by Claudia Cahalane.
At the end of 2014, Facebook, Twitter and Youtube were all given an ‘F’ grade for the way they dealt with – or rather, didn’t deal with – online violence against women. This included sexism, abusive language, even death threats.
The platforms were found to be lacking in transparency and were accused of only taking such issues seriously when the media picked up on the situation.
But things are changing, according to the organization which gave the F rating – the Association of Progressive Communications (APC).
APC runs a global initiative called Take Back the Tech! which is focused on reclaiming online space for women and making that space safer and more representative, as well as a place for women to thrive and change the world.
Social media platforms, which have a high proportion of women users have often failed women and one of TBTT’s focuses is to change this.
There have been some wins so far. Through pressure from the Safety and Free Speech Coalition, which TBTT! serves on, Facebook and Twitter have changed some of their policies to offer more protection for women’s freedom of speech and freedom from violence. As part of a coalition of organisations, TBTT! Also managed to get Facebook to relax its stance on people using their real names on the site. The policy was seen as a major issue for women with new identities escaping abusive situations.
But, social media and the opportunities it offers for abuse such as revenge pornography, cyberstalking and surveillance, are only one part of the problem.
Across the world there are 200 million fewer women online than men, it means men have more chance to present their own perspective online and hold even more power over women. TTBT! works to get more women online and trained in new technologies so they can have a louder voice.
It also seeks recognition for women’s achievements in ICT and in all areas of life, and for these achievements to be fairly documented on sites like Wikipedia, for example.
TBTT! and its spin off groups and partners in more than 30 countries mostly campaign and work all year around on these aims, with a big push of campaigning for 16 days from late November to early December. Highlights of the 2015 campaign include the Latin American campaign reaching 1.5 million people on Twitter to raise awareness of tech-related violence against women.
At the same time, 70 women took digital rights and online security workshops in Colombia and 26 women took the first Women Rock IT five-day training on technology and violence against women in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, nearly 5,000 students grew their knowledge of privacy and tech-related gender violence during the 16 days.
Those behind the campaign are looking to deepen their impact further and take their mission to the next level. There is a huge job to do. They specifically want to broaden work in Spanish speaking countries where they’ve rarely tread so far, but where such equalities work is critical. In particular, the team is hoping to win the Womanity Foundation 2016 award and bring in CHF 300,000 towards connecting with La Sandia Digital, a company which works with women in Latin America to produce their own films documenting experiences around sexism.
Such films include Living in Darkness, which highlights the case of a woman who tried desperately to divorce her husband but was criminalised for not fulfilling traditional gender roles around motherhood.
La Sandia has also created a very popular weekly feminist internet TV programme called Luchadoras, which has 20,000 followers – an important and useful tool for TBTT!’s aims.
The partnership has a difficult task, they will be seeking further positive cultural change in a world where violence and disrespect for women is ingrained. El Salvador, for example, has the highest femicide rate of every country in the world according to a report in 2012.
“Violence against women and girls online is increasing,” says Lulú V. Barrera, founder of Luchadoras. “We want to break down stereotypes of women as submissive, with secondary roles in society around marriage and motherhood. We want to empower women through technology.” As technology changes by the second, there is a long and persistent journey ahead towards shaping the internet and society into something altogether more equitable and peaceful. But knowing that this campaign is relentless in its efforts to give girls and women a voice and free them from oppression offers some comfort.
An edited version appeared on TechCrunch on April 30th 2016.