Running Toddler and Jennifer Radloff interview c5 and Anonymous – part 1.

The Association for Progressive Communication (APC) in partnership with the Violence is not our Culture Campaign (VNC) and Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition (WHRD IC)recently hosted a workshop for women human rights defenders to train in secure online communications. It is part of an APC project Connect Your Rights! where APC is documenting trends, lobbying for internet rights and training activists in how to use technology securely.

A participant, Running Toddler, interviewed the trainers, c5 and anonymous, on their experience in training activists and human rights defenders to use technology securely and the contradictions inherent in communicating safely as feminists and women's human rights defenders and in the technology which can both serve us and put us at risk.

All chose to not be identified by their given names as there are risks attached to being identified as promoting and capacitating activists to use technology securely. And in making visible the ways in which repressive states and their supporters can track and trace defenders using the same technologies which defenders can use to communicate and create change.

“If you say you are a women's human rights defender who is conscious about secure online communications, then you must realise that it is not only you protecting yourself on the internet but also others who you must not put at risk. If you are a human rights advocate then you need to discern whether or not it is the right time to be communicating or sending an encrypted email or whether or not that would put a person at risk. So it is not just the skills or the technology but your understanding of the environment as well.” (Anonymous)

The internet is proving to be a critical ground for activism – both in ensuring that the internet remains a space where activism flourishes, and that as activists we are able to protect ourselves as we continue to utilise these new technologies and new uses of existing technologies to affect social change. It is has become increasingly necessary for women's rights activists, groups and networks to maximise new social networks to advance women's human rights. Secure online communications is at the heart of using the internet for activism and for women's empowerment. And to have spaces where we can exchange experiences and skills and build capacity to understand issues, rights and responsibilities of freedom of expression and association.

RT – Please can you introduce yourselves and tell us something about your work.

I am c5 (pseudonym) and I have done this kind of training for a while now. I work generally with women's rights and human rights groups in secure online communications training.

I am Anonymous (pseudonym) and I've also been doing this kind of work for a few years and testing security software as well.

RT - Do you both identify as women's human rights defenders?

Anonymous – I am not sure but yes in a sense I do as I do training for women's human rights groups. I've never worked anywhere apart from non- profits in different fields of work. I started security training in 2005 and before that was involved in getting women to use information and communications technologies (ICTs).

C5 - I do identify as a women's human rights defender as I have been working with women's rights groups for a long time. It is my activism. And I started in 1998 with feminist groups and prior to that I was part of a big human rights group at university.

RT - How have you seen women's human rights defenders over the years using internet and mobile phones for activism. Have you seen any changes and what would these changes be?

C5 – There has been significant change in how women's rights groups are using the internet. In 1999 when I started getting involved in technology it was new for women's rights groups and even at the time it was not a terrain for advocacy, it was a tool for communication. Now we see more women's rights groups involved in advocacy and around freedom of expression and rights on the internet. They see it as a critical part of their work. I recently attended a workshop in the Philippines with key women's rights groups in the country and they were talking about violence against women and sexuality and the internet. They were talking about how technology can potentially exacerbate violence but also be something that women can use to combat violence. Women had a nuanced approach and saw that the internet should not be regulated because women can explore the internet to express their sexuality. Women see themselves as not just using technology but as stakeholders in the health and regulation and freedoms of the internet. So there has been a significant change in how women's rights groups are seeing technology from 1999 to now.

Anonymous – I am not involved in the women's movement but have been training women in ICTs for a while. Women's rights activists are generally interested in security and women who understand applying technology for activism see a logical progression toward questioning their security on the internet.

C5 - Technology has matured and is ubiquitous and now everyone has to be connected through social networks. There are issues regarding women not having buying power in their communities and therefore not benefitting from technology because they don't have access. But in my experience even women from poor rural communities actually devote whatever buying power they have to communicating on the internet through their mobile phones. It is now almost unheard of to not be connected.

Anonymous – This is born out with my experience as well. The motivation previously was to get people using technology for campaigns and advocacy. It was not about security. The time will come when you will question the security of the technology. There is a logical progression. “Is the technology safe enough for us to use?”

c5 - Another significant change is the way online security is viewed. Most of the time the women I talk to, when they look at technology, they see it with such fear that the only way they can try to control that fear is to push for the regulation of technology -- which is also a security issue. What I have noticed in the past year is that a lot of the women's groups are looking at security as something we need to understand and we need to be able to control for ourselves and not allow any government control for us. This is becoming more apparent in women's rights groups.

Anonymous - It would have been nice to have started out with online security but there was not enough experience. Now we have the experience and there are enough things happening on the internet that we can push into the idea of considering security.

Security comes from two areas. One is the technical aspect. At the same time, we also need awareness. Awareness is there but it needs to be translated into something tangible and that is using tools in a secure way. And that requires training. A lot more human rights defenders are aware of security but that needs to be translated into actual practice and actual practice means you need to train people in security and actual action is using tools securely.

C5 – It is about changing behaviour.

Anonymous – Yes, that is why it is called behavioural change. You need to have a previous behaviour in how you use the technology in order to change that behaviour. We have amassed enough experience about behaviour and technology and now we are put in a position that we need to change the behaviour. So awareness is about behavioural change.

RT – From 2005 compared to more recent workshops has the nature of the questions changed? I mean for women's rights groups and women's' own sense of security and how they are socialising online. Are the questions different?

Anonymous – Yes, the internet has changed. In 2005 the focus was on communications and how to secure your emails. Threats previously were viruses and discussion related to piracy as part of security as way back then NGOs were being attacked largely from the practice of using pirated software. In the Philippines, NGOs were raided not for political positions but for using pirated software. It was a way of governments silencing NGOs. Government were monitoring social circles; not the internet.

The focus previously of security was how to secure your files from being copied or corrupted. It was not about encryption. Passwords were a big hit. It was partly something to do with economics as people were sharing computers. Now people have their own laptops. So back then you were sharing files and computers with a group of people. So security focused on securing your files from viruses and because of sharing computers. So the training reflected this.

c5 – The questions that have been asked in the trainings I have attended have changed. The issue of ICT mediated violence against women has significantly changed the questions. Women who attend workshops now have experience of cyberstalking and ex-boyfriends posting private photos of them and being blackmailed into relationships or know family or friends who have experienced these violations. So then questions become personal and it becomes more about how they communicate than about how can I protect my work files.

Anonymous – For example in the Philippines in 2005 not a lot of people had cellphones. If they did they used them for SMS and voice calls and not accessing the internet. So there was not much about using cellphones. At the same time the internet was costly in most parts of the world. The change from fax to email was thwarted for a time by fax. People still wanted to use fax machines because with email you don't have this confirmation that the email was sent. Which then was actually true. The fax machine has a stamp which is a confirmation that the other party received it. With email you did not have this confirmation. So there needed to be a radical shift in mindset. Even with campaigns, a lot of people were saying let us send mass mails for rights campaigns but a lot of people felt fax was more effective. Added to this, if you are doing it locally the cost of a fax is the cost of a local phone call. And remember, back then internet costs were quite high. One HURIDOCS activist asked me back then if he could send 100 emails in one go. And now you can send 10,000 emails in a day or more, so there is that shift.

RT – Have you seen a difference in terms of the challenges? For example, what would be the most difficult challenges facing women using mobile phones?

Anonymous – It is not about using the technology but more about a deeper understanding of how society has accepted women's rights and women's role in society. Because technology is an amplification of what society does in the non-technological sense. If you have a society biased towards men then technology will reflect and amplify the male perspective. You have a man who take pictures of his girlfriend and then use this to blackmail his girlfriend. The challenge is how you use technology to change perceptions. For example in Afghanistan the abuse of women by the society is being amplified through reporting this via technology. So previously we did not know but now we do. So it is a good and bad thing. Bad as it amplifies some groups power and position but good because you can expose and challenge this.

c5 – Even if women's rights groups are using the internet more and taking technology seriously, the internet is still an amplification of what the status quo is. There will still be people who say to women that 'you asked for it' if they experience violence online as they do when women experience physical offline violence. Women human rights defenders must be better prepared to face the machismo and reaction that they would face prior to the internet. The internet has not changed that struggle. The thing with the internet as an amplifying tool is is that you can use those kinds of behaviour and turn this on its head. The challenge, the biggest challenge for women human rights defenders is how to manage those kinds of attacks.

Read also the second part of the interview with c5 and anonymous: Defending yourself means defending your community


"Hand mapping" photo by APC. The hand mapping exercise was used during a series of digital storytelling workshops organized by the APC WNSP for women's rights activists across the world. The exercise allows them to explore hands as representations of safety or fear and helps them map the links between security and technology.

This article was written as a part of APC's “Connect your rights: Internet rights are human rights” campaign financed by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida)

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