The collaborative global campaign Take Back the Tech! started on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. New information technologies are being used in many ways against women and girls around the world. It is fundamental that they become tools of change and transformation, rather than control and exclusion. This is one of the very objectives of the Take Back the Tech! campaign.
Take Back the Tech! (on Twitter @takebackthetech, using #takebackthetech) will have daily action campaigns during the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence (November 25 – December 10 each year). This year it is focused on developing actions that defend women's right to freedom and expression and information. Women and men in more than 30 countries have used information technologies such as the internet, mobile phones, and radio to document and fight violence against women since the campaign was developed by the Association of Progressive Communications Women's Networking Support Program (APC WNSP) in 2006.
On behalf of Global Voices, I interviewed Erika Smith, the APC WNSP communications coordinator, on issues regarding the campaign, violence against women, gender and technology, and the intersections of the global and the local.
Global Voices (GV)- What is the objective of the Take Back the Tech! campaign?
Erika Smith (ES)- The Take Back the Tech! campaign aims to eliminate violence against women (VAW) by using any technology within our reach to document, denounce and transform the reality of violence women face in every corner of the world – violence that is also now, increasingly, in online spaces or perpetrated using information and communication technologies (ICTs). This year the campaign focuses on defending women's rights to freedom of expression and access to information – essential rights in order to be safe online and off, find support, and mobilise against violence. The campaign's daily actions for every one of the 16 days from 25 November to 10 December deepen our understandings of VAW and the interconnections with ICTs, and push us to experiment with technology in different ways.
The campaign calls on everyone – from everyday internet users to bloggers to geeks to social network fiends and sms-addicts to channel energies towards ending VAW, it connects online action with direct local actions.
ES- Technology does not empower women, women empower themselves when they use and transform technology to respond to their needs. Many women have grown up in societies where technology is presented as out of their reach – gender stereotypes, access and affordability have meant that many women see technology as something that is “not for them”. Questioning that stereotype and demystifying technology in such settings breaks down assumptions made about women and that women make about themselves, too. In the APC WNSP (APC Women) we've found that women and technology are a powerful mix for social change where the potential for women's empowerment is impressive. Just taking the time out to examine the possibilities for information and communication technologies at the service of women's needs and rights has been eye-opening for many women – be they techies or with limited experience in ICT.
Violence against women is so often seen and experienced as a private, personal, intimate very local problem and as such invisibilised. Yet it is a global pandemic, a threat to world public health and security, that women have tirelessly mobilised against for decades – locally and globally. November 25 for many is a day of paralysing images and statistics, and the 16 Day campaign came out of feminists’ insistence on keeping the spotlight on VAW and demanding real solutions. Take Back the Tech! accompanies the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence to help grow the movement, increasingly interconnect actions, and build awareness about how technology is also transforming the way women can experience violence and mobilise against it.
ES- I already mentioned gender stereotypes about women and technology above, especially acute for older women who did not grow up in the computer age. But even with these stereotypes breaking down due to increased access and presence of ICTs in so many spheres of our lives (and too the current popularity of geekiness) women are still seen as consumers and users of technology and in the labour market are concentrated in the data-capture and call centre service provision of ICT work.
Hardware and software developers are predominantly male. ICT developments are permeating our lives on so many fronts – from our moments of intimacy to the way we interact with our governments. We seldom take time out to reflect on these changes from a gender and social change perspective, and question the implications. How do you sanction violence against women online? How much real harm is there in virtual cyberstalking? What happens behind the code? Who makes decisions and finances infrastructure? Why are certain developments benefiting big enterprise prioritised and social access needs ignored? Cybercrime conventions seem to emphasise piracy more than trafficking of women.
GV- How does Take Back the Tech connect the local with the global?
ES- There are local campaigners in over 30 countries who may participate in the Campaign's daily actions on a personal or collective level, or they might do something entirely different directly in their communities to put the spotlight on VAW and ICT. Some campaigners have organised trainings so that women can use ICTs to mobilise and express themselves for example learning how to build blogs in Montevideo, explore video and audio production for digital storytelling in Brazil, or create posters learning how to use graphics software in Argentina. Others go out on the streets, for example in Johannesburg interviewing people about VAW, documenting abuse or protesting to demand solutions. In the Congo girls made information CDs about violence against women and how to find help, and shared them at beauty salons around their communities, sparking debate amongst the women stylists and customers. In Quebec, campaigners held a discussion raising awareness about violence in popular video games.