Context - Distance

From Gender and Tech Resources

Context and distance traveled

“Securing Online and Offline Freedoms for Women: Expression, Privacy and Digital Inclusion” is a project coordinated by Tactical Technology Collective and funded by the Swedish International Cooperation Development Agency and in collaboration with the APC women programme. The project aims at strengthening a global network of Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRD) and activists delivering advocacy, awareness raising and training to privacy and digital security. Through applied and participative research, adapted curricula and learning resources, training opportunities and support to base ground activities organised by its participants, we seek to mitigate and tackle the effects of online violence and ICT related threats against women, trans* persons and their collaborators. By training those to act as intermediaries-trainers within their organisations and communities, the project intends to strengthen freedom of expression and opinion.

As underlined by APC, “Technology related violence is a form of Violence Againt Women (VAW) that manifests in the context of new technologies. ICTs can be used to perpetrate violence in a variety of ways. Perpetrators of violence use mobile phones and the internet to stalk, harass and monitor women’s movements and activities”.1 As a result, vocal women are too often trapped in a situation where the internet is crucial to their work but is also the place where they are surveilled, harassed and punished for speaking out. These trends largely represent an extension of offline prejudices and discrimination and have several real-world effects. Overall, they represent a further deterrent to the participation of women and marginalised communities in democratic processes and a severe challenge to their ability to access the public sphere and exercise their fundamental rights. There is limited systematic documentation and analysis of these incidents, but there is growing recognition as to their prevalence globally and increasing demand for a high level of response. From our own research and direct work with WHRD during the past twelve months, we can confirm that this problem takes the same form across a wide range of change agents in different environments globally. At this stage, what we see in response to these attacks, regardless of the community, is a series of fractured and case-by-case actions and a small number of groups working consistently to raise awareness, document and understand the nature of the problem and seek solutions.

Because these new forms of violence have become more visible and pervasive in the last few years, individuals and organizations are increasingly willing to protect themselves as the overwhelming number of candidatures to our Gender and Technology Institute made clear, with over 350 applications submitted in less than three weeks. Then, through a process of rigorous review, all applications were pared down to 48 participants and a group of 18 facilitators were selected, who came from organisations such as SAFE, Protection International, Donestech, as well as APC and Tactical Tech, and adding the logistics team and some visitors, we were about 80 in total.

Many women and trans* persons still feel that digital security is not for them, because it often fails to take into account their realities and the specific threats they are facing. Moreover, there is a lack of technical confidence and know-how within priority communities. Currently a large bulk of this expertise has to come from outside and this raises two problems – first a lack of informed and appropriate technical advice, and second questions of trust and long-term ownership. WHRD need to feel they are part of the digital security field and that they are not just the recipients of focused trainings delivered by external actors and organisations. By becoming an active part of this extended network of digital security trainers and developers, they are able to build their own technical skills and in-home capacities and reach some type of sustainability and multiplier effect across time. Our first milestone consisted in the organisation of the Gender and Technology Institute, which gathered women human rights defenders from the global south to a week long training.

Besides two parallel tracks aimed at acquiring digital security training and privacy advocacy skills and the hands-on sessions focused on specific tools, the Institute included skill shares run by participants and lively evenings that went from self-organised, participant-driven sessions to more skill-sharing on digital tools in the self-organised hacklab, to spontaneous interactions in a chilled-out atmosphere.

By gathering all those participants together, with accordingly varied background and origins and with a broad palette of work and activism experiences and usage of technologies, we also aimed at mapping and documenting existing knowledge and experiences about how to introduce a gender dimension into privacy and digital security.

The GTI enabled the creation of a conversation coming from experiences located in 30 different countries about how we could develop practices that enable women, trans* persons and other groups at risk to include privacy and digital security into their lives, and how we could keep on learning while helping others to learn about those concepts, methods and tools once back home. Recurrently, our reduced amount of free time, fragmented and precarious lives and lack of individual and collective self-care cultures were pointed at as major challenges to become trainers on the ground. How can we include and pack those fast evolving privacy and digital security practices into our already very busy lives as human rights defenders and activists? How can we find collective mechanisms of support to keep advancing together and empower each other?

In the following, the focus will be on the three steps that allow to include gender in privacy and digital security practices. The steps include first, the relationship between gender roles and violence against women and technology, second, the reframing from exclusion and discrimination to inclusion and self-inclusion and finally, the intersectional and integrated (holistic) approach to understand gender, privacy and digital security.