Unlocking sexual rights and the internet

On 3-5 February, the APC Women’s Rights Programme met with country partners of the Sexual Rights Project to discuss and plan activities for the year ahead. How do we organise and advocate making the links between sexual rights and internet rights? What synergies can we find in our national advocacies, and how do we bring the issues we are facing to the global level? Those were the questions this meeting aimed to discuss.

Aside from plotting and planning our online sexual revolution, the meeting was also an occasion for country partners to build their knowledge on internet rights and sexual rights issues well as exchange experiences of the work that was undertaken during the second phase of EROTICS. Country partners present at the meeting were: Point of View (India), the Institut Pelangi Perempuan (Indonesia), the Coalition of African Lesbians (Southern Africa) and KAOS GL (Turkey).

Nadine Moawad, Sexual Rights Project coordinator for APC, comments on the growing work we are undertaking this year: “It’s great that we are able to expand the work on sexual rights and the internet into two new contexts, Turkey and South Africa. Interest is much stronger in this intersectional area among LGBT groups in particular.”

Building on our learning through EROTICS, APC’s Women’s Rights Programme and its partners will work through 2015 to articulate issues that are at the intersection of sexual rights and internet rights with the aim of protecting, promoting and defending the rights of sexual rights activists and women human rights defenders to use the internet to express themselves freely and associate with others in the course of their work. We will use various strategies this year to contribute to this goal, including capacity building, advocacy, research and networking activities.

The keys to interaction: Digital security, privacy, safety and anonymity

Based on the trends peaking in our EROTICS global monitoring survey as well as the many discussions and workshops that we have conducted in recent years with women’s rights activists, we have seen that finding means to communicate safely and securely online is still a crucial issue to foster sexual rights discussions, debates and activism online. Participants in the meeting conveyed the reluctance and fears of some activists to transpose their activities online. They also voiced concern over certain conversations and access to the internet being policed by governments. There is still a lack of knowledge on how to create safe and secured online spaces.

In addition, with a call from NGOs for UN special rapporteur on privacy, this very important aspect of navigating online spaces for sexual rights activists to assert their rights and that rely on a certain degree of privacy to curb online harassment and gain access to critical information. Deborah Brown, project coordinator on internet rights advocacy and fostering internet governance comments on the importance of the right to privacy online: “Privacy helps to establish boundaries that limit who has access to our bodies, gives space to express ourselves, experiment without judgment, and think freely without discrimination. To put it simply, privacy allows us to imagine what we could be, and a world that is better than this one.”

Moreover, the harassment, intimidation and cyber bullying that some sexual rights activists face online is leading us to increasingly create links between our work on ending violence against women online and our sexual rights work. The threats and violence faced by all are serious threats to the freedom of expression of women and queer people online.

Opening doors: Advocacy and the feminist principles of the internet

The Feminist Principles of the Internet (FPI) were also unpacked and questioned during the meeting as a way to express demands and provide a framework to analyse and formulate positions that can be used to advocate and to raise awareness in regards to sexual rights. Nadine Moawad explains where the FPI is locating itself in the sexual rights project: “Feedback we’ve gotten from partners asserts that the feminist principles help ground the work on gender and technology by articulating demands more clearly. The main aim of the principles is to shift the lens through which sex is discussed in relation to the internet – from protectionist moral panic to rights-based freedoms.”

Creating links between internet and communication rights activists and women’s and sexual rights activists still needs attention, because in most forums, the topic of sexual content is still restrictively seen as a pornography or a child’s protection issue. Participants in the meeting identified the need to connect and advocate with governments and businesses who regulate the internet, as well as with activists who are interested in the intersection of human rights and internet rights. This year, the Sexual Rights Project partners and APC will continue to engage with spaces like the Internet Governance Forum and the Human Rights Council, amongst others.

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Published on 23 Mar 2015

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