28 Feb 2020 Feminist digital organizing to transform a world in crisis
Twenty five years ago at the parallel NGO Forum of the 1995 4th World Conference on Women, 30,000 feminists and women’s rights activists from hundreds of countries placed on the global stage our shared vision for women’s rights and gender equality.
The collective action of the global women’s movement gathered there in Huairou led to the most progressive outcomes of the conference and ensured that the Beijing Platform for Action became the most forward thinking blueprint ever for advancing women’s rights.
In 2020, the global community will review the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the outcomes of the 23rd special session of the General Assembly, and mark five years since the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals, presenting feminists and women’s rights advocates around the world once again with a crucial political opportunity.
As a diverse group of feminist activists from different regions and social movements who gathered in August 2019 to strategize in preparation for this process have said, the Generation Equality Forum is a vital moment for us to:
“Celebrate and affirm gains we have made in… advancing women’s human rights; harness our rage at the crises confronting our communities and ecologies; build on the hope of women’s mobilization and transformative actions; and take collective action to forge solidarity with other resistance and liberation movements, demanding accountability of states and the private sector.”1
Today, the world which feminist and women’s rights advocates imagined in Huairou seems more distant than ever. The current global context is one of deep and sustained crisis with the unholy trilogy of neoliberal capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy at its core. The unrelenting search for ever increasing profit through the global neoliberal economic system, the total dependence of this system on fossil fuels and its manifestation in an extractivist development model have wreaked ecological havoc, the burden of which is carried disproportionately by women and girls.
With its unwavering focus on growth, the neoliberal economic system promised to improve standards of living for the majority of the world’s poor but instead has aggravated existing inequalities between countries, communities, and people. While extreme poverty indicators have indicated improvement in recent years, millions of women, girls, transgender and gender non-confirming people remain stuck in poverty with unequal access to public services and little hope of change in the face of policies that fail to address the structures underlying poverty and inequality.
At the same time, economically and politically dominant actors, including states, corporations, religious extremists and anti-rights groups are consolidating their power. We are witnessing rising authoritarianism and right-wing populist leaders targeting marginalized women, ethnic and minority faith groups, indigenous peoples, refugees and migrants, and LGBTQI people. These groups are being held responsible for the insecurity, inequality, poverty, and powerlessness that many people feel, but which are in fact the hallmark of the failure of the neoliberal economic system. Compounded by the undermining of international institutions and the corporate capture of the state and multilateral spaces like the UN, there are now fewer and fewer paths for marginalised groups to claim their rights.
The rapid rise of these far-right actors has led to routine violation of the human rights of women, transgender, and gender non-conforming people, especially the right to bodily autonomy. States, in particular, are increasingly using criminalisation as a tool to target marginalised people and those who defend their rights, combined with efforts to elevate rights of conscience or religious freedom to justify discrimination. These repressive measures are part of a much larger increase in violence against women and women human rights defenders by state and non-state actors with black, indigenous, and ethnic minority women and their communities most deeply affected.
Radical transformation through feminist digital organizing
Faced with this profound crisis, as feminists and women’s rights activists we know that what is needed is nothing less than a “radical transformation of a world in crisis, putting women, people, and the planet over profit.”2 Women have long been at the forefront of resisting oppression and co-creating feminist realities in their own contexts. It will be the diverse constituencies of women, trans and gender non-confirming people organizing within and across social movements and across national and regional boundaries who will collectively lead this transformation.
Just as digital platforms and internet technologies were key to the development of transnational feminist organizing in the run up to the 4th UN World Conference on Women, without doubt they must continue to play a key role in shaping our collective feminist organizing in response to the current systemic crisis in 2020 and beyond.
Since 2014, feminists working in sexual rights, violence against women, and internet rights, facilitated by the Association for Progressive Communications, have been collectively developing a series of statements that provide a gender and sexual rights lens on critical internet-related rights. These Feminist Principles of the Internet provide an important framework not only for the internet as a tool for our organizing but as a site of feminist activism itself.3
At the heart of the radical transformation we need is universal, affordable, open, meaningful and equal access to the internet which allows women to actively engage in creating the kind of internet which guarantees rights rather than restricts them. This includes unrestricted access to information relevant to our lives and our struggles that responds to a diversity of languages, abilities, interests, and contexts. And it involves access where women are not just users of the internet but producers as well, including of erotic content that resists the patriarchal gaze.
With unfettered access, the internet becomes a transformative political space, which is part of a continuum of our resistance in other arenas. The internet then enables us to claim and construct new forms of citizenship, connect across borders, demand accountability and build feminist movements.
Part of the power of the internet for feminist organizing is that it allows us to tell our stories and amplify women’s narratives about the issues that affect us and our communities. These tools provoke backlash so we must also use the internet to resist anti-rights actors, including the state, who seek to silence women and target women human rights defenders through control, surveillance, legislation and violence.
As feminists, we must engage with the governance of the internet to democratise policy making and ensure that gender perspectives are present in crucial internet-related debates. We must work to create an internet that is grounded in the principles of cooperation, solidarity, commons, environmental sustainability and openness, in particular through the use and promotion of open source technology in our organizing and our movements.
And finally, as we have made consent central to our activism on sex and sexuality, so we must make consent central to the internet so that women, trans and gender non-confirming people can make informed decisions about what aspects of their lives to share online. We must have full control over our personal data and information online, including the rights to exercise and retain control over our personal history and memory on the internet and we must protect anonymity which enables our freedom of expression online so key to breaking the taboos of sexuality, experimenting with gender identity and enabling safety.
1. Between the 22nd and 24th of August 2019, a group of feminist activists from diverse regions and social movements gathered in Mexico City to strategize towards the Generation Equality Forum. Women Radically Transforming a World in Crisis was produced from this strategy meeting and presents a radical and urgent vision, which you can endorse here: http://bit.ly/B25SignOn
2. Women Radically Transforming a World in Crisis: A framework for Beijing+25, September 2019, Mexico City, page 2.
3. The remainder of this article provides a summary of the Feminist Principles of the Internet developed by a diverse group of feminists, supported by the Association for Progressive Communications.
Anna Turley is a feminist who works at the intersections of women’s rights and communication rights. As a consultant, she works with civil society organizations and the movements of which they are a part, to strengthen their reach, impact and influence through strategy development and organisational change. Anna has an MSc in Development Studies and is based in South Africa.