Dialogue 1: Collective Activist Safety

Activist safety from a feminist and movement perspective

The first installment of our Dialogues – Women Radically Transforming a World in Crisis – focused on activist safety from a feminist and movement perspective. We co-hosted it with our friends from the Mesoamerican Women Human Rights Defenders Initiative (IM-Defensoras) and the (Association for Progressive Communications-APC. The speakers were Marusia López (IM-Defensoras), Jennifer Radloff and Erika Smith (both APC) and Shereen Essof (JASS).

We conducted the dialogue in English and Spanish with simultaneous translation. Not an easy feat and not without its technical glitches, but reflective of our commitment to language justice and the full participation of women across the regions in which JASS works. This feels important particularly, as Jennifer noted, given “the huge inequality that exists in access, control and ownership [of the Internet].”

Our Rights, Our Safety: New Toolkit for Women Human Rights Defenders

The world was already in crisis: a climate crisis caused by extractive capitalism, a crisis of violence and human rights abuses with new levels of authoritarianism and repression, and a crisis of States failing to adequately address basic needs and co-opted by corporate power and criminal forces. It is for this reason we created the toolkit. – Marusia

Marusia kicked off the conversation by sharing the new JASS toolkit, Our Rights, Our Safety, a resource by and for women activists to help strengthen both the power and safety of our work.  

She described the toolkit as a holistic guide that centers the knowledge of women human rights defenders from different contexts, and is designed to help individuals and communities assess risk and create strategies for collective safety. As a feminist guide, it begins with our bodies and the impact of threats, fear and violence on lives. And from there, it helps users analyze their context and the power dynamics driving the risk.

The guide offers tools and activities, including the protection tree, designed to help groups draw on their own knowledge, ancestral and movement traditions and community strengths – not an outside intervention – to create collective safety. She stressed, that at this “time of uncertainty, when elites intend to profit from our lives and strengthen social control, it is time once again to trust in our own knowledge and our networks of protection and care.”

"time of uncertainty, when elites intend to profit from our lives and strengthen social control, it is time once again to trust in our own knowledge and our networks of protection and care." ~ Marusia

The toolkit has 5 modules:

This toolkit is an important product from JASS multi-year exploration of closing democratic space and violence against human rights defenders – Defending Rights in Hostile Contexts. The learning from the related convenings can be found on our Power and Protection platform.

Feminist Popular Education: a methodology for movement building

The toolkit, created by Mariela Arce, Valerie Miller and Marusia, is based in feminist popular education (FPE). JASS uses this methodology as part of its movement building work to foster critical consciousness, because it helps grassroots women and their communities challenge the prevailing forms of knowledge that reinforce the status quo and legitimize their own experiences, knowledge and analysis. In the context of this toolkit, FPE supports activists in rejecting the stigma and other power dynamics are that are used to silence us, as well as challenge harmful ideas about protection.

Digital security in times of uncertainty

Jennifer Radloff and Erika Smith (APC) began by reminding participants that: We cannot separate our physical and emotional safety from the digital world. What happens in real life, happens in the digital world.” APC has a longstanding relationship with JASS including our  collaboration in creating an activist toolkit, “ICTs for Feminist Movement Building” (2015).

Here are some of the key reflections they shared on digital safety and WHRDs from their work:

  1. To imagine a feminist internet, we need to acknowledge the power structures within technology, as well as the existing power and wisdom that is inherent in our movements. We need to become familiar with how the internet works including knowing who controls the internet space. It is important to be conscious of power relations around technology, where black, LGBTQI and indigenous women have been historically excluded, and their contributions have been invisible. Check out this set of feminist principles of the internet.
  2. We believe in a holistic discourse around feminist self-defense and self/collective care, that does not distinguish online and offline experience. Check out the Take back the Tech campaign, to fight against online gender-based violence.
  3. The internet is also a place for safety, community, recognition for different activists.  We When those spaces are under threat, we should continually ask questions of safety. When we are using technology, we are connecting to communities so we must be aware of our own digital safety. In contexts where governments are surveilling, attacking, and invading our privacy, WHRD are under a microscope online.
  4. In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are engaging in technology a lot. We should take breaks from the screen and the constant flow of information, as well as make sure the information is not fake news and that we validate it before sharing.
  5. We need to make sure that when we are talking about digital safety, we do this in ways that is gentle and inclusive. We must strategize from a place of pleasure and fun, while being cognizant of people’s diverse identities and locations.

Resource List

Check out these online resources on digital safety and security: