Hackathon to kick off new AfA's efforts to protect women and girls from online dangers like sexual harassment

The community hackathon is the first project by the Singapore Together Alliance for Action to tackle online dangers, especially those targeted at women and girls.
The community hackathon is the first project by the Singapore Together Alliance for Action to tackle online dangers, especially those targeted at women and girls.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Forty teams will take on the challenge of coming up with innovative solutions to make the online space a safer and kinder place for women and girls.

The community hackathon, which was launched on Wednesday (July 21), is the first project by the Singapore Together Alliance for Action (AfA) to tackle online dangers, especially those targeted at women and girls.

This initiative by the Ministry of Communications and Information's (MCI) is one of several Alliances for Action formed under the Singapore Together effort to get the public and private sectors involved in shaping policies, tackling challenges and seizing opportunities.

The AfA to tackle online dangers - engagement sessions on its formation started earlier this year - will take on gender-based harassment issues such as non-consensual one-to-many publication of images and personal details online, unwelcomed one-to-one interactions online ranging from sexual harassment to online grooming, and the existence of online platforms that encourage vice and harm.

The hackathon, a collaboration between MCI, DBS Bank and the Singapore judiciary, will see 40 diverse teams, comprising practising lawyers, law students, public officers, and DBS employees, trying to generate solutions over the next two months to problem issues affecting women and girls in online spaces.

Ms Debbie Lam, managing director for legal, compliance and secretariat at DBS, said the issue of online dangers "is especially relevant given the unprecedented pace of digital adoption in the wake of Covid-19". 

One of the areas that hackathon participants could possibly work on is improving the practicality of the steps victims need to take to get legal action.

Mr Tan Ken Hwee, chief transformation and innovation officer for the Singapore judiciary, said at the launch that new solutions by the participants could be game-changing.

"We're currently working on improving all these things anyway, but if a hackathon participant decides to chew on that aspect of the problem, then I am very excited to see what sort of solutions they can think about," he said.

Participants have to submit their proposals by Sept 17 and will pitch their ideas before a panel of judges on Oct 7. The winners will be announced on Oct 28.

The AfA to tackle online dangers is co-chaired by Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and National Development Sim Ann and Parliamentary Secretary for Communications and Information Rahayu Mahzam.

Speaking at the launch, Ms Sim said: "Over the past six months, the community, industry and government have had meaningful conversations on how we can close the digital safety gap for women and girls in Singapore. I am heartened not only by the enthusiasm of stakeholders, but also by the quality of ideas they have put forth."


Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and National Development Sim Ann and Parliamentary Secretary for Communications and Information Rahayu Mahzam at the launch of the Singapore Together Alliance for Action on online dangers on July 21, 2021. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

Noting that there is recognition that online dangers are a grave concern to society, Ms Sim added that there is a collective will to help women and girls close the digital safety gap so that they can enjoy the same degree of freedom and confidence online as they do in real life.

The AfA on online dangers will focus on enhancing the freedom and safety of women and girls online by providing assistance to victims, creating a safer space online through education, and shaping norms around responsible use of online spaces and digital devices.

It will start with 48 members across the people, public and private sectors to address issues in five key clusters - public education, research, victim support, youth engagement, and volunteerism.

The clusters will have specific aims ranging from developing educational resources and conducting studies to counselling and legal support and campus advocacy.

The number of cases involving technology-facilitated sexual violence is on the rise, according to police statistics.

There were 124 cases in 2018, such as involving unwanted sexual messages and non-consensual sharing of intimate images, up from 46 cases in 2016.

Ms Rahayu said: "These incidents show that the Internet presents a double-edged sword, especially for women and girls. On the one hand, it provides vital spaces for individuals to seek new knowledge and opportunities for self-expression. On the other, it is increasingly a vector for abusers.

"The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened this situation as people spend more time online, therefore increasing the exposure of vulnerable individuals to threats."

One-third of the starting members of the AfA on online dangers are men, said Ms Sim.

"We welcome in particular the participation of our male members because it shows that they are very supportive of women's concerns, the cause of protecting women and girls online, and their perspectives are going to be invaluable," she said.

Mr Joel Lim, managing director of ZYRUP Media and a member of the AfA, said: "While this is an issue that mostly affects women and girls, I think it does not mean that only women and girls can be involved in tackling it. Men should also step forward to be allies and support women and girls."

Individuals who are interested in tackling online dangers and contributing to the alliance can indicate their interest at this website.