"We see and value the transformative potential of the internet": Jac sm Kee received the Stieg Larsson Award 2016

Stieg Larsson, the author of the Millennium Trilogy, tirelessly fought against racism and misogyny, and for freedom of speech. A fight based on a simple idea: that everyone has the right to be themselves. In memory of Stieg Larsson, Norstedts along with Stieg Larsson’s father and brother have established an annual award to individuals or organisations that work in the spirit of Stieg Larsson.

Stieg Larsson prize winners have included Chinese author and journalist Yang Jisheng, Soraya Post and Tomas Hammarberg for their relentless work in defence and on behalf of the Romani people and their human rights, Svetlana Gannusjkina for her work to maintain civil rights in Russia, human rights defender Maryam Al-Khawaia for her work in Bahrain, Nicaraguan women’s rights activist Vilma Núñez de Escorcia, Anne Sjögren for her work with providing qualified medical care to paperless refugees, and Swedish magazine EXPO, co-founded by Stieg Larsson.

Jac sm Kee, APC Women’s Rights Programme manager, made a speech at the Stieg Larsson Award ceremony that took place on 14 November 2016 at Kulturhuset Stadsteatern in central Stockholm, in collaboration with Teskedsorden, a Swedish foundation that promotes diversity and tolerance.

Hello everyone. Thank you for having me here. It is a little strange to be in Stockholm, to receive a prize in recognition of an author whose work I love, and whose commitment to his politics in all aspects of his life I deeply admire – from relationships, to the land he embedded himself in, to the work of words to communicate justice and discrimination.

As a feminist activist, I believe in collective power. I am deeply proud to be one of the nodes who help to bring recognition to the work of feminists and activists in different parts of the world to politically engage with this new landscape that we are in. So thank you for the prize in recognition of the work that we do, as a movement that engages with the feminist politics of the internet.

Allow me to share with you, a little bit about where I’m coming from, and the work that we do.

Internet technologies have become a critical part of our social, cultural, economic and political life.

It has given us an opportunity to upturn the monopoly on which truth matters, and to proliferate our understanding of the world with the voices of those who have been muted or excluded.

It has given us a space to organise, to find politically empathetic connections so we can build bridges across the gulf of differences.

It has given us another kind of public sphere, where we can occupy with our bodies, our activism, and our claims for justice, that is capable of seeing what is invisible.

And it is also a place of quiet intimacy, a place of exuberant joy, a place where we play with each other and negotiate power through the politics of shared laughter.

But we are also facing some serious challenges in this space.

First, less than half of the world have access to the internet. And amongst those without access, many are already facing discrimination and exclusion. This includes women, people living with disabilities, those who are struggling to retain control over their lands and resources in remote areas, where the market has not yet deem important. And this disconnection threatens to widen the disparity between those who have greater access to resources, community, information and knowledge, and those who do not. And following that, the threat of exacerbating discrimination and inequality.

Second, even as we are starting to occupy and shape the internet with our realities, politics and narratives, the backlash has been strong. The internet we have today is very different from the internet that we imagined before. It is now a space where racist, misogynist, divisively nationalistic, homophobic and transphobic expression become an immediate, overwhelming and threatening response to any voice that dares to challenge the status quo. For women, the attacks are always to her gendered and sexualised body. Where we used to brace for the possibility of sexual harassment and rape in our homes or on the streets, now we also brace for such assaults online.

Third, the open and distributed characteristic of the internet – the characteristic which makes it a democratising space, where anyone can have the ability to create, speak and engage – is being threatened by increased privatisation and corporatisation. More and more people engage with only a very small fragment of the internet, which is owned by maybe four or five large corporations. The expansive possibility of the internet has become narrowly confined in our everyday use as being simply Facebook, Youtube, Twitter or Netflix. We give up our curiosity and questions to one corporation – Google – to mathematically provide us with where they think we should go.

And for corporations, the bottom line of profits always win over the human rights of people. Our bodies, our concerns, our creativity and our relationships with each other are reduced to data sets, that are then traded with other businesses or governments. So that they can convincingly direct us on what we should desire, how we should make or spend our money, and who we should vote for.

This is not the kind of world I would like to take part in shaping. And this is why I do the work I do, together with inspiring and committed advocates and feminists from different parts of the world.

We see and value the transformative potential of the internet. We understand how it can actually work to shake up and trouble unequal power structures by our politics and participation.

We work with women, girls, transpeople, sex workers, people of diverse sexualities, people living with disabilities, community activists, human rights advocates, feminist techies, trainers, coders, community access network providers, artists, designers, poets, academics and policy makers – to help create an internet landscape that is more accurately reflective of our collective work towards a more just and inclusive world.

We reject harassment, intimidation and violence on the basis of difference and identity.

We defend human rights on the internet, as well as how they impact on other spaces – including the right to privacy, expression, participation and autonomy.

And most importantly, we exercise our creativity to imagine a feminist internet, where power is distributed, where people can live with dignity, and where we can exercise all of our rights: to play, to create, to forge connections and form communities, to reflect, and to organise for change – in freedom and in pleasure.

Finally, I would like to lend my voice in support for the advocacy for greater gender justice in family law in this country, where common law partnerships will receive the same protection of rights and gender equality, as those, in marriage.

Thank you.

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