An introduction to the exploratory researches in Turkey, Indonesia and India

EROTICS II consolidated and provided the necessary continuity for deepening learnings, challenges and witnessing developments. As a crucial areas of work, the interconnection between sexuality and the internet, was explored again in three national contexts: Indonesia, Turkey and India. Two iterations of the global monitoring surveys, translated in several languages, and run at the beginning of 2013 and in the last quarter of 2014 helped to understand the shared scenarios of threats, identifying key areas for joint struggles and showing the strategies of resistance and transformation applied by sexual rights activists.

EROTICS peculiarity is to combine evidence building with capacity building. It is due to the nature as anetwork of organizations specifically located and informed by the lived experience of the members that EROTICS identifies and builds its advocacy.

In India, Point of View (POV) created a national network via a combination of online and offline means. Face-to-face day long consultations between sexual and internet rights activists happened in five cities: Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Pune and Chennai with the engagement of over 200 activists who attended these workshops. On line, website, launched in October 2013, produced weekly blog posts showing the connection between sexual and internet rights on censorship of sexual speech, digital security, online GBV, gender and technology. In six months through 40 text posts, 16 videos, the site reported 7,000 unique visitors, and 12,000 page views.

In Indonesia, Institut Pelangi Perempuan (IPP), convened and supported its network both by face-to-face meetings, the website and Facebook group. The Facebook group in particular, reached 776 members and generated at least four posts a week, including impressive participation of group members in sharing information on sexual orientation and gender identity issues online, censorship of sexual speech, and digital security. The research itself became an assets of this high engagement adopting a participatory research methodology and inviting networks members to review the “Queering Internet Governance in Indonesia” research.

Insights: an exploratory path

Internet as a public space

Womens’ and LGBT movements now– and after years of awareness raising that responded to this gap – see the internet not only as a tool to advance their work but as a public space in which old forms of patriarchy and injustice manifest in new ways. In the past, making the case for EROTICS work was a challenge. Technology‐facilitated violence, discrimination targeting LGBT groups, and regulation of sexual content and practices were not seen as “legitimate” areas of work. Through-out EROTICS II, however, we saw national and international organisations, United Nations bodies and activists around the world take on the digital sphere as part of their gender and sexual equality campaigns. This marks positive progress for anyone working at the intersection of sexuality and the internet and it has also placed a larger demand on the few actors engaged to support this movement with more evidence‐based research, more advocacy, and more contributions to discourse and analysis.

We link this significant and promising shift to three specific strategies used by APC :

  1. The strategy of building the capacity of feminist and LGBT activists on digital security, while locating this within the political economy of the internet and how it is governed, was effective in moving activists’ understanding of the internet away from simply a tool to an important area of advocacy.
  2. The human right to privacy and security gained global visibility post-Snowden, and our research was able to show how these violations impact on sexual rights. We were able to more strongly make the case that surveillance by state and non-state actors on women human rights defenders (WHRDs) and sexual rights activists puts them at significant risk of violence, including targeted attacks.
  3. The past two years also brought increased visibility of online gender based violence, particularly because of celebrity women targeted in the United States and United Kingdom. Our Take Back the Tech! Campaign was able to build upon this visibility to broaden the reach of our work on digital safety and security for women and girls, gaining mainstream coverage in CNN, the Washington Post, Time magazine and Reuters, among others. The EROTICS research, in this regard, was able to provide a deeper spectrum to the analysis and strategising around the campaign for changing the reporting policies of Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube by bringing LGBT experiences into the discourse of online violence, thus making inter‐movement linkages and connections.

Cross-movement work to influence digital rights activists

On the other side of our cross-movement work, the task of influencing digital rights activists about the effects of internet‐based violations on sexual rights presented more challenges. We realized the extent of the taboos still surrounding sexuality, and the extent of dismissive practices on gender issues regarded as of secondary relevance. The two strategies that were most effective in this regard were:

  1. Pushing research results that demonstrate the necessity of including and supporting sexual rights activists within internet rights movements;
  2. Working with gender advocacy champions within internet rights organizations to influence the policy work.

Expanding EROTICS network to individuals

Building upon the rising need for more discussion and connectedness around EROTICS work, it became important to expand the EROTICS network to include – in addition to country partners doing in‐depth national work– individuals from human rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights and internet rights organisations around the world. While maintaining a global network presents its own set of challenges, we saw tremendous benefit in fostering constant communication between activists, researchers and techies to respond to violations of rights, identify key issues and create common activities to advance sexual rights. The EROTICS network can be seen now as a s/place: a global convening of activists across countries and movements through annual gatherings or smaller meet-ups that add on to various regional and international forums, online conversations and knowledge building.

The Feminist Principles of the Internet

The highlight of EROTICS second year’s work was the drafting and launching of the first version of the Feminist Principles of the Internet to overwhelming support from allies across movements. The valuable lesson was the importance of having a drafting process that was inclusive of analysis and priorities of stakeholder organisations and activists. This validated the principles. Additionally, we discerned how important it was to our partners to articulate the language needed to link gender and sexuality to internet rights. It provided a platform to springboard into advocacy spaces and make the case for inclusive cross-movement building and policy analysis and engagement.

The national exploratory researches: Turkey, Indonesia and India

Finally, from India to Indonesia to Turkey, what emerged is a heavy curtain of pseudo-morality used to criminalize, exclude, harass diversity, even when the manifestation of sexual orientation is deeply rooted in the culture, recognized and accepted at community level. The entry point for censorship: pornography / prostitution which are framed as deviant and harmful practices that require protectionist responses. Protection takes several forms: blocks, filtering, take downs, baning of domain names. An incredible and variegate set of practices which invariably considers sexuality as equal to sexually explicit content and this as dangerous, corruptive against the cultural practices of local communities and so forth.

That’s why the questions raised by POV in “The prurient, the explicit, the private” identify and frame very well the commonalities among the three researches.

As explained in the Indonesian research, censorship and criminalization are vested and named as “protection” of minors, both underage children of all genders and sex and of women who are regarded as unable to look after themselves. Protection against the wrongs of prostitution and pornography which become the blankets under which the powers frame diversity as deviant and harmful behavior which need to be hunted and stopped.

So the same government that ratified the Human Rights Convention in 1999 contradicts itself. First in 2004, the Local Government of Palembang, South Sumatera, enacted By-Law No. 2 on Eradication of Prostitution, Article 8 of the Regional Law and then in 2008 the national government of Indonesia decided to enact Act No.44 on Pornography where in Paragraph 1 of the General Definition, pornography is anything which contains element of perversion, and sexual exploitation that violates the moral norm in the community. It is in the elucidation of Anti-Pornography Act article 4 (1a), homosexuality is defined as deviant sexual behavior. As a consequence, all forms of media and publication related to the issue of LGBTIQ are considered as carrying pornographic content. This in clear denial of Indonesian own history:

“The fluid and diverse sexuality is evident in cultural practices of the people of Indonesia, which includes dance and other artistic expressions. Among the representations of homosexual practices are warok and gemblak in East Java and the acknowledgement and existence of Bissu (transgender) in the social structure of South Sulawesi. These people are acknowledged because of their spirituality and because of their role as religious leader and as medium between human and his/her Creator in the tradition of Buginese in South Sulawesi”.

It is then clear why the title chosen by the Institut Pelangi Perempuan for their research is “Queering internet governance”. It represents a strategic understanding that “The growth of LGBTIQ movements in Indonesia and their involvement at international level advocacy is inseparable from the growth of the internet” where the role played by Information and Communication Technology (ITC) goes back as far as 1990 through the pioneering role played by the Paguyuban Network. It is also the understanding that the very root of the liberation role played by internet is constantly at risk. Activists, which defined the internet as a strategic media, know that their ability to find and share information as well as having their own content shared and found by others is severally halted by a local and national corpus of legislation that criminalize sexual orientation and gender. And because of this is constantly patrolled, policed by the Blocking Service Provider a system established and used by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Ministry of Communication and Informatics Republic of Indonesia, as part of INSAN, a network of civil society organization formed to support Program of Decent and Safe Internet launched by Ministry of Communication and Informatics. This entire apparatus, blocks, filters and takes down anything contradicting the narratives of mainstream current political elites without any transparent and accountable process or respect for minorities which then has the power and means to criminalize LGBTIQ.

“Queering internet governance” moves from the experience and awareness that internet plays an important part as political and public sphere in social transformation and is influenced by the many actors that populate it. Even though the diversity creates a multi-stakeholder environment, is also true that actors do not hold the same power. Queering the internet entails the recognition that LGBTIQ voices should be heard The internet global governance space became an opportunity to hold governments and national institution accountable for their pledged commitments to respect human rights. IPP research is part of an ongoing advocacy to fight cyber-homophobia, and the blockage of LGBTIQ websites both nationally and globally.

The fragility of double standards that permeate freedom of expression in Turkey is just augmented in the case of LGBTIQ population where once more morality, obscenity, public order became the dubious shields behind which a restrictive, patriarchal, authoritarian government pretend to act on behalf of the interest of its citizens. A restrictive legislation in place since 2005 or 2006 justifies anextensive use of filtering softwares in internet cafes, prevents the existence of domains and blacklists certain words and prohibits their use.

As stated at the opening of the research quoting the Alternative Informatics Association’s report “The 2013 Situation for the Internet in Turkey”, “According to what the ‘Engelliweb’ [Blockedweb] initiative could determine, the number of blocked domain names went beyond 33 thousand by October. In a 6-month-period since the last April, more than 5000 domain name has been blocked as required by the Law No. 5651. Which means that in Turkey, 1000 domain names are blocked on average monthly.”

The research shows the extensive abuse of administrative measures put in place by the Telecommunications Communication Presidency, that without any notice to the website owner blocked and took down, in several instances in 2015, many platfroms. “The websites,,, and, which promote places for gay and trans people, and for sharing news, were blocked by the TIB on April 9, May 7, May 27 May 26 and May 27, respectively. It is remarkable that whole websites have been blocked rather than certain content and the number of censored websites by the “Law on Regulation of Publications on the Internet and Combatting Crimes Committed by Means of Such Publication” no. 5651 increased.

In this scenario, complicated and aggravated by judicial orders, take downs with no notice, of existing websites and platforms, active filtering of global content, the fight is made even more difficult by the complicity of intermediary platform such as Facebook that actively contributed and supported the censorship of LGBTIQ news from organizations in Turkey. Public denouncements, use of international instruments such as the European Convention on Human Rights,signed by Turkey and implemented by the Turkish Parliament, together with participation in global discussion on internet governance, seems one of the few options activists have and this makes it harder for activists to defend their right to access to information and freedom of expression.