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In its third year, APC’s End violence: Women´s rights and safety online project project has caught the eye of high-level policy makers as well as local activists. With support from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DGIS) and a strong alliance with partners in seven countries, many women around the world gained awareness on tech-related violence against women and skills to protect themselves and their organisations online.
Over the first two years of its implementation, the contributions towards greater recognition of technology-related VAW as part of the continuum of violence against women have been remarkable. Through the mapping platform, research activities undertaken by partners locally and globally, and the findings of the project overall, there is a greater recognition of the existence of these violations among users and states.
In this sense, 2013 has been a year of meeting some of our most sought-after milestones. In the words of Aida Mahmutović, a member of the One World Platform for Southeast Europe (OWPSEE), the project partner in Bosnia and Herzegovina, “In 2013 OWPSEE reached out to many women’s rights organisations in Bosnia and Herzegovina and opened up a dialogue about violence against women through ICT which, until then, was not perceived as violence. Girls and women, influenced by security trainings and dialogue on VAW through ICT, are finally starting to take seriously the technology they own and the way they use it.”
How we did in… Mapping technology-related violence against women
One of the core components of the project is an online map that collects and aggregates reports of incidents of technology-related forms of violence against women. Country partners and the global APC project team use the data and analysis available to support advocacy in seven countries and in regional and global advocacy spaces.
The availability of data and analysis of trends of technology-related violence against women is essential not only for policy advocacy, but also to contribute towards identifying different kinds of responses that increase women’s safety online.
During 2013, 1264 women leaders, women’s rights organisations and service providers received training on how to use the reporting platform through of monitoring and awareness-raising meetings organised by the country partners. And by the end of the year, 359 cases were recorded via the reporting platform.
Country partners and the global team focused on the production of materials and content to raise awareness about technology-related forms of VAW. Gul Bukhari, from project partner Bytes for All in Pakistan, states: “Apart from the very rich Take Back the Tech! campaign, with some very innovative material used this time, the Bytes for All media outreach was phenomenal with our campaign messaging being carried on radio and television several times.”
At the country level, partners produced materials in local languages and also used the initial map findings and project lessons to inform their advocacy in regional and global spaces. As a concrete example of the adaptation of the project tools to local needs, the partner in Bosnia and Herzegovina, OWPSEE, launched the platform in Macedonian to facilitate reporting in local languages, as part of the 2013 national Take Back the Tech! campaign. Colnodo in Colombia developed an infographic highlighting the preliminary information collected locally through the map.
How we did in… Engaging with policy-making actors to identify remedies to protect women’s rights
2013 was a very active year in terms of building women’s leadership to engage in national, regional and global policy advocacy spaces, since a number of individual women leaders have developed credible reputations as references to engage with national policy makers, judges, lawyers and other key actors and where needed, developing new policies that seek to protect women’s rights including their safety and security, as well as policies on violence against women and technology in their countries and globally.
APC’s women’s rights policy work on technology and VAW has become much more visible – evidenced in the adoption of formal language as well as increased interest in this area of advocacy from other stakeholders. More women are visible in internet rights and policy spaces as speakers on panels and in events. The project partners are building understanding amongst key policy actors in seven countries and globally about technology-related VAW. With project support, 21 women leaders took part in 11 regional and global processes and national processes in 2013.
Such engagement has very concrete impacts. Recommendations provided by the project partners and APC have been included in three key processes and mechanisms.
At the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the team successfully lobbied for the adoption of a paragraph addressing VAW and information and communications technologies, specifically mentioning the need to promote technology as a means for women’s empowerment and to prevent and combat technology-related forms of VAW, in the Outcome Document of the 57th session of the CSW. This was the first time the issue had been included in the Commission’s agreed conclusions.
APC provided an expert presentation and recommendations to the UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and Public Life in January 2013 in Geneva, focusing on the impact of ICTs on women’s public and political life, including impact on violence against women. The meeting report identified technology-related violence as an inhibitor to women’s public participation and specifically called on states to pay attention to women’s rights in internet governance. These recommendations were included in the first thematic report of the Working Group to the Human Rights Council at its 23rd session. In addition, the UN Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and Public Life’s statement to the UN CSW 57th session specifically highlighted the internet as an important public space for women’s political participation and called on states to take action against technology-related forms of VAW.
In January 2013, APC led the work stream on women’s rights, VAW and ICTs at the Women in ICT and Development Forum (WICTAD) organised by UN Women and the US State Department. About 60 participants including UN agencies, EU bodies, a few government representatives, private sector companies and civil society organisations prepared a set of recommendations for the WSIS+10 review hosted by UNESCO and the annual ITU WSIS Forum.
The Internet Governance Forum held in October 2013 in Bali was a very active and rewarding strategic space for project advocacy. Fifteen women leaders participated in the event and made interventions in various sessions, of which eight were supported by the End violence project. APC and partners also hosted a roundtable on gender and internet governance focusing on key issues, challenges and best practices on the extent to which gender has been integrated into internet governance issues. Unexpected but not less relevant was the statement issued by APC and partners expressing concern over the Miss Internet Bali initiative
Facilitating the Gender Dynamic Coalition meeting during the IGF was another of the highlights of the event, as was undertaking the third IGF Gender Report Card as an initiative to measure the level of progress on the inclusion of gender equality and the promotion of women’s empowerment in this important internet governance policy dialogue process.
The 2013 Global Information Society Watch report spotlighted women’s rights and technology, and the launching of the summary edition at the IGF drew over 100 people. The online edition contains 47 country reports, including initial research findings from participating End violence project partners. Exploring women’s rights and gender through the lens of information and communications technologies, the report examines how the internet and other ICTs have extended the public sphere and created new opportunities and freedoms for women, highlights the threats to these freedoms, and explores the role of technology in resistance.
Gains in women’s rights made online are not always certain or stable. While access to the internet for women has increased their participation in the social, economic and governance spheres, there is another side to these opportunities: online harassment, cyberstalking and violence against women online, all of which are on the rise globally.
To reinforce the report’s findings, a special edition of GenderIT.org GISWatch 2013: Setting the agenda on women’s rights, gender and ICTs was produced in November 2013, and reflected on some of the issues that were advocated for during the Internet Governance Forum by the Women’s Rights Programme.
As a continuation of the strategic networking process initiated in 2012 when APC was invited to join the Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD IC), in 2013 APC was honored to be selected as a member of the WHRD IC executive committee.
This participation has enhanced awareness of internet rights issues, and particularly digital security, among the 28 member organisations of the network. APC’s advocacy at the Human Rights Council and close work with the WHRD IC to include awareness and action around ICTs, and in particular digital safety and technology-related VAW, resulted in the inclusion of references to these issues in the WHRD resolution.
Regional advocacy work also grew. Project partners and allies from Colombia and Mexico accompanied APC Women’s Rights Programme staff at the 6th Latin American Internet Governance Forum which took place in August in Argentina, where project partners and allies were active speaking from the floor during main sessions, participating in group discussions regarding technology-related violence and women human rights defenders, and gathered some of the learning and debates in a special GenderIT.org edition.
Project partner advocacy work is yet another highlight in 2013. National partners actively participated in key events such as the Pan-European Dialogue on Internet Governance, Bosnia and Herzegovina), the Feminist Organisations Forum in the Dominican Republic (Colnodo, Colombia), the Central Africa Internet Governance Forum in Kinshasa, the Africa Regional Internet Governance Forum in Nairobi, the 4M New Media meeting in Nairobi, the Freedom Online Conference- held in Tunis (attended by Democratic Republic of Congo project partner Si Jeuneusse Savait), and the International Association of Women in Radio and Television’s biennial conference held in Morocco, where IAWRT hosted a panel titled Safety Online and Offline for Female Journalists and had the chance to highlight the experiences of women journalists in relation to online violence.
In partnership with APC member LaNeta, the Mexico project partner drafted a civil society submission focusing on freedom of expression, surveillance, internet rights and the links to violence against women and women human rights defenders and journalists for Mexico’s Universal Periodic Review process.
The Foundation for Media Alternatives’ advocacy work in the Philippines in 2012 was outstanding, after FMA and others succeeded in halting the implementation of the Philippine Cybercrime Prevention Act, and it continued during 2013 through policy advocacy consultations, and by continuously engaging government agencies towards changes in national policy. As a concrete result, legislators have filed separate proposed bills for the amendment of the anti-VAWC law to include electronic VAW or eVAW, and the Philippines Commission on Women has recognised eVAW and included it in their policies.
How we did in… Building women’s ability to influence the internet private sector
Social networking platforms, web hosting companies and mobile phone operators need 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.
The challenges in meaningfully accessing private sector companies in the countries nationally and at a global level are not something to disregard. Take Back the Tech! was asked to be among the first signatories and partners in the #FBrape campaign that highlighted and called on Facebook to take action in response to user complaints about content that is violent against women. APC provided input to specific recommendations to maintain anonymity, improve gender awareness and VAW training for Facebook support staff, increase transparency in decision making about offensive content reports, and take action when women report direct threats of violence to Facebook representatives.
The campaign, coordinated by Everyday Sexism, Women, Action and the Media and freelancer Soraya Chemaly, began in May 2013 and was hugely successful: within 10 days Facebook relented to meeting with campaign organisers about gaps in its responses to gender hate speech/misogyny online in its policies and weaknesses in enforcing its own community standards.
The research component of the project made outstanding progress as well. Partners in all seven countries undertook a contextual analysis of the internet intermediary landscape in their countries, including identifying and even analysing the different intermediaries and their policies.
As part of the overall research, partners identified case studies in which local and global internet intermediaries were implicated. An early finding in the research has been that victims/survivors do not often seek remedy from local internet intermediaries, which was made evident in the low number of national case studies in which intermediaries are implicated. Also, given the nature of telecom and internet infrastructure, many local companies are indeed international and their policies are not controlled locally; women therefore see them as beyond their reach, which turns out to be another reason why recourse through internet intermediaries is not considered an option for some.
“Another success highlight was the research on online gender-based violence, which has thrown up strong evidence of certain trends, including that of impunity. This has armed us with information that is helping us to plan focused strategies and materials for an effective advocacy campaign,” says Gul Bukhari from Bytes for All in Pakistan.
Given that this is a complex and relatively new area of research, the End violence project liased with two research consultants to undertake and support partners’ research in the field. Carly Nyst from Privacy International, an Australian-qualified lawyer who has worked in human rights law and advocacy at both the national and international levels, was commissioned to write a literature review on intermediary liability and corporate user policies as well as three case studies on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube that will be published in 2014.
To unpack the complexities of the issue, GenderIT.org published a series of blog posts by Nyst as part of the project research literature review, exploring the responsibility of intermediaries to ensure that the internet is a space that empowers, rather than subjugates, women.
How we did in… Campaigning for an online environment and culture affirming everyone’s right to safety
Contributing to the development of an online culture that does not tolerate behaviour and practices that are harmful and violent to women and girls is one core aim of the project. Targeted solidarity actions and engaging young people are crucial elements in the strategy.
Given that the 25th of every month during 2013 was proclaimed as Orange Day by the UN Secretary-General’s UNiTE to End Violence against Women programme to highlight issues relevant to preventing and ending violence against women and girls – in continuation of the recommendations of the agreed conclusions of the 57th session of the CSW – on 25 July 2013 the Take Back the Tech! campaign joined SayNO_UNiTE, Circle of 6 App and journalist Soraya Chemaly on a Tweetup about the topic “Cyber Space as Safe Space for Women and Girls”. The action was completely successful, involving 2,218 contributors, 5,243 tweets sent, and 8.84 million reached.
UN Women highlighted in particular the job of the End violence project partner Bytes for All team in Pakistan during the tweetup, who made #orangeday trending in their country. The team vigorously tweeted about the activities Bytes for All is doing in ending violence against women and girls in cyberspace and how to make these spaces secure for girls who use the internet, as well as sharing TBTT campaign stories, VAW map cases, the video You are every woman, and posters which attracted the attention of social activists.
The Take Back the Tech! campaign took place as every year from 25 November to 16 December, raising the question “What is the line between private and public online?” One of the highlights during the campaign in 2013 was that OWPSEE from Bosnia and Herzegovina worked together with feminist website ženskaposla.ba on the Take Back the Tech! campaign. The main focus of the activities during the campaign was raising awareness on violence against women and ICTs, and the approach taken by OWPSEE was providing people with first-hand real-life experiences that women and girls faced, as well as discussing, writing, blogging, listening and learning. A great highlight is that two new partner organisations joined OWPSEE in the campaign – the Nahla Centre for Education and Research from Sarajevo and the Centre for Gender Equality of the Republic of Srpska Government.
In Pakistan, the Take Back the Tech! campaign brought the campaign theme to hundreds of thousands during the 16 days through redoubled social networking efforts and radio and television coverage.
How we did in… Strengthening the capacity of women’s organisations to be leaders in addressing technology-related VAW
One of the outcomes of the project is to build and strengthen the capacity of women’s organisations to be leaders in addressing technology-related violence against women. Our country partners did immensely well in this area, training a total of 1514 participants in secure online communications.
An End violence project Secure Online Communications Training-of-Trainers in technology-related VAW workshop took place in Prague, Czech Republic in April 2013, where seven country partners (from the DRC, Colombia, Kenya, Mexico, Pakistan, Philippines and Bosnia and Herzegovina) attended the training facilitated by APC trainers.
“The opportunity to raise awareness around privacy and digital security with youth and women’s rights activists throughout Mexico was a major highlight for the Mexico project in 2013,” states Erika Smith, project partner in Mexico. “People are no longer dismissive about their own privacy and understand that taking steps to improve their security skills helps them, their friends and the broader community where they work,” she adds.
She shares an anecdote on how the project finds opportunities to build capacities and increase awareness on the issue: “I was asked to visit a university where a student had been harassed online, her picture plastered everywhere in social networks accusing her of selling sex services on campus, urging people to call the police. We examined victim blaming and gender stereotypes with her classmates, psychology students, as well as secure online communications and privacy suggestions. Three months later, two students had taken the initiative to duplicate the training in several high schools in rural Morelos,” she explains.
The same is true for Venter Mwongera, team member of the project partner in Kenya, IAWRT: “Imparting knowledge on how to stay safe online to women leaders for various organisations and receiving positive feedback that the training was timely was a great achievement.”
“However, we still have long way to go,” says Aida Mahmutović from OWPSEE. “Hopefully 2014 will bring us not one but two steps closer to ending VAW through ICT and increasing privacy and security awareness among girls and women,” she adds.
If you want to know more:
Read more about the project here.
Read all End violence project related articles and resources here.
Read the interview with the End violence: Women’s rights and safety online project coordinator Jan Moolman after the first year of the initiative.