Digital storytelling workshops on sexuality and the internet from a feminist practice of technology

“This needs to be held and respected. Digital storytelling is not simply about creating stories but also about sharing, learning and listening.” (Ethics section in

Through the project Building EROTICS Networks in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka on sexuality and the internet, APC WRP conducted two digital storytelling workshops as part of its feminist approach to free and open source technology use and the promotion of creative commons licensing.

The first was hosted in collaboration with the Women and Media Collective in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in July, with 15 participants who created digital stories in Sinhalese, Tamil and English. The second also took place in July, in Kathmandu, Nepal, in partnership with LOOM Nepal, where 18 participants created digital stories in Nepali and English. LOOM subsequently hosted a local digital storytelling workshop with 11 participants.

Since the storytellers are the ones who decide if their stories will be released into the public domain, all the stories for which we have permission can be viewed here.

To watch out for: Given the power and popularity of storytelling in the feminist movement, the APC Women’s Rights Programme will keep using elements of storytelling in various workshop spaces. We will be capturing the methodologies used and making these available on the platform.

Image: Screenshot from the digital storytelling video “How Many Check Points“, created at the digital storytelling workshop in partnership with Women and Media Collective held in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

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More sustainable, collaborative and open source technology at APC

During 2017, APC increased its use of sustainable, open, non-commercial technology for its internal processes, including a new document repository through the self-hosted Nextcloud cloud system, a self-hosted secure pad for meeting documentation, the use of secure open source alternatives for meetings hosted by both APC and APC members, and sharing of data among the APC network using open standards and OpenPGP encryption.

Collaboration among APC members on technology development, data protection and online security was strengthened through, among others, involvement in a multi-partner initiative focused on building community-owned, privacy-respecting online infrastructure and services.

To watch out for: APC is planning to introduce more open source, secure and sustainable tools and services in the near future, and to share its experience with those who are interested. Specific plans for 2018 include an open source instant messaging and collaboration system and an online document editing platform, among others.

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Hundreds of activists are safer online after engaging in digital security trainings

In 2017, APC trained over 130 human rights and women’s rights defenders, sexual rights activists, bloggers, journalists and teen girls to be safe online as a result of more than 13 training workshops organised by APC and its partners.

The Digital Security First Aid Kit for Human Rights Defenders, now in its second edition, was updated in 2016 and was used by our partners in 2017 to conduct digital security trainings in India, Pakistan and Malaysia as part of the Advocacy for Change through Technology in India, Malaysia and Pakistan (IMPACT) project.

As part of this same project, three digital security trainings were held in Malaysia and Pakistan: a training organised on 12 February 2017 for the Ismaili community in Hunza Valley, Pakistan, which was attended by 32 participants; a one-day security training for social workers from the Women’s Aid Organisation, held on 23 February 2017 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, attended by 11 participants; and finally, a digital security workshop co-organised by APC and Access Now on 2-4 May 2017 in Malaysia for women’s human rights defenders, feminists, activists and media producers (bloggers, journalists and citizen reporters), which was attended by 12 participants.

A key strategy of the APC Women’s Rights Programme’s capacity-building approach is to build local and sustainable capacity and to respond to a growing demand for stronger and more integrated feminist capacity building. The FTX: Safety Reboot curriculum is slowly becoming a key tool in facilitating communities to share knowledge and values around representation and expression, and to build confidence and skills to be safe and effective in online spaces, and 2017 was a key year in this development. Collaboratively developed with feminist trainers in the field, the FTX: Safety Reboot curriculum has three modules to date, with five more planned for publication in 2018, framing digital security as an issue to build stronger and more resilient movements based on a wealth of experience and activities. The modules can be adapted, refined and localised for trainings in different contexts.

APC had various opportunities in 2017 to use and further develop modules during several workshops, including Safe Sister trainings in Kenya, workshops at the Gender and Technology Institute in Asia, and a workshop with 18 activists in Mexico City through the Centre for Digital Culture of the City, as well as through consultancies with Mama Cash, B-Change and the Urgent Action Fund. Learning activities from the FTX: Safety Reboot curriculum were also presented and tried out during the Creating Safe Online Spaces workshop at the Internet Freedom Festival 2017 in Valencia, Spain, in order to receive feedback from peer groups.

To watch out for: 2018 will see an FTX Convening which will focus on building a global network of trainers and facilitators familiar with the FTX: Safety Reboot approach and modules, able to adapt the curriculum to local contexts.

Image: Notes from the Making a Feminist Internet meeting in Malaysia in 2017 as captured by Fungai Machirori.

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DiscoTech 2017 promotes exchange of experiences around criminalisation of technical expertise

The fourth DiscoTech was held in Geneva, Switzerland, in December 2017. The event was co-hosted by APC along with ARTICLE 19, IFEX, Access Now, Greenhost and Aspiration. Eight speakers shared their experiences around the theme “criminalisation of technical expertise around the world” in an informal evening setting attended by 200 activists.

The theme was chosen to highlight the crackdown on the use of secure digital communications in many parts of the world where governments, including those of Australia and the United Kingdom, are threatening to legislate backdoors for law enforcement in encryption standards, which would substantially weaken security for everyone while increasing the likelihood of damaging attacks from hostile actors.

The event also provided an opportunity to increase the visibility of situations such as the arrest in Turkey of IT consultants for professionally imparting their skills and knowledge around technical matters to human rights defenders.

To watch out for: The fifth DiscoTech will take place during the 2018 IGF in Paris, France, under the theme “disability and accessibility to the internet”. Look out for more details!

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Strengthening networks on sexual rights and the internet

APC launched the Exploratory Research on Sexuality and the Internet (EROTICS) network in 2009, a research and advocacy project in India, Brazil, Lebanon, South Africa, the United States and Indonesia that looked at internet-related challenges facing LGBT and other sexual rights communities. The “Building EROTICS Networks in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka” project built on this previous work by strengthening the participation of India through partnering with Point of View, and bringing in new actors from Sri Lanka by partnering with Women and Media Collective, and partnering with LOOM in Nepal. The project connected with researchers, activists, bloggers and advocates working on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), including sex workers, LGBTIQ communities, women with disabilities, and survivors of violence in these three countries.

Project activities in 2017 included advocacy aimed at influencing internet rights policy to include the rights of women and LGBTIQ people in global and regional decision-making forums on internet governance and women’s rights-related issues, such as the UN Human Rights Council and its Universal Periodic Review process, the Internet Governance Forum and the Committee on the Status of Women.

To support advocacy strategies in key policy processes, APC produced the EROTICS South Asia exploratory research: Sex, rights and the internet report, comprising research studies from the project’s three target countries: India, Nepal and Sri Lanka. The report forms an important baseline from South Asia that looks at internet-related challenges and opportunities experienced by women’s rights, LGBTIQ rights and sexual rights advocates, and addresses legal frameworks, regulation, experiences and strategies to respond to challenges, as well as use of the “power” of the internet.

The EROTICS Global Survey 2017: Sexuality, rights and internet regulations, also published in 2017, mapped how sexual rights activists use the internet to advance their work, and documented the types of risks, harassment, content regulation or censorship they deal with, and how they respond to them. The first global survey was launched in 2013, and a slightly revised version of the questionnaire was applied as a follow-up exercise in 2014. For the 2017 survey, an important innovation was introduced: in-depth interviews with individuals who volunteered to expand on their responses.

A special edition launched in December 2017, “The right to scream: Research on sexuality, the internet and communication”, looked at the state of internet rights, sexual rights and communication rights globally, and particularly in South Asia.

These research outputs of the EROTICS project were distributed and presented at three national events, two in India and one in Nepal, as well as at the 2017 Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum (APrIGF) in Bangkok, the global Internet Governance Forum in Geneva, the Citizens Digital Summit in Delhi and the Global Voices Summit in Colombo.

APC also organised several activities in 2017 to fulfil the EROTICS project objective of building the capacity of sexual rights movements, organisations, activists and researchers in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka to engage politically with internet rights and resist online violence, content regulation and censorship, and to participate actively in internet policy debates. These included the EROTICS Regional Meeting in September in Negombo, Sri Lanka, and a Feminist Internet eXchange pop-up organised by APC and partners in Bangkok on 31 July, aimed at exploring the Feminist Principles of the Internet as a politically situated framework to address sexuality, gender and technology in the Asia-Pacific region, and developing recommendations for the APrIGF synthesis document as a way to surface gender and sexuality in the internet governance platforms and discussions in the region.

Another 2017 outcome was APC’s contribution to the development of the Yogyakarta Principles+10 on the Application of International Human Rights Law in Relation to Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics, which now include a new principle on “The Right to the Enjoyment of Human Rights in Relation to Information and Communication Technologies”, in recognition of the important role that ICTs play in the enjoyment of human rights by LGBTIQ people. Having this particular principle included is a clear outcome of APC’s impact in terms of its movement-building efforts along with LGBTIQ advocates.

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Developing Internet Universality Indicators with UNESCO

In 2015, UNESCO put the concept of “Internet Universality” at the heart of its work to promote an internet that works for all. In June 2017, UNESCO launched a year-long programme of consultation to develop a set of Internet Universality Indicators, covering four fundamental principles (rights, openness, accessibility and multistakeholder participation) and the cross-currents between them.

The work on the project to define Internet Universality Indicators was led for UNESCO by APC on behalf of the Internet Indicators Consortium, which includes, apart from APC, ict Development Associates, Research ICT Africa, LIRNEasia and DIRSI.

Consultation with stakeholders played a central part in developing the indicator framework, as well as making the questionnaires available in all of the six UN official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, Spanish). The first phase of consultation, from June to October 2017, was concerned with broad principles and ideas for the framework as a whole. The second phase, from December 2017 to March 2018, was concerned with specific indicators. Towards the end of 2017, a draft set of options for specific indicators was published, and stakeholders were again asked for their views on these.

APC and UNESCO also organised regional and global multistakeholder consultations in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), Europe and Asia. During the first phase, 24 face-to-face consultation meetings in 21 countries attracted 165 written and online contributions. During the second phase of consultations, 12 face-to-face consultation meetings in 10 countries attracted 148 written and online contributions. There was also a global consultation that took place during a session at the 2017 IGF.

To watch out for: In 2018, the final development of the Internet Universality Indicators will be made public.

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Advocating for a rights-based approach to internet policy in Africa, Asia and LAC

APC’s research, advocacy and capacity-building work during 2017 contributed to an increased understanding among civil society, human rights defenders, national human rights institution (NHRI) representatives and development practitioners in Africa, Asia and Latin America of how the internet has become a key site of struggle for the full enjoyment of human rights.

Human rights violations on the internet are increasing and NHRIs have a key role to play to protect and promote human rights online. APC developed a paper, “National human rights institutions in digital spaces“, in response to the call for submissions on the role of NHRIs in Southeast Asia in protecting human rights. It addresses the ways that ICTs and the internet in particular create new and promising spaces where NHRIs can improve the way they function and reach out to stakeholders in previously unimaginable ways. It also makes a call to NHRIs to remind governments that their obligation to protect, promote and fulfil all human rights includes providing meaningful access to the internet for all people.

In Africa, APC co-organised human rights capacity-building workshops, including an event where NHRI representatives and members of the judiciary from over 15 countries were trained on how to protect and promote human rights online by effectively using regional and international human rights instruments such as the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms, and a training workshop for civil society organisations from the region, co-organised with APC member CIPESA and Small Media Foundation, titled “Connecting your rights! Using international and regional human rights mechanisms to protect human rights online”.

APC also co-organised a training workshop for 11 representatives of Latin American civil society organisations in December 2017 on the use of regional and global human rights instruments, in collaboration with the Centre for Studies on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information (CELE).

The African Declaration, the Feminist Principles of the Internet, the APC Internet Rights Charter, the APC Internet Rights Are Human Rights training curriculum and the APC-La Rue Framework were used as monitoring frameworks and mechanisms to advocate for a rights-based approach to internet policy.

In 2017, the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms interactive web platform was translated in more languages to promote wider engagement and outreach of the Declaration. The platform is now available in English, French, Portuguese and Arabic. According to Avis Momeni, secretary general of PROTEGE QV, an APC member organisation in Cameroon that frequently uses the African Declaration for advocacy, “Having the Declaration in all these languages helps sensitise all African users and makes them more aware of their rights relative to the internet. It also enables African governments, on the other hand, to understand the scope of these principles in the elaboration and implementation of public policies.”

APC also carried out presentations to promote greater awareness and engagement around the African Declaration and its web platform at five key global and regional events, including the 2017 Internet Freedom Festival in Valencia, Spain, RightsCon in Brussels, Belgium, and the Africa Internet Summit in Nairobi, Kenya.

To watch out for: In 2018, APC will deepen its engagement in regional work through strategic interventions at regional human rights mechanisms and developing internet rights agendas with regional members and partners.

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Collaboration with members and partners in international policy processes contributes to the integration of internet rights issues

Consistent collaboration with APC members and partners contributed to the inclusion of internet rights issues in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.

APC supported partners from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malaysia, Mexico and Pakistan to submit country reports to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women’s thematic report on online gender-based violence.

Collaboration with members and partners also resulted in submissions to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Pakistan and Lebanon) and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (South Korea and South Africa) committees.

Of particular importance is the recognition of network shutdowns as a threat to freedoms online in Pakistan by the country’s high court and by both the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression and the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and association.

APC also contributed to outcome documents, concluding observations and recommendations that reinforced states’ obligations to protect human rights online and develop internet regulation and policies in line with international human rights norms.

To watch out for: 2018 will be a year of many collaborations, including joint advocacy that links national efforts to regional and global initiatives, new partnerships, and the development of resources to support APC members’ engagement in international human rights mechanisms.

Image: Fragment of the design by Constanza Figueroa in the “Human rights and the internet: The Key Role of National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) in Protecting Human Rights in the Digital Age” brochure.

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Policy impacts in the United Nations sphere reinforce human rights online and address emerging challenges

APC’s policy advocacy work in 2017 contributed to several resolutions that were adopted at the Human Rights Council and other UN bodies that reinforce human rights online and address emerging challenges.

Issues we raised include norms around protecting encryption and anonymity, concerns about the impact of profiling of data for economic, social and cultural rights, the criminalisation of expression in Asia, and the criminalisation of digital security.

These issues were taken up in the HRC resolution on privacy in the digital age, the UN General Assembly Third Committee’s resolution on human rights online for human rights defenders and the safety of journalists, and the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on ways to bridge the gender digital divide from a human rights perspective, which reflects APC’s framing of the issue and puts forth recommendations aimed at advancing women’s rights online.

APC also spoke at the opening ceremony of the WSIS Forum, presenting civil society concerns over insufficient focus on human rights and people-centred development in the WSIS follow-up process and highlighting that governments are not including civil society at the national level.

To watch out for: In 2018, APC will continue to collaborate with its members around a number of key internet-related policy spaces, including the Human Rights Council, RightsCon Toronto and regional forums.

Image: Courtesy of Deborah Brown.

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Advocacy with women’s funds and donors on the importance of supporting work on feminism and technology

In 2017, the APC Women’s Rights Programme’s ongoing advocacy with funders resulted in increased support of programming related to women’s rights, sexual rights and the internet. There was also more buy-in by women’s rights funders and expansion of the feminist internet community. This was evident in the multi-funder and organisational collaboration behind the global Making a Feminist Internet: Movement Building in a Digital Age event, with three movement-based funds (Mama Cash, Astraea and Urgent Action Fund), in October 2017 in Malaysia.

As part of APC’s strategy to influence and impact the digital security community using a feminist movement-building strategy, three staff members attended the Initiative for Sustainable Activism meeting of trusted allies for strategic planning for holistic security organisations and individuals who work with activists and human rights defenders. APC’s work is influencing women’s rights donors to understand and see the need to embed digital and physical security in response to growing surveillance and harassment of grantee-partners.

APC Women’s Rights Programme manager Jac sm Kee participated in the Oak Foundation Women’s Rights Programme strategic meeting in March 2017, and presented awareness-raising sessions on digital security at the global meeting of Prospera, an international network of women’s funds, in October 2017. APC has also initiated an in-depth survey on technology-related risk assessment with selected grantee-partners for the Open Society Foundation Women’s Rights Programme.

Image: Fragment of a design by Constanza Figueroa.

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