FRIDA 2017 Awards: Coding Rights, Promoting Cyberfeminism
According to a group of activists who joined forces to promote an organization to fight against power inequalities in digital environments, the gender inequalities that exist offline are replicated on the Internet. This is how Coding Rights was born in 2015 in Brazil (www.codingrights.org). The project was founded by Joana Varon, who is based in Rio de Janeiro but works globally to promote a critical use of digital technologies including the perspective of different users, specifically women and LGBTTQI individuals.
Coding Rights received the FRIDA Award to Women in Technology (http://programafrida.net/en/archivos/project/coding-rights-women-in-technology-award ) . Jurors selected this project as the winner of the award for its outstanding efforts to integrate a gender vision in the digital rights debate. Danae Tapia, one of the promoters of Coding Rights, noted that this project seeks to banish the presence of patriarchal societies from online environments and to enforce the rights of all people, particularly women and LGBTTQI.
Why do you believe it is necessary for a group of activists to promote this type of proposal in the digital world?
We believe that ‘offline’ sexism and patriarchal behaviors often find a correlation in virtual environments. We are told that on the Internet we are all equal, yet online power imbalances are obvious. This is evident in issues on which we have worked, including online violence against women or the low participation of women in the development of Internet services and public policies.
In your opinion, what would be the best way to integrate a gender vision in digital rights?
An intersectional vision is required. This is what Coding Rights has been promoting: cyberfeminism with strong race and class components. We often encounter gender mystifications which, through quotas or poorly designed policies, have resulted in the under-representation of women from the Global South. Today, we believe the most interesting cyberfeminist initiatives are driven by women who are not from the first world, whose perspectives question the assumptions about their bodies and identities, the official scientific discourse and the urgency of decolonizing technology. This is the perspective that should prevail in a fair digital environment that consciously considers power imbalances.
What initiatives are you working on to promote the critical use of digital technologies and the rights of the LGBTTQ community in the digital ecosystem?
One of our major projects is the Chupadados platform (https://chupadados.codingrights.org/en/intro/ ) where we gather stories of mass surveillance of people’s everyday lives, usually facilitated by our permanently connected electronic devices. Through this platform we have addressed issues such as data extractivism in fertility and dating apps, devices used to monitor cities using espionage balloons or other devices, and personalized control of transport cards, among others. We believe these stories are starting to allow the general public to become aware of the information we provide to Internet corporations, inevitably integrating race and gender inequalities in a critical manner.
Our most recent project is Radar Legislativo (www.radarlegislativo.org), a platform where we monitor bills under discussion by the Brazilian congress related to access to information, gender, privacy, freedom of expression and innovation. The system issues alerts and provides information on any modifications to these bills. It also allows analyzing the information with the help of different forms of visualization.
Do you think Internet users fail to consider the rights of women and LGBTTQI individuals and that technologies perpetuate gender inequalities?
Patriarchal societies are as present as ever within Internet environments. We are always working on cases of online violence. Even we members of the Coding Rights team have had to deal with harassment simply for wanting to raise the issue of gender inequalities. Personally, I believe that if a technology is built by white men, by individuals who continue the logic of this patriarchal system, gender inequalities will inevitably be perpetuated. The good news is that there is a network of feminist women who have begun to take control of technology and we are seeing an increasing number of opportunities for the construction of autonomous systems removed from the logics of male, white, corporate interests.
How do Latin American and the Caribbean compare to the rest of the world in terms of the rights of women and the LGBTTQI community?
Latin America and the Caribbean have a sad history of dictatorships and neoliberalism, contexts that have favored extremely conservative scenarios where women and LGBTTQI individuals are permanently stripped of our rights. Our sexual and reproductive legislation is outdated and backward. Yet this same context has allowed the emergence of rebel, radical groups who now pay leading roles within the global feminist context. We have been able to create support networks to advocate for safe abortion, to promote sexual freedom using technology, and to fight against the horrific femicide rates of our region.
How would you assess your participation in the FRIDA Program and having been selected as the recipients of the first FRIDA Award for Women in Technology?
We are extremely happy. When I told the group about the decision it was total happiness. Our work can sometimes be exhausting, as we often feel we are fighting against enemies of gigantic proportions: patriarchy, Internet millionaires, oppressive governments, mass surveillance. Peer recognition makes us feel that we are on the right track and legitimizes feminist action within the context of digital innovation. We are very happy.