How are APC members improving their communities’ lives? In this column we’re highlighting stories of impact and change by our members, supported by APC subgranting. APC's Feminist Tech Exchange explores digital safety through a feminist framework that is collective, responsive and flexible.
Starting from the premise that its work “stems from recognition of the enormous potential of ICTs to strengthen social, political, cultural and economic development, and to advance the human rights of women and gender diverse people ” APC’s Women’s Rights Programme (WRP) has a longstanding position at the intersection of the internet rights and women’s and sexual rights movements. Through a strategic approach to knowledge building, capacity building, policy advocacy and movement building, the projects that WRP has engaged in over the years have made significant contributions to multiple initiatives covering digital storytelling, gender evaluation methodologies, sexuality and the internet, gender and technology policy, and the use of technology to end violence against women and gender diverse people, among others.
To that end, WRP has explored a range of support and funding options in order to subgrant projects by both members and non-members, approaching the question of money and power from a feminist perspective and shifting norms on traditional grant making and reporting requirements.
For WRP, subgranting has played an important role in projects such as GenARDIS, the Take Back the Tech! campaign, the EROTICS programme, the Feminist Internet Research Network (FIRN) and most recently, the Feminist Tech Exchange (FTX). All of these undertakings feed directly into APC’s overall strategic plan that prioritises having “women and people of diverse sexualities and genders participate in, shape and co-create the internet and digital technologies that reflect and respond to their lived realities.”
Feminist Tech Exchange
Since 2008, the Feminist Tech Exchange (FTX) has been working to create “safe, creative and feminist spaces of exchange and experience where the politics and practice of technology are informed by local and contextual realities of women and gender diverse people”. Taking the Feminist Principles of the Internet (FPIs) as its framework, FTX has brought together women’s rights activists, LGBTIQ movements, internet and technology rights organisations, and human rights advocates to numerous convenings. The gatherings have explored emerging internet and technology-related issues, trends, governance and application in feminist activism.
Recently, FTX undertook a groundbreaking approach to disburse small subgrants to a number of organisations. To determine how the funds would be allocated, “we decided with the network members to form a sub-committee and run a small subgranting project with the money,” described Jennifer Radloff, the FTX network’s coordinator.
Intentionally presenting loose terms of reference for potential applicants to allow for flexibility, “the projects proposed simply had to have something to do with a feminist approach to digital safety in local contexts,” Radloff explained. Recipients were selected through a collective decision making process: the network jointly evaluated the proposals in order to decide who would receive funding. “For me, this was one of the big things that made it stand apart from what APC had done in subgranting before,” said Radloff.
Digital safety as a priority
As proposals started to come in, it became clear that the original impetus of having the FTX network use the funding to build up and test the digital safety training modules that were being developed was not necessarily what members were choosing to focus on. Although digital safety was overall a strong area of concern among many, the approaches to address this issue were varied and diverse. Therefore, looking at different contexts to determine the needs of the members was an evident priority, rooted in feminist thinking.
Taking a collective approach to disbursing the funds was a feminist practice, but the fact that it potentially placed APC in a position of power in the network was something that required careful consideration and deconstruction. “What we are slightly apprehensive about is we don’t want APC to be seen as a donor – we have pots of money that we want to give away – but it’s not like that,” said Radloff. Exploring other forms of currency, like skills and solidarity labour, was one key element in the process, and acknowledging the power of money was a conscious and critical component of subgranting. As Radloff noted, “We don’t want something that disrupts APC, and puts it in a power position.”
Prioritising flexibility and rapid response
In addition to adapting to the needs of members, the collective approach to subgranting by FTX also meant that it could provide timely support to organisations at critical moments without being burdened and slowed by bureaucracy.
As a case in point, one of the four proposals that FTX accepted was submitted by a Brazil-based transfeminist network. Operating in a challenging political climate following the election of Jair Bolsonaro’s right-wing government in Brazil, many local civil society organisations found themselves operating in precarious and often dangerous conditions, particularly those working on gender and feminist issues. With attacks on LGBTIQ communities spiking drastically across Brazil, building capacity for digital safety became a matter of urgency. By not having to deal with heavy donor bureaucracy, the applicants were able to secure funding quickly in order to offer rapid response to support their communities. As Radloff noted, “The work they did was very useful, and people could see that.”
Learning opportunities and safety requirements
Considering the example of the Brazilian transfeminist network, the issue of safety took on an added layer when considering that the activists who ran the programmes were in a challenging position when it came to reporting: by preparing detailed reports on their work, as many large funders often require, they would have risked exposing themselves and their communities and putting them in danger given the volatility of the environments they were working in (and hence the need for digital security training). Radloff quoted a small grant recipient as saying, “We can’t share a participant list. We can’t report the way we want to, or are expected to. We can’t give the enemy the strategies we use.” As a response, the terms of reference in the contract with this organisation were purposely left broad (e.g. “training women on using computers in Brazil”) so as not to implicate anyone.
On the other hand, not being able to report thoroughly means that there were missed opportunities for learning and knowledge exchange, as the processes, successes, challenges and invaluable lessons learned were not shared. “A lot of the amazing stuff the project does is invisible,” Radloff said, echoing a frustration expressed by many organisations.
Balancing this fine line between ensuring the safety of recipient organisations and their communities, collecting useful project information and simultaneously meeting donor requirements is an ongoing challenge that requires considerable reflection and care. It calls for new methodologies for reporting that go beyond traditional frameworks. As Radloff said, “We need to build something along the way, something better; a more creative way to interpret project results.”
This piece is a version of a story highlighted in Continuing the conversation: Lessons from APC subgranting, a report that presents the findings of interviews and surveys of APC members and partners who were recipients of funding through its core subgranting programme, supported by Sida, and of subgrants offered through other APC projects and staff working on subgranting in the organisation.
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