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Feminist activist and pioneering researcher : Meet Jac sm Kee

Jac sm Kee works on issues of sexuality, women’s rights, gender-based violence, and internet cultures, rights, and freedoms

Digital innovations have the potential to deliver countless benefits. But without the necessary skill sets and access, many women and girls globally can’t take advantage of them. And when women do gain access to the online world — where inequalities, prejudice, and sexism tend to be magnified — they’re often confronted with severe harassment.  

A 2014 Pew study in the US, one of the few documenting online harassment, showed that 73 percent of adult Internet users had witnessed online harassment, and 40 percent had personally experienced it. While this study doesn’t contribute to our understanding of online conditions in the Global South, the reality is that online trolls operate beyond state borders. Whether their target is in Guinea Bissau or Sri Lanka, they aim to shame. Their efforts to marginalize female voices has a chilling effect on women’s and gender non-conforming voices.

Jac sm Kee is a feminist activist, writer, and researcher from Malaysia who works with a dynamic team of feminist activities from South Africa, Czech Republic, Mexico, India, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Argentina, and the United States. She leads the Women’s Rights Program at the Association for Progressive Communications, which works to prevent online violence against women, encourage research on gender-related issues, and build the capacity of women’s movements for feminism and technology. Kee was a lead figure in convening the collective drafting of the Feminist Principles of the Internet, which outline key issues and unpack related dimensions of power from a feminist lens. Jac has conducted pioneering research on Internet governance, censorship, privacy, women’s rights, and sexuality, and is one of the founders of the global and collaborative Take Back the Tech! campaign, which combats digital gender violence by supporting and empowering women to take control of technology.

Kee’s team carried out a mapping study for IDRC over the past year to identify where research is needed to address issues involving  gender and digital technology either in, or concerning, middle- and low-income countries. Among the areas needing further research are the gaps in research on meaningful and relevant digital access for women, girls, and gender non-conformists. There are also gaps in knowledge on the economy and online labour issues; on the permutations and impact of online gender-based violence and harassment; and on how the challenges of privacy, data governance, and surveillance impinge on free expression, participation, and decision-making.

To address some of these issues, Kee’s team is currently developing a proposal for a cross-cutting research network that will explore the frontiers of gender transformative potential online. The purpose is to build the foundations for better policy research on the various dimensions of gender and inclusion in relation to digital development in the Global South, and to facilitate a deeper field of research on these issues.

As gender relations are increasingly intersected by digital technology, they impact political agency (through social media, other online forums, and fake news factories), economic livelihoods (through online work platforms, microwork, shadow work, and Internet moderation work) and social relations (through violence online and off, trolling, harassment, and sharing non-consensual intimate images). Kee’s work is just beginning, but it promises to have far-reaching effects.