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Disco-tech at the Digital Rights Asia-Pacific Assembly 2023
"We have been wanting to work on the environment for a while, but we didn’t know where to start. So the big question for us is: What are the questions we should ask ourselves to start exploring these issues?" 
–Dhyta Caturani

In May 2023, the Association for Progressive Communications convened a Disco-tech at the Digital Rights Asia-Pacific Assembly (DRAPAC23), hosted by APC member, EngageMedia. Since 2013, APC has been hosting Disco-techs that provide a safe space for sharing stories and experiences in personal and powerful ways, facilitate cross-regional collaboration, and seek to connect with key actors who can link local struggles and global action. DRAPAC23 brought together over 500 participants from 35 countries to build knowledge, collaborations and momentum around digital rights.

The Disco-tech at DRAPAC23 Assembly focused on the movement supporting environmental sustainability and justice in Asia, and the impact of digital technologies on their work and the environment. The session hosted speakers from the region who spoke about various issues, including the development of the Feminist Principles of the Internet on the environment. The objectives were threefold – to develop an understanding of the issues at the intersection of technology and environmental sustainability, to hear experiences of Indigenous and marginalised communities who are at the forefront of the fight for climate justice, and to explore the development of a Feminist Principle of the Internet centred on the environment. Below, I explore the questions and interventions from speakers and participants on how to develop this new addition to the Feminist Principles of the Internet

The Feminist Principles of the Internet (FPIs) are a series of 17 statements that offer a gender and sexual rights lens on critical internet-related rights. Together, they aim to provide a framework for women's movements to articulate and explore issues related to technology. Collaboratively developed and published in 2016, these principles are active and alive and are constantly engaged with what is going on around us as our contexts are so diverse and technologies constantly changing. The 18th principle is in draft form and speaks to the internet and the impact on our environment and how we can work towards a non-extractive, decolonial, feminist internet that respects and centres earth justice. Through a process with partners and allies, we have developed a draft FPI on environment which reads:

A feminist internet respects life in all its forms; it does not consume it. Our proposal for a feminist internet principle in relation to the environment resignifies care towards an ethics of collective care in choices around design, extraction, production, consumption and disposal of the technologies involved.

Dhyta Caturani of the PurpleCode Collective shared some of the questions they have come up with to help us expand our minds. The questions provoke an engagement with how we can deeply explore, in an embodied and real way, how to use digital tools and the internet in ways that respect the earth. Feminists who engage with the internet and explore how we build movements in a digital age, are acutely aware of the extractive nature of the internet. They are aware too of the need to expose who owns and controls the internet, how this internet has been built on the lines of colonial dominance, and built with little awareness of the impact on people, land, oceans and future generations.

These questions expose the need to step back, reflect and go deeply into what it means to be human. All life is relationships, so we need to start with exploring the relationship between us as humans, the technology and the earth. These three entities can support and sustain each other but one of these is developing really rapidly, leaving the other two behind. We talk about how women’s bodies are embodied with the earth. They are inseparable: if one dies, the other dies too. So we need to explore what is death in the digital era.

Consumption in all its forms, is one of the root causes of pollution and the depletion of natural resources; acutely so, given what is needed to build technology, for the devices we use and to keep the internet “on”. The question we need to ask is, who are the people causing the pollution, the ones exploiting the earth in the name of development? And who are the ones most affected by this exploitation?

Closely linked to this question of development at the expense of the earth is who builds, develops, owns and controls the internet and related devices and what power does this give to these entities. The built-in obsolescence of devices is one aspect of overconsumption. Another is surveillance and privacy. Tech companies and governments, particularly during and post-COVID-19, have ramped up surveillance practices. They have the capacity to watch us citizens from the moment we wake up till we go to sleep. Lives are reduced to data, which is taken and used without real consent. When this data is used for manipulation and control, freedom of choice and expression become complex.

We then need to ask – what kind of environment do we want to live in, and what kind of technology do we want to support it? These questions cannot be asked just for and about humans but all living beings. Maybe we do not want big data centres and companies, maybe all we need are our own community networks, small servers and storage spaces, just enough to hold our communities’ knowledge with us deciding who we want to share them with and how. Maybe we want tech that does not destroy us, and does not give us false narratives and solutions.

So perhaps the metta (NOT meta!) question is, where and how do we find this relationship between us, earth and technology? One that focuses on collective care for ourselves, for earth and technology, which can build collective power, enable our own choices, our own decisions, only for us and by us.

These questions engaged Disco-tech speakers and participants to share further questions, suggestions and concerns from diverse contexts and realities. What was noted was a huge problem with some donors. A lot of philanthropy is corporate money that claims to support climate justice; but the focus is on transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy which many participants feel is just not enough. The existing economic system is unjust, so we need to educate donors and explain that continuing to be extractive and calling it a solution is not good enough. We need to anchor climate action to human rights and social equity. Climate justice cannot be the continuation of capitalism – social movements, marginalised peoples, rights holders must take control and make sustainability and equity the centre of this action.

A key question is exploring technology in itself – what are the implications of AI in our fight? Going deeper, we need to be mindful of the language we use and who it is for, when we talk about climate justice.

Several speakers like Niken Lestari of Just Associates, Rosa of Open Culture Foundation (Taiwan), Joan Carling, an Indigenous Filipino human rights activist and environmentalist, and Shalini and Shashi of Janastu (India) offered interventions based on their experiences and activism. The following part of this article encapsulates their wisdom. The speakers emphasised the link between digital rights and environmental justice movements. Their interventions included stories of activism, from which we can learn in shaping an FPI on the environment. They reminded us that women and Indigenous groups, in their fight for climate justice, are using storytelling and reclaiming their space. Environmental justice activists are using open data to monitor (and share) quality of water and air in different countries.

Some quotes from the session:

  • “More collaboration, less domination”
  • “Less punitive, carceral conflict approach”
  • “Feminism is key to decolonisation”
  • “Thinking of the intermeshment of our physical, human realities and of environment and technology – how do we exist as organic cyborgs?!”

In the quest to find ways of reversing the impact of the internet on the earth and the  rapacious pursuit of profit, there is need to learn other ways of being. The speakers underscored that Indigenous people around the world have maintained a relationship with land and nature. Indigenous people – who make up 6%  of the global population – maintain 60-80% of the world’s biodiversity but comprise 15% of the poorest, heavily marginalised and discriminated against, with states not recognising their inherent right to land or nature. Indigenous people leave the least carbon footprints but suffer the impact of climate change the most because of being placed in  vulnerable, isolated and marginalised areas – often with no internet or connectivity. Climate change solutions and initiatives like “green transition” are just empty words if they do not include human rights. Ideas that speak of green transitions without questioning the lifestyle excesses of the rich are meaningless. One example is electric cars – who is using these cars, who can afford them, and why not push for mass public transportation?

Within climate justice debates, we need to remember that human rights defenders, women human rights defenders in particular who work to defend the earth, are targets of corporates and states. So any principle on the environment needs to centre people, needs to change the narrative, and ask who is (over) consuming and who are the ones taking care of nature?

Climate justice is social justice.


You too can engage with our process of finalising the draft Feminist Principle of the Internet on Environment here. A big hanks to Sursiendo which hosted an FPI convening on the environment where participants drafted this text for us to collectively and collaboratively comment on, expand, imagine and dream to make this principle a reality.

We will be organising online convenings throughout 2023 besides asking people to discuss and send feedback and inputs. We are also curious about the language of naming the environment. Does your community use a different term, such as "earth justice"? What language or term would you use? To send your responses or to know more about our upcoming processes mail