Manual introduction

From Gender and Tech Resources

This manual came out of the Gender and Technology Institute, organised by Tactical Technology Collective and the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) at the end of 2014. The event brought together almost 80 participants and facilitators, mostly from the Global South, to focus on some of the issues faced daily by women and trans* persons on the internet and to share strategies and tools for better protecting our privacy and security online.

Since then, the network has expanded, with the result that this manual has involved the input and review of a wide range of people, and is informed by the stories and creative practices of grassroots activists working all over the world. Many of whom have been using and developing alternative technologies for some time in order to tackle gender based violence and advance gender social justice around the world.

The internet is not a safe space for women and trans* people, and it is all too common to see the work of feminists and activists being deleted, (self)censored, and actively prevented from being seen, heard or read. In such a hostile environment, how then can we then as women and trans* persons develop trust when creating content and interacting with others online, and grow our trusted networks, to create safe space among us? This manual seeks to present some of the strategies and tools to help develop that trust so that women and trans* people can continue to safely enjoy the freedoms and empowerment that the internet offers.

The first part of the manual looks at the information traces you leave behind on the internet, and offers various strategies and tools available for taking control of these traces. It presents what metadata and digital shadows are, and why these matter; how you can minimise, create and manage new online identities; and what are the risks and potentials involved in using different types of identities such as anonymity, pseudonyms, collective names and real names.

The second part focuses on safe spaces. It starts with the online world and discusses how safe spaces can be created for community-building, organising and support. Then, it looks at some creative tactics for addressing exclusion and harassment of women and trans* people online. Finally it discusses different methods for creating safe space in the physical world where women and trans* persons can learn about privacy, digital security and technologies in order to be empowered and further contribute to those fields.

While you're reading this manual (and putting some of what's in it into practice), it's important to keep some things in mind.

Including gender into privacy and security requires us to take an intersectional approach - one that engages with a diversity of culture, social status, gender identification, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity and other power structures that create inequality for individuals and communities with regard to their access to security tools and practices. Besides, this is also based on the recognition that specific forms of violence against women, trans*, and queer persons happen in a structural way along the entirety of the technological cycle - from the moment a specific form of technology is assembled, to its usage, right through to its disposal. If this particular manual is, of course not able to address the entire scope of this; it is nonetheless useful to keep the big picture in mind. This includes:

  • Acknowledging that gender gaps, discrimination and gender-based violence are structural, and influence the conditions of women and trans* persons in relation to their experience of and with ICTs.
  • Understanding how different women and trans* persons in different conditions find ways of accessing technologies, and how they can protect themselves and others in the process.
  • Sharing skills and knowledge on the ground so that women and trans* persons can strengthen their freedom of opinion and expression.
  • Remembering it is important to make women and trans* experiences in the management and development of technologies visible (not just the digital ones, but also appropriated ones like health and self-care technologies for instance).
  • Working to enable a greater participation of women and trans* persons in institutions which contribute to the governance of internet, as well as inside companies and organisations delivering services which support our networking and online identity.
  • Imagining liberating technologies where everybody is truly welcomed and respected is not work for women and trans* persons only, it is the responsibility of anybody involved in creating an inclusive,accessible, decentralised and neutral internet.

With these points in mind, we should ask ourselves when choosing to use a specific technology, if it is a liberating or alienating one for other groups and individuals. Liberating technologies can be defined as those that do not harm and are fairly produced and distributed; that are rooted in free and open-source software and free culture principles; and that are designed by default against gender based violence, surveillance, opacity and programmed obsolescence [1].

Because of these, it's important to have a look at the Feminist Principles on the Internet [2] developed by the APC in 2014, when they gathered a group of woman human rights defenders and feminist activists to a Global Meeting on Gender, Sexuality and the Internet, with the mandate to come up with a first list of principles. Those look at the ways in which the internet can be a transformative public and political space for women, trans* and feminists. They place tech-related violence on the continuum of gender-based violence, making clear the structural aspect of violence linking, expanding and/or mirroring online attitudes with offline prejudices. The principles also highlight surveillance and lack of privacy as patriarchal tools, whether they are used by the state, private individuals or corporations to control women's and trans* persons' bodies and thoughts.

How to use this manual

This manual is written for anybody that is interested in including gender with an intersectional approach to digital security and privacy practices. It aims to raise questions in your mind and inspire you, not to give you step-by-step configuration advice on X tool (but it gives you links where you can find that!). It is also not a comprehensive security guide, it focuses on a few dimensions speaking to the needs of women and trans* persons. There are however some first-step digital security and privacy measures that you should already have in place before reading this manual (see what's recommended:

The manual is broken into a shorter printed (and online) version and a more extensive wiki. The wiki goes in depth,explaining how to manage identities online and build safe spaces, in addition to giving examples and instructions on how to turn abstract concepts into practice. The wiki will continue to be added to by the community from the Gender and Tech Institute. We intend it to be a repository of critical resources for women's human rights defenders and activists from the global south and the global north.

[1] A longer version of the methodological aspects of this introduction can be found hereː

[2] The Feminists principles of the internet can be consulted hereː