Making a feminist internet with the APC community in 2018: Raising awareness, strengthening networks and building capacity through workshops, research and advocacy

Photo: Leila Nachawati Rego

By Gabrielle Willms
Publisher: APCNews     13 June 2019

Fighting for a free and open internet for all involves recognising the many ways that online access and experience are affected by identity and social position. This understanding has not only informed but motivated the work of APC and its community throughout our existence. Our projects always seek, in one way or another, to level the digital playing field.

One of the most significant factors impacting digital access and use is gender: worldwide, women are significantly less likely than men to access the internet, and once online, they face greater risks of violence, censorship and surveillance.

This is why APC’s Women Rights Programme has been working to create a more feminist internet – one that is built for and with women, girls and gender-diffuse people . And since 2016, we have approached this goal with renewed focus as one of our key strategic priorities.

Making the internet feminist is a multi-layered challenge, beginning at the level of development and design and including everything from digital policy to online culture.

APC plays a crucial leading role in this movement by helping to grow feminist networks and build capacity among activists. Our approach includes empowering women’s rights and sexual rights advocates to engage with and participate actively in ICT policy and internet development as feminist issues, facilitating inter-movement alliances to highlight women’s rights issues in policy processes, and encouraging the uptake and ongoing development of the Feminist Principles of the Internet (FPIs) by women’s organisations worldwide.

Let’s explore how APC and our network helped to create a more feminist internet in 2018 and where this essential work stands today.

FIRN is launched

In 2018, APC launched the Feminist Internet Research Network (FIRN), a three-year project supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) that aims to support the creation of a feminist research network in order to conduct data-driven research and push for rights-based changes to internet policy, laws and discourse. More broadly, the project seeks to ensure the inclusion of and respect for the needs of women, gender diverse and queer people in ICT policy and decision-making processes.

FIRN held its inception meeting in Kuala Lumpur in early 2019, bringing together APC staff and participating members to discuss the roll-out of the project. The new network invited individuals and organisations to submit proposals for research funding, and eight projects have been selected, addressing such themes as access, online gender-based violence, economy and labour, and datafication. Focusing on the development of new methodological approaches, advocacy and movement building, and global shifts through policy forums, the initiative will strive to facilitate peer exchange and knowledge sharing among grantees and network members. The project’s development and ongoing activities can be followed at @GenderITorg on Twitter.

Taking Back the Tech

The 2018 edition of the annual Take Back the Tech! campaign was held from 25 November to 10 December. Under the theme Magic Formulas, the 16-day campaign prompted activists to concoct fresh feminist strategies to fight against online gender-based violence and test out new recipes for building knowledge and taking action to develop a feminist internet.

Numerous APC members participated in the campaign, developing both online and offline events and activities to raise awareness among local communities and contribute to a global discussion around promoting women’s rights and freedoms online.

Campaigns highlights included One World Platform’s 16 video interviews with feminist activists in Bosnia and Herzegovina; Nigeria-based Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD)’s workshops for secondary students and radio and television appearances; Colombia-based Colnodo’s e-book publication, podcast and human rights workshop; and Foundation for Media Alternatives’ online spotlighting of local activists and university workshops. Several other APC members, including Bytesforall Bangladesh, Derechos Digitales, Media Matters for Democracy, Point of View, Sulá Batsú and WOUGNET made exciting and diverse contributions to this year’s TBTT.

In addition to the annual campaign, APC’s All Women Count: Take Back the Tech! project continued to develop in 2018. Launched in 2017, the four-year project aims to address violence against women, girls and trans people at risk, both offline and online. Led by Creating Resources for Empowerment in Action (CREA), and coordinated by APC’s Women’s Rights Programme in partnership with UHAI EASHRI and Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality (AFE), the initiative focuses on strengthening the capacity of human rights organisations and activists to respond to gender-based violence through legal and policy means.

In August 2018, a Take Back the Tech! global meeting and Feminist Tech Exchange (FTX) were held in parallel in Dhukilel, Nepal, bringing together campaigners from around the world to discuss online gender-based violence, digital expression of sexuality and gender identity, and the challenges and opportunities presented by current technologies. The result was galvanising, injecting fresh ideas into a movement seeking new creative voices and approaches and sparking challenging conversations while prioritising self-care. Read an illustrated love letter to the TBTT global gathering, an accoount of how to make your own hero and various reflections on feminist creativity and care.

Using APC subgrants to promote regional feminist movements

In 2018, multiple APC members used APC project grants to work toward a more feminist, inclusive internet and address the gender digital divide in their regions.

Código Sur, based in Costa Rica, launched the Feminist Learning Community, an initiative designed to strengthen and build the capacity of feminist and LBTI movements in Central America by offering training around physical and digital protection and communication. The project consisted of three unique workshops in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, with 180 feminist and LBTI activist participants, designed to address relevant concerns within the specific country context. In addition, the project sought to open a conversation around feminism and digital safety with the general public, create a network of discussion groups, and develop a regional assembly to evaluate the outcomes of the learning community and further regional strategic planning around these challenges.

In an effort to address the ongoing gender and rural digital divide in Colombia, Colnodo led the implementation of community wireless networks project in the rural municipality of Buenos Aires in 2018. A gender perspective was strongly emphasised in the creation of the community networks, with women from the communities actively involved from the very beginning, explained Colnodo project leader Lilian Chamorro. Colnodo aims additionally to identify opportunities, challenges and needs of the population that can be addressed using ICTs. This research will be used to help create a training programme, with a focus on gender, which will offer capacity building around issues such as creation and use of community networks, information security and women’s digital rights. Through videos, podcasts and written stories, the project also aims to foster knowledge-sharing amongst community network projects in the region.

Costa Rica-based Sulá Batsú believes that creating equal conditions and opportunities for women in the male-dominated IT sector requires an overhaul of the prevailing culture of the industry. The organisation has been working to address this issue since 2013 through the programme “TIC-as Programme: Women’s Leadership in the IT Sector in Central America.” With their 2018 APC grant, they turned their focus to universities in Costa Rica, developing a participatory research project with young women in IT courses who shared habits, practices and life experiences related to non-gender-inclusive culture in IT university studies.

Researching sexual and digital rights

In 2018, APC’s “Exploratory Research on Sexuality and the Internet” (EROTICs) programme, initially established in 2009, wrapped up a two-year project in South Asia: “Building EROTICS Networks in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka.” This initiative expanded India’s participation in the programme through ongoing partnership with APC member Point of View, and brought in new organisations, Women and Media Collective from Sri Lanka and LOOM from Nepal, to contribute to the research and advocacy network.

2019 will see EROTICS continue to build upon this foundation of research and strengthen relationships in the region with the implementation of “Expanding the EROTICS network in South Asia,” a two-year project supported by AmplifyChange. This new project will expand the network of sexual rights and digital rights activists from India, Sri Lanka and Nepal and include new partners in Bangladesh, as well as strengthening the network with partners in Malaysia and Indonesia. Over the course of this project, APC and its partners will provide capacity building on feminist digital security through storytelling with local partners, and foster the advocacy work and participation of the network in regional policy processes.

Feminist reflections

During 2018, multiple APC members contributed to GenderIT.org, a platform for feminist reflections on internet policies founded by APC’s Women’s Rights Programme in 2006. Some highlights include 7amleh’s piece on online GBV in Palestine, a conversation between Kéfir and APC’s Erika Smith on feminist autonomous infrastructure, as well as a piece on algorithmic production by Kéfir’s Nadège. In addition, Kazanka Comfort of Fantsuam Foundation shared reflections from the AfChix TechWomen Summit 2018.

GenderIT also produced the “Technology for feminist creativity and care” edition of its newsletter (mentioned briefly above), which emerged from the simultaneous TBTT and FTX camps held in Nepal in August 2018. Collecting this array of groups and people in one place was an extraordinary occasion for TBTT and larger digital feminist movement(s), which spawned “a massive starburst of ideas and images.”

What’s next for the feminist internet?

As 2019 progresses, WRP’s programmes and initiatives will continue to grow and develop in collaboration with APC members – FIRN will provide its first round of funding, All Women Count and the Take Back the Tech! campaign will continue to build capacity of feminist activists and bring the Feminist Principles of the Internet to life, and the EROTICS South Asia research initiative will shed light on sexual and digital rights in the region.

Check back regularly for updates on how APC and our community are continuing to lead the movement to create a more feminist internet across the globe. And stay tuned for the 2018 APC Annual Report, which will provide a comprehensive overview of all the ways that the APC network contributed to building a feminist internet throughout the year.

Next in the mini-series: The APC community’s work on internet governance in 2018.

Read also:

The APC community’s work on access in 2018: Pushing for people-centred communications networks

The APC community’s work on digital rights in 2018: Advocating for rights-based policy and practices in local, regional and global contexts



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