Teresa de Jesus Palacios, checks her cell phone on her porch. Tres Picos, Tonala, Chiapas, Mexico

Fostering an Internet for women’s empowerment

Coding Rights leverages creative feminist approaches to support online rights
October 23, 2017

What would you change if you didn’t feel safe online? A recent study in the U.S. suggested that more than 70% of women consider online harassment to be a major problem. For women in many parts of the world, avoiding harassment and remaining safe can be just as challenging online as it is offline.

Women in particular feel vulnerable to discrimination and attacks, including threats of physical violence, sextortion, and health data leaks. This creates a constellation of issues when it comes to encouraging more female voices in the public sphere. For one, it means that women are not participating as much in online discussions, whether as advocates for issues that matter to them, or in simple e-government fora meant to foster a range of voices. But it also means that women are more limited in harnessing new opportunities for digital entrepreneurship, or in engaging in new earning potential online.

IDRC is helping to tackle some of these challenges by supporting research in the global South that builds a strong evidence base for gender-related issues online, and by identifying and scaling new digital innovations. Based on evidence and research, and backed by code and legal rights frameworks, IDRC’s enterprising grantees are working together to generate new discussions and interventions that can help make the internet a more inclusive and welcoming space.

 

A collective of Latin American women and coders at Coding Rights, a “think and do tank” in Brazil, is creating a more welcoming Web by addressing fundamental human rights challenges and imbalances of power on the Internet. While these may seem like issues that are too big to tackle, Coding Rights’ policy hacking techniques are yielding results in Brazil for women and LGBTTQI minorities online. In fact, in recognition of their initiatives to improve inclusiveness and their contributions to understanding critical human rights issues embedded in digital technologies, Coding Rights was awarded the 2017 Regional Fund for Digital Innovation in Latin America and the Caribbean (FRIDA) Award to Women in Technology by a jury of experts.

According to founding director Joana Varon, “Queering both the policy and the hacking scenes with creative feminist approaches to technology has been our tactic to flag and try to redress practices of sexism, surveillance, censorship and digital colonialism. The idea behind our daily activities is to use code, art, and fun to promote rights in the digital environment, and we do that with particular lenses on power imbalances based on gender and in the global North-South relationship.”

Coding Rights initially started mapping digital rights legislation in Brazil, tracking amendments and consultations on the heels of the ground-breaking Marco Civil framework launched in 2014. While the framework is seeking to enshrine a new digital rights framework for Brazil, the implementation is leading to new, and often conflicting, legislation. Coding Rights saw a vital need to ensure civil society is fully aware of all of the new rights legislation emerging in Brazil.

Harassment is a human rights matter, one that affects women and other groups the world over.

- Nighat Dad, winner of the 2017 Human Rights Tulip award

To that end, they have recently launched a new platform called Radar Legislativo  to support these efforts to map digital rights legislation in Brazil. The platform helps filter and track all digital rights-related bills being drafted or discussed in the two legislative houses of Brazil. Significantly, the platform can be customized for other human rights movements that also want to track important legislation.

As part of the IDRC-supported Privacy International research network (which also supports Nighat Dad’s award-winning work to protect digital rights in Pakistan), Coding Rights is also unpacking the challenges presented by new technologies and digital surveillance, and promoting new ways of developing rights online. Recognizing that neither legal frameworks nor code are neutral, and that both have differing impacts on men and women, they have added an important gender perspective to digital rights discussions. Their Chupadadosplatform in particular examines how data is collected — often without permission — using surveillance balloons, transportation cards, and fertility applications.

Coding Rights is also helping local women activists in Brazil protect themselves online, particularly from practices that may leave them open to exploitation. Their tongue-in-cheek manual, Safer Nudes, encourages safe and consenting practices for sexuality online.

IDRC is also expanding an existing awards program that will provide opportunities to women leaders and designers to grow small-scale digital innovations in Africa, Latin America, and Asia that focus on gender inclusion.

The FRIDA awards are part of the IDRC-supported SEED Alliance, a collaborative effort between the Fund for Internet Research and Development in Africa, the FRIDA, and the Information Society Innovation Fund in Asia that seeks to scale up digital innovations to support economic growth and social development across the global South. As women tend to have less access to the funding needed to scale their digital innovations, IDRC is supporting a new phase of the SEED Alliance that will promote gender inclusion — another step forward in creating a welcoming Internet for all.

 
Everything you do online leaves a digital fingerprint – “huella digital.” Coding Rights aims to educate people about how their online browsing is tracked.

 

Photo: IDRC / James Rodriguez