APC announces new project: “End violence: women's rights and safety online”

By Dafne Sabanes Plou Publisher: APC     BUENOS AIRES,

APC starts a new project “End violence: women’s rights and safety online” based on the experience and knowledge gathered in the past years. What this experience has shown, and what organisations providing support services to victims of violence have indicated, is that for evidence-building to be effective, a more systematic system for documenting technology-related violations is needed. While trends show that women around the world experience similar kinds of online violence, the lack of systematised data collection and analysis weakens responses to it.

The programme’s activities will be carried out in the following organisations and countries: Colnodo (Colombia), Si Jeunesse Savait (Democratic Republic of Congo, DRC), KICTAnet (Kenya), Foundation for Media Alternatives (Philippines), Bytes for All (Pakistan) and OneWorldsee (Bosnia-Herzegovina) and México. The countries were selected for their diversity in terms of connectivity and use of digital media by women, which plays into the relevance of this project.

So far, APC has made unique contributions to addressing violence against women (VAW) by examining how information and communication technologies (ICTs), particularly the internet, are impacting how women and girls experience violence. This work started in 2005 with research that resulted in APC’s highly popular annual Take Back the Tech! Campaign, which mobilises actions using ICTs to stop VAW. With an invitation to daily actions, the campaign offers women and girls’ organisations a chance to try out the latest technology while at the same time spreading their anti-VAW message.

Since then APC has broadened its focus to issues of online harm, privacy rights, content regulation, safety and security. From 2009 to 2011, APC implemented the MDG3 “Take back the tech! To end violence against women” project aimed to strengthen the capacity of women’s rights activists and organisations to use technology tools in their work to end violence against women and to respond to the growing incidence of technology-related violence against women in twelve developing countries. This project took place in 12 developing countries from three regions: Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The MDG3 project helped to build more leadership capacity to engage policy-making spaces in governments and in the business sector. It also included more systematic documentation of violations to strengthen evidenced-based advocacy and analysis of legal remedies that can be used for charging perpetrators and for prevention interventions. Women’s human rights defenders need to effectively enhance their advocacy skills by expanding their sphere of outreach, as well as their influence and negotiation of power through the strategic use of technology tools.

Our new project “End violence: women’s rights and safety online” consists of a four-year programme to build on APC’s trajectory in the anti-VAW struggle and existing partnerships to enhance women’s safety and security by preventing the growing violence against women through ICTs. It is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DGIS).

The project targets women leaders—leaders of women’s rights organisations, women in the technology industry, community leaders, young women peer leaders and opinion-makers—as well as women’s rights organisations that are already active in implementing interventions and advocacy strategies to address tech-related VAW, which include cyberstalking, sexual harassment online, image manipulation and violation of privacy.

These forms of VAW are increasingly part of intimate partner violence and sexual abuse, intensifying harm through digital surveillance and replicating abuse through recording, reproduction and electronic distribution of violent acts.

“It takes a while to visualise, understand and eventually feel that online violence is violence. That our virtual body is irremediably connected with our real ones,” says Valentina Pellizer, from OneWorldsee, who participated in the Take Back the Tech campaings in 2010 and 2011 and is now involved in this new project. “From women’s stories we realise that there are a lot of similar cases where technology is used to abuse women and girls and their representation in online space follows the discriminatory pattern imposed by this patriarchal society.”

The programme will use five interrelated strategies that build women’s opportunities and leadership to make a significant impact on the reporting and prevention of online VAW:

1. Systematic data capture, reporting, monitoring and analysis of technology-related violence.
2. Build women’s leadership to engage with national policy-makers, judges, lawyers and other key actors in identifying remedies that may be available in current laws and regulations and, where needed, develop new policies that seek to protect women’s rights including their safety and security.
3. Build women’s ability to influence internet and telecommunications businesses such as social networking platforms, web hosting companies and mobile phone operators to develop corporate user policies and practices that respect women’s rights. This includes the adequate representation of women in policy-making and standards-setting processes and ensuring that policies and standards consider the safety and security of users.
4. Promote a campaign to create an online environment and culture that affirms everyone’s right to safety and security. Such an online culture would not tolerate behaviour and practices that are harmful and violent to women and girls. It will include targeted solidarity actions and engage young people.
5. Strengthen the institutional capacity of women’s rights organisations to become leaders in addressing technology-related VAW through change in their own organisational practice.

APC aims to achieve efficiency in capturing data for reporting and monitoring. Previously, reporting was done by country partners through desk research, focus-group discussions, interviews and surveys. For this programme, APC will use an online platform that will capture and distribute information on a large scale via mobile phones and the web, visualise information through maps and track and filter reports over time. We will be using Ushahidi and Frontline SMS, two free and open source tools that lower barriers for information collection and reporting especially for individuals and grassroots non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in developing countries.

“In OneWorldsee we are more than happy to join the mapping space create by APC,” adds Pellizer. We all need to move from the anecdotal collection of stories to the continuous mapping of them and our ability to prove our “case”. We plan to use a platform of activists and users to help us come together with researchers, policymakers and media to first map, then name and work for change.”

Preventing tech-related VAW is an important component in ending violence against women today and contributes to creating a safe and secure environment for women and girls in every sphere of life.

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