Digital Security for Women Human Rights Defenders


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This content is currently unmaintained and may be significantly out of date. Please do not rely on it.


In 2013, Tactical Tech decided to create a community focused guide based on what we were learning about the experiences of women human rights defenders who were using technology. This work began at a time when there was increased attention to the harassment of women activists and women journalists who were active on social media.

The APC Women's Rights Program has been calling attention to this with research and policy advocacy since 2007-8. The increasing number of women online, of women and gender rights activists using digital technologies, and of high profile cases like those of online harassment of people like Stella Creasy, Anita Sarkeesian and Brianna Wu have raised the profile of this issue. Since then 'gender based violence online', and 'online harassment of women' have come to international attention not only within activist and technical communities but in the media and at policy and internet governance levels. There are some resources that offer practical solutions and list supportive networks and events where women can equip themselves to deal with these situations. Some of these include:

This guide for WHRDs makes a specific distinction between the harassment and hatespeech that happens online primarily through social media, and other forms of online and offline harassment and harm face faced by WHRDs. The distinction being made here is one of scale. While online hate speech and harassment are evident, many WHRDs face these and other risks. Many activists, some of who are profiled here, have to contend with infrastructural, political, socio-cultural and financial barriers associated with internet use. The sharing of devices, use of cyber-cafes, a reliance on legacy or 'dumb' phones, and an overall limited or irregular access to technology contribute to certain digital risks. Some of these women are embedded in particular movements, geopolitical histories and struggles that have long been targets of abuse.

Not all WHRDs use social media, nor do they all work on issues related to digital rights, internet access or technology. Surveillance either from governments or corporations may not be a common problem; however, surveillance from family and community members or from within their own movements may, however, be more widespread. Their work may involve community based activism on issues related to land rights, women's health, water, natural resources, transparency, anti corruption work, LGBTQ rights, and so on. The spaces they are trying to protect therefore extend beyond online identities and networks. This guide is meant to provide resources to explore these risks and tactics for their mitigation. These ideas are very closely mirrored by Tactical Tech's upcoming publication and website on Holistic Security.