in any society.

 

Feature Image Credit: chuttersnap on Unsplash

 

Shivani Gayakwad is a Volunteer Researcher at One Future Collective and a Researcher for Compliance, Forensics and Intelligence at Control Risks India. She has expertise in South Asian politics and an ardent interest in women’s menstrual health and financial independence.

 

References:

TedX Talks. A Taboo-Free Way to Talk about Periods | Aditi Gupta | TEDxGatewayWomenYouTube, YouTube, 29 Oct. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v.

Menon, Aneesha. “The Nirmal Bharat Yatra — Breaking the Menstrual Taboo And Other Barriers.” The Better India, The Better India, 2 Nov. 2012, www.thebetterindia.com/6221/the-nirmal-bharat-yatra-breaking-the-menstrual-taboo-and-other-barriers/.

Singh, Tanaya. “Why Should Girls Quit Schools Once They Get Their Periods? Two Women in Mumbai Fight the Taboo.” The Better India, The Better India, 27 May 2016, www.thebetterindia.com/55968/mukti-project-mumbai-menstrual-health/.

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Queer Infocus | July 2020

The Beginning, Middle and End: A Tryst with Depression