End violence: Most significant change story from the Philippines
By Foundation for Media Alternatives for APCNews
Philippines, 26 June 2014
The APC End violence: Women’s rights and safety online project is changing women’s lives. We wanted to offer a closer, more personal look at individual women whose lives have been significantly impacted by the initiative. This week, we share the story of Britney Fae Corpuz, a transwoman activist and member of Gender and Development Advocates Filipinas, whose personal and organisational involvement changed after attending a trainers’ training on secure online communications.
Britney Fae Corpuz is a transwoman. She is a registered nurse but does not practise her profession in a hospital. Instead she takes in private clients.
Being the first born son, her father could not accept that Britney did not grow up to be a man. Britney recounts that her father would physically hurt her because of this. To prove that she can be successful whatever her chosen gender is, Britney finished her studies and passed the licensure examination for nurses.
Involvement with a transactivist organisation
In 2013, Britney joined an organisation called Gender and Development Advocates Filipinas or GANDA Filipinas for short. Before joining the organisation, she was a member of an organisation for bisexuals. Her involvement with GANDA Filipinas opened her eyes and her mind to the many issues of transwomen like her.
GANDA Filipinas was founded in April 2012 by Ms. Naomi Fontanos, its executive director, and a few of her closest transgender friends. GANDA Filipinas was founded to advocate on gender and development issues which they saw as a gap that the current LGBT advocacy and transactivism did not address. The organisation started out with a few members, but today it has more than 30.
ICT for advocacy
When Britney joined GANDA Filipinas, her skills and aptitude in using computer applications were recognised. She was made one of the three moderators of their Facebook account and she also has access to their official email account.
GANDA Filipinas started out as a small organisation and they wanted to recruit more members. To do this, they had to be more visible. They utilised existing social networking applications like Facebook and Twitter for people to learn more about their organisation and its advocacies. The people in the organisation recognised the growing number of people using social media and thus created a Facebook fan page for the group. This is where they post their photos, their activities, and their advocacies. To date, their Facebook account has more than 1,700 likes.
Need for digital security
Britney shares that before she joined GANDA Filipinas, their Facebook account was hacked. Somebody was able to take hold of their account and use it. The hackers used the photos uploaded on the page for their own purposes. Britney surmises that perhaps, somebody used a public space to access the page and did not log out properly. Or perhaps, it was easy to hack the page because it was easy to guess the password used. Back then, the organisation did not do anything about it. They did not report the incident to Facebook. They just created a new account.
Things changed after Britney attended the trainers’ training on secure online communications (SOC) organised by the Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA) in Baguio City on 3-5 October 2013.
Eighteen individuals representing various women’s and LGBT rights organisations participated in the training. FMA staff, together with invited resource persons, conducted the training to strengthen the capacity of organisations to address technology-related violence against women (VAW) by teaching them how to ensure security in online communications and ICT usage.
“Our online security was weak and something had to be done about it. It helped that I attended the SOC training,” said Britney. “I remembered what was taught to us during the discussion about passwords – they have to be a combination of phrases, not short, not easily identifiable to you, etc., and we applied this to our accounts.”
“At GANDA Filipinas, we meet every month to share with other members what activity we have attended, what we learned, and what happened in the event we attended,” said Britney. “I feel that we are more secure after having applied the things I learned from the training,” she continued.
Britney says she has applied what she learned from the training personally, and shared it with her organisation as well. “I learned a lot from the training and was able to share this learning with my organisation. I learned about safe browsing and protecting our data, especially through the use of appropriate passwords and encryption. I also learned about applications to prevent being tracked, as well as how to deal with online bullies.”
The organisation needs to be more careful about their files, considering that they have posted so many photos, messages and activities online. These are now backed up. Encryption is not much used because the communications they usually receive through their official email account are mostly invitations and nothing confidential.
“Through what I learned from the training, we were able to protect our data. We became more conscious with the issue of privacy, especially when communicating with others. We saw the weaknesses in the way we handle our communications and were able to do something about it,” said Britney.
The worst experience that GANDA Filipinas has experienced using technology was being hacked. So far, after being more careful, they have not experienced a similar attempt at hacking. However, they do receive occasional hate messages from bashers, from people who like criticising other people, from people who hate transgenders. They do not know who is sending them these hate messages, but they have an idea who they are. However, the organisation cannot prove it. Thus, they just remove such messages immediately, once they notice them. Facebook is a public space and they do recognise that other people can post comments there.
Personally, Britney admits that she has had her share of being ridiculed online. It is a common experience of many transgenders like her.
GANDA Filipinas also handles cases of transwomen. Recently, they assisted in the case of one transwoman who was forced to leave a female restroom. A case on discrimination at work has been filed against those who violated her right. The organisation is also pushing for the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Bill in Congress, penalising discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. It is also lobbying to have a gender recognition law in the country.
The SOC training, according to Britney, has likewise allowed GANDA Filipinas to network with other women’s rights and gender rights organisations. Her organisation has maintained contact with most of them and they have been able to identify which organisation to connect with in case they need some help, especially those concerning technology-related VAW.
Online security and safety is important to the organisation because that is how they communicate and share information mostly. While GANDA Filipinas has a physical office, it functions mostly as a virtual office. The organisation is also active in using various social networking sites to promote their organisation and their advocacies, as well as recruit new members.
“In the future, we want to become even more visible. We will soon have our YouTube account to feature some of the videos we have. We still do not have our own webpage but we hope to have one,” said Britney.
Britney also said that she hopes to be able to share what she has learned from the SOC training with other transgenders, who are often the subject of ridicule and harassment, both offline and online.
The interview on which this article is based was conducted on 19 May 2014 by the team of the project partner Foundation for Media Alternatives.
Online featured articles about the organisation, as well as their Facebook page, were also used as reference materials for the write-up.