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Cyber Feminism: How Technology Is Being Used To Fight Violence Against Women

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Facebook logoEditor’s Note: With #NoPlace4Hate, Youth Ki Awaaz and Facebook have joined hands to help make the Internet a safer space for all. Watch this space for powerful stories of how young people are mobilising support and speaking out against online bullying.

By Juliana Guarany:

startup-photosTechnology has brought violence against women to a whole new level. Privately taken nude pictures are no longer limited to a single copy in possession of the individual but are now on smartphones and one angry ex-boyfriend is all it takes to ruin a girl’s reputation online. As we are all aware, no matter the reason someone decides to publicly humiliate a woman, she gets more scrutiny than empathy once her reputation is on the line. With the advent of the internet, things have only gotten worse.

In March 2015, we had the chance to see the “patient zero” of slut-shaming speak up. Monica Lewinsky demanded to tell her own story on a TED talk in Vancouver. For 20 minutes, she narrated 17 years of public humiliation. She said her case was the first one to break online instead of on traditional media. She continues to deal with violence online up to this day.

Old problems, new tools. Soon enough, we all discovered the devastating power of technology and how it has become so easy to hate. For women in general, violence took on one more avatar in slut shaming. It looked like more of the same: women as a target for how they look, for taking nude pictures, for having sex or even just because they exist.

But that same technology is now being used to fight all of that and more. Feminist groups and organizations are developing a variety of forms to combat violence and restore women’s confidence.

In the very recent past, feminist groups were restricted by technology. They hardly made headlines with their actions, aside from demonstrations, but they produced vast material in the form of magazines, pamphlets and academic work. Slowly, traditional feminist organizations migrated to online media and started to create a space for their voices to be heard through websites. The internet made it possible for all to have access to information and to slowly start to get a sense of the amount of work put into the cause.

With social media a new feminism is rising, one that challenges slut-shaming. This generation of girls took charge on blogs, Twitter and vlogs on YouTube. Discussion groups on Facebook are especially effective to organize protests, create new content or even just to help a girl defend herself against any kind of misogynistic attack.

The power of social media is so strong that it is changing the way women’s magazines are written, children’s toys are designed by bringing to light the different forms of sexism hidden in the mundane.

One specific cause that the new wave of feminism on social media addresses is street harassment. Not long ago – about two years ago – it was considered just some annoying part of women’s lives; you go out, you get catcalled and that is what it is. But after a nasty comment, one girl went on her social media page and complained about it. Another girl followed. Another five girls followed. And about 45 girls “liked” it. Suddenly something that had been socially accepted, even celebrated for so long was finally shown to be another face of violence.

In order to show the world how much street harassment can ruin our days a few groups took on new technology to expose this problem. Using Google maps, they asked women to pin places where they were harassed and tell their stories. The campaigns were national, but similar in different parts of the globe. In Egypt, the HarassMap showed not just catcalling stories, but also situations of gang-abuse and women being assaulted during the Arab Spring demonstrations. A campaign in Brazil called Chega de Fiu Fiu (Enough of Whistling) conducted empirical research to prove that women actually do not like to be catcalled. They also created their own map. Hollaback, a global initiative based in the USA, has their own maps of testimonials as well as an app, so women can pin an incident of harassment at the same time it occurs. A similar app was also adopted by a project in South Africa called Blow the Whistle.

Another Brazilian initiative called PLP 2.0 took it a step further and connected their app to the police. Aimed at domestic violence, this app follows specific cases and works as a panic button if a woman is attacked. It is still restricted to one city but is slowly increasing the area it covers.

There are countless such projects around the world that use technology to amplify their work. Several times we might see different groups working on similar ideas, not knowing that someone, in a different part of the globe, has a solution they haven’t thought off yet. Feminist activists needs a global database.

In order to document feminist projects and connect similar ones, I created FemMap , a collaborative website that gathers information about projects focused on gender equality. It works both as a database and as a communication channel. As the platform gets more collaborators, it becomes a significant source of information about what type of projects are being done and the best practices for each idea. Through FemMap, groups can avoid redundancies in their work and help other organizations in whatever capacity they can- material, coding or simply better ideas to make it happen. We are using technology to break country and culture barriers.

It’s important to know how to benefit from technology and make it available to all. By working together, feminist groups are able to learn from mistakes made by others. Achieving gender equality is a long and bumpy road, so it’s always good to know we can get help.

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        An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

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        MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

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        As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

        Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

        Find out more about her campaign here.

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        A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

        A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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