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If the internet was a country I can confidently say I would be the current sitting president. Sounds ambitious? I know, but that’s the truth. I would run for office and make sure I won in order to do everything to make the internet better.

I heard about RightsCon while attending Safe Sister: The East African Women’s Digital Safety Fellowship, funded by Internews and Bread for the World. I went online to find out more (this is where I pause and wonder, how was life before the internet?). After reading everything about it on their website I immediately knew Canada was my next destination. As a digital security trainer and user experience (UX) expert, I knew RightsCon would be a fertile ground for ideas, networking and, most importantly, gaining knowledge on how to better myself in my trainings, and for sure I was not wrong – it exceeded my expectations. It was like being given a blank cheque and you are the one to decide how much to pay yourself.

I wrote an email to one of the organisers and as fate would have it I was given a free pass to the event. I immediately applied for a visa. As an active member of the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet) I came across an email from APC with a link to apply for the Member Exchange and Travel Fund (METF). I immediately contacted Shawna, the APC logistics coordinator, who advised I apply through Grace Githaiga, the convenor of KICTANet, which I did and I sat back waiting for a miracle, since I did it the last minute. And whoever said miracles happen clearly had me in mind, because the miracle took place. On 14 May 2018 I left Nairobi for Toronto, Canada.

On 16 May, RightsCon was officially opened. The centre was full with people from different parts of the world, all with one agenda: improving the health of the internet. APC was involved in quite a number of sessions. “The future of digital security education for human rights defenders” was an eye opener for me. I learned that as technology evolves, digital security tools and tactics become outdated quickly, and it is up to us as experts in that field to come up with new tools and tactics.

I was also on several panels. One of them was “Digital Security for Civil Societies in Africa”, which was a KICTANet session. Here I got to talk about the issue of online violence, how it is affecting women, and how we can curb it. The internet is gender blind, but trolls and harassment of women are making it tell the difference between a man and a woman. It’s more dangerous to be a woman online than a woman in a war zone. I also got an opportunity to talk about the Safe Sister fellowship which was very exciting, since it’s what gave me the footing to start digital security. I also was part of a lightning talk panel that looked at how to make digital security tools more usable and to gather and share user feedback from our digital security trainings.

RightsCon exceeded my expectations. I am going home a better person than when I came here, but most importantly, armed with the knowledge of how to continue to keep women safe online.

Cecilia Mwende Maundu is a digital security trainer, with a focus on teaching women how to stay safe online, as well as a user experience (UX) trainer, collecting user information feedback and sharing it with developers, all in the quest for making technology usable for digital security trainers and human rights activists. She is also an active member of the Kenya ICT Action Network, and the current elected secretary of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) Kenyan Chapter.
APC-wide activities