By APCNews Istanbul, 05 April 2013
“Cross-country cross-cultural exchange would also help break the gender stereotypes and cultural restrictions to women’s rights and build towards ending their dependency on men or others to address their digital security needs.” [Mary Jane Real, WHRD IC]
From 19 to 22 March 2013, Women Human Rights Defenders met in Istanbul for a Training of Trainers workshop on digital security. Participants were selected via an internal process through the WHRD International Coalition, who had secured funds to show their commitment to building a cadre of digital security trainers within the WHRD community. There are increasing online threats to the freedom of expression and association of WHRDs and their activism. Because they are women, WHRDs face many unique threats and obstacles, which translate in the online environment as public or private sexualised threats, tracking via mobile phones, restrictions on access to content related to women’s sexuality, computer confiscation, censorship and others and can prevent WHRDs from effectively carrying out their activism.
In 2012, APC conducted one of the first international surveys of the online threats faced by women human rights defenders. The response revealed that WHRDs require digital security training, the most pressing needs being for training in secure social networking in order to protect online identities and privacy and security in online campaigning. It also showed that there is a need to link offline and online security and highlighted the importance of a safe online environment for feminism, in general.
Participants came from Nepal, Nigeria, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, India, Indonesia and Honduras and represented defenders working on LGBTI issues, land rights, protection desks, violence against women, internet rights and journalists under threat.
Through an online, pre-workshop process, participants were given tasks based on the Security-in-a-Box toolkit. Facilitators conducted a needs analysis prior to the workshop to ensure that the training was relevant to the particular security threats participants face as WHRDs. The training was a mix of building capacity on secure passwords, encryption, circumvention and preventing attacks through malware and spyware. Mobile phone security was another aspect of concern to WHRDs as many activists use mobile phones for communicating.
Participants who work in the area of internet rights and feminist activism online were constantly balancing the discussion between “the threats” versus “the tools,” bringing back the issue of how critical it is for WHRDs to understand internet rights and policy advocacy if they are to be digitally secure. “Anonymity, which can be used to protect as well as infiltrate, brought up many interesting points of debate. The tools and tactics we use to protect ourselves can be used against us,” said Fatima Bayat, an APC digital security trainer.
Including a feminist practice of technology and grounding activist’s online work in feminist principles is an area of growing interest and development. Discussions on the difference of contextual realities and finding ways to share strategies will be one of the topics of a post-workshop online space to facilitate sharing.
Part of the agenda included WHRDs spending time defining how they were going to build the capacity of their communities through digital security trainings. Interviews were conducted with the participants to build evidence of the realities of online threats faced by WHRDs and to respond to these through advocacy at a policy and practical level.
One participant could not risk taking any unencrypted workshop materials home since the first threat she faced would be the customs officers who could confiscate her computer in order to track her movements and the content she carries.
APC has engaged with WHRDs and their digital security over the years through the Connect Your Rights campaign. In 2011 and 2012, three workshops were held in Africa, Asia and Latin America to build the capacity of WHRDs in digital security. A global dialogue for WHRDs on digital security was held prior to the 2012 AWID Forum, which facilitated the connections between APC, WHRD International Coalition, APC, Amnesty International, Front Line Defenders and the Tactical Technology Collective, giving the impetus to this workshop.