Pushing back against sexism, this is a new era for women online

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. Sexism, abusive language and death threats were all included.

The social media platforms were found to be lacking in transparency and accused of only taking such issues seriously when media picked up on the situation. But a growing movement of women is challenging global technology companies and empowering themselves and each other to be safer online.

Take Back the Tech! (TBTT) is an expanding group of women active in 16 countries. They are set on reclaiming online space, making the net safer and more representative, as well as a place for women to thrive and change the world.

They’re making progress in a number of areas. Facebook and Twitter agreed to offer more protection for women’s freedom of speech, and freedom from violence, TBTT’s Pakistan partner Bytes for All has become a Twitter safety partner.

Small but significant wins for TBTT, founded by the Association of Progressive Communications.
Social media and the opportunities it offers for revenge pornography, cyberstalking and surveillance, are only one part of the problem, however.

Across the world there are 200 million fewer women online than men, meaning men have more chance to present their own perspective online and hold even more power over women, according to the group.

Part of TTBT’s work is 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 Wikipedia history pages.

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Over 16 days of campaigning in 2015, TBTT’s Latin American campaign reached 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 were trained in privacy and tech-related gender violence.

There is a huge amount of work to plough on with. In particular, it will next deepen its work in Latin America. The organisation will be seeking positive cultural change in societies where violence and disrespect for women are ingrained. El Salvador, for example, has the highest femicide rate of every country in the world according to a report in 2012.

TBTT will work with La Sandia Digital, which runs popular weekly feminist internet TV program Luchadoras, and supports women in Latin America to produce their own films documenting experiences around sexism. Films such as Living in Darkness which show how women are criminalised for not fulfilling oppressive roles around marriage and motherhood.

TBTT has urgent work to do to get women equipped and ready to create a more inclusive, fairer and peaceful future. The internet is shaped constantly by making and sharing content. Occupying this from a feminist perspective amplifies women’s narratives, according to La Sandia.

“Violence against women and girls online is increasing,” says Lulú V. Barrera, founder of Luchadoras. “We want to break down stereotypes of women.”

Sarah Baker, TBTT coordinator is buoyed to see social media platforms starting to listen, but they’re only just scratching the surface, she says. “Simply expressing an intention to make changes is often followed very, very slowly by actual policy or mechanism changes. And then some seem to move backwards. Google, for example has recently hired the founder of 4chan, a site that is notorious for online abuse.”

As technology changes by the second, there is a long and persistent journey ahead, but knowing that such organizations are relentless in their efforts to free girls and women from oppression can offer some comfort. It is essential that this peace-building work continues with full speed.