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The APC End violence: Women’s rights and safety online project is changing women’s lives. We wanted to offer a closer, more personal look at individual women whose lives have been significantly impacted by the initiative. This week, we share the stories of four women who participated in Women Rock IT, an event focusing on secure online communications developed in Sarajevo by OneWorld Platform for Southeast Europe (OWPSEE), to show how participation in this space changed the personal and organisational practices of the attendees and their spaces of influence.

Through its participation in the End violence: Women’s rights and safety online project, OWPSEE became a pioneer organisation in dealing with and raising awareness on technology-related violence against women in Bosnia and Herzegovina and in the region.

This leading role extends to the individuals who took part in the activities developed by OWPSEE, such as the first regional training on information and communication technologies and violence against women, called Women Rock IT!, which was held in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. The training brought together 26 women from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Macedonia and Montenegro, who had the chance to work together with distinguished trainers like Dirk Slater from Fabriders, Gillo Cutrupi from Tactical Tech Collective and Valentina Pellizzer from OWPSEE. The main goal of the training was to present security mechanisms and highlight the importance of privacy on the internet, in addition to analysing the issue of violence against women online in the region. They discussed cyber bullying against women, which has become one of the most widespread acts of violence against women – and the Balkans have not been immune to this kind of problem.

In a very positive chain reaction, participants shared the knowledge gained at the Women Rock IT boot camp with their families and friends, and in some cases participants also implemented it in the organisations where they are currently working. Some participants also organised small trainings within their communities about privacy and security online. Here we share some significant change stories from women participating in that transformative space.

“A boost of motivation”

“Before this training I thought I was the only person who was dealing with this, and honestly, I felt lonely. When the training ended, I realised there are many women in Serbia who are doing similar things,” said Sanja Pavlović, one of the participants in the Women Rock IT initiative.

“A session that left a huge mark on me was the one about passwords,” she highlighted. “It surprised me how much my private data was accessible, so I decided to organise workshops to introduce this to co-workers and people who are interested in knowing more about their privacy,” she added.

“It was a great idea to present what other women are doing in their communities, so we get better insight into the situation in their countries,” Sanja explained. “This training was a boost of motivation, since I got the chance to meet great women from the Balkans and to see what they are doing in order to improve their communities.”

It was also important for her in terms of realising how crucial it is to raise awareness about online privacy and security. “My workshops are a direct result of that,” she affirmed.

Foundations for future cooperation

“Through reading feminist principles and values we got insight into the online world, the traces we leave behind which can be misused, and how we can be protected,” stated Jelena Keserović, another of the participants in Women Rock IT.

The training inspired Jelena “to find and to create more projects that will help women to be safe in the online world.”

“The biggest values for me are the participants, and the relationship I accomplished with them,” she highlighted.

“Trainings like this are a great motivation for women who are active in fighting for women’s rights and it also provides them foundations for future cooperation. I am planning to include in a training module everything I learned in Sarajevo about digital safety,” Jelena announced.

Digital natives – not digital naïves

Darija Medić, another of the participants, reported that this training provided her with a better understanding of privacy and security on the internet, and pointed out how bad the situation is with the legal side in the Balkans. “But we also got to experience the brighter side and that is us, the participants, who are working with organisations to improve the situation regarding violence in any form against women.”

“My AHA moment,” recalled Darija, “was definitely when I realised the extent to which it is important to share and teach practical technical security and privacy knowledge to young women that belong to a generation of digital natives.”

Darija pointed out that even though participation in trainings like this is important, the greatest emphasis was and should be placed upon sharing the knowledge gained with people in one’s surroundings. “I have started sharing the practical knowledge gained with the people I find would have the most use for it, or who have already started thinking about security, but don’t know how to act upon it,” she explained.

She is currently helping some women’s organisations to increase their own online security. And Darija stressed that among her organisation’s goals is achieving “a more technically supportive environment for women’s organisations in Serbia, which definitely was motivated by the whole Women Rock IT experience.”

A chain reaction

Snežana Jondža is part of the team at Plavi Telefon, a counselling line for kids and youth. “It surprised me how much women in Bosnia and Herzegovina are unprotected when we talk about cyber bullying,” she said. “But also we have good case practice from Montenegro which can be a leading example for all of the countries in the region.”

One of the most interesting and best teaching moments for Snežana was all the knowledge gained on password management. The trainers presented the participants with software that is useful to increase the level of security and led them step by step while installing those programmes on their computers. “For me this session was a true revelation, from seeing how easy it was to hack my password to the programme which will help me to be more secure than before,” explained Snežana. “It is important to say that these kinds of things produce a chain reaction,” she stressed. “I immediately shared this information with my family and co-workers and encouraged them to install all the necessary programmes in order to stay secure.”

Regarding the impact on Plavi Telefon, after participating at Women Rock IT the organisation decided to include a new section on its website on “cyber bullying”, where information about online violence will be provided, since “it is important to introduce to kids that this kind of violence exists and the consequences that it has on youth,” Snežana remarked.