With the 21st century in full swing, the internet has become an integral part of everyday life for much for the world. From shopping to social lives, we have become increasingly reliant on the internet to get things done, as well as to communicate with other people. The younger generations, starting with Millenials, have never grown up in a world without the internet. With the increasing affordability and ubiquity of portable technology such as laptops, smartphones, and tablets, even the most remote of locations are getting online and getting connected. Indeed, the UN has even declared internet access a universal human right.
The internet, however, is a double-edged sword. While it has helped everything from business to education take massive leaps forward faster than ever, online communication platforms and communities such as blogs, social media networks, chatrooms, and forums have also helped amplify some of the worst aspects of humanity including misogyny and Violence Against Women (VAW). According to UN Women, “cyber VAWG already exists in many forms, including online harassment, public shaming, the desire to inflict physical harm, sexual assaults, murders and induced suicides”.
The anti-VAW movement has taken on the cyber VAW fight in two major ways. They use social media and other online platforms to educate, raise awareness, raise funds, and to turbo charge the fight against VAW and sexism. Crucially, anti-VAW activists are also finding ways to effectively tackle the tidal wave of cyber-VAW using tactics ranging from rallying individuals and organisations to unite against VAW to pushing social media companies to become more accountable for taking action to stamp out VAW in their communities.
The 16 activists and organisations listed below have been at the frontline of digital anti-VAW activism in the last decade as social media started its unstoppable rise to prominence. From providing an anonymous blog platform for survivors to tell their stories to creating viral educational videos to working with Facebook and Twitter to stop VAW on their watch, each of them have stepped up to take on this new frontier in the fight to end VAW. We hope their work inspires you to do so too.
Written and compiled by Samantha Carroll and Regina Yau. Introduction by Regina Yau.
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Recommendation #1: Aimee Smith
Aimee Smith is the pseudonym of a blogger who shares her story of rape survival. On her blog One Woman, Smith inspires women to come forward (anonymously if preferred) and share their stories of survival too. “If we can help even one woman deal with her pain, we will be succeeding”, says Smith. When she’s not helping others, Smith is teaching, parenting, playing the piano and being nominated for the One Lovely Blog Award.
Recommendation #2: Anita Sarkeesian
Anita Sarkeesian is the pop-culture media critic who made headlines when she launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to support her production of a video Web series called Tropes vs Women in Video Games, which explores female stereotypes in the gaming industry. Her feminist critique of the gaming industry has garnered an ongoing vitriolic online backlash, including threats of death, sexual assault and rape, most recently escalating to hounding her out of her home and forcing her to cancel an event at Utah State University due to the threat of a mass gun massacre.
Recommendation #3: Breakthrough
Breakthrough is a global human rights organisation based in both the U.S. and India. They work to make violence and discrimination against women and girls unacceptable via cutting-edge multimedia campaigns, community mobilisation, agenda setting, and leadership training equip men and women worldwide to challenge the status quo and take action to address and end violence against women and girls. Online campaigning is one of their key strengths – one of their best known online campaigns is their “Bell Bajao” campaign featuring YouTube videos that encourage the viewer to take action to stop domestic violence by ringing the bell. “Bell Bajao” has been adapted by domestic violence organisations in other countries including China and Vietnam.
Recommendation #4: Caroline Criado-Perez
Caroline Criado-Perez is a freelance journalist and feminist campaigner who successfully campaigned to persuade the Bank of England to include a prominent woman (Jane Austen) among an otherwise all-male group of British luminaries on the back of British currency. The success of the campaign made her and other women the target of numerous threats of rape and murder on Twitter from the day of the Bank of England’s announcement in July 2013. She fought back against the abuse publicly, which resulted in Twitter’s general manager in Britain, Tony Wang, announcing a one-click option on all posts enabling users to easily report abusive tweets, where previously there was no recourse for victims of online harassment on Twitter.
Recommendation #5: Jessica Valenti
Jessica Valenti is the founder of Feministing.com and the author of four books on feminism, politics and culture, and. Her newest book, Sex Object, will be out in 2016. She is also a daily columnist and staff writer for Guardian US where she writes about violence against women and gender inequality. The Guardian has named her as one of their “top 100 women” for her work to bring the feminist movement online. Her work has also appeared in Ms.,The Nation, The Washington Post, TPMCafe, and Alternet.
Recommendation #6: June Eric-Udorie
June Eric-Udorie is a 16 year old campaigner against female genital mutilation, writer, and member of Plan UK’s Youth Advisory Panel where she sits on the Board of Trustees. She advocates for women’s rights and is passionate about ending violence against women and girls. Udorie protests (both online and offline) against victim blaming, supports the empowerment of girls, blogs for New Statesman, and has written for Girls’ Globe and the Telegraph. In April 2015, Udorie petitioned against Sussex Police after they produced objectionable anti-rape posters. The posters were taken down within 72 hours. She was nominated for the Red Women of the Year Award 2015.
Recommendation #7: Meltem Avcil
In 2007, at the age of 13, Meltem Avcil was placed in the Yarl’s Wood immigration centre, Bedfordshire, UK, with her mother. There she witnessed women (like her mother) who had fled their home countries due to VAW, and were placed in a prison-like space. In a Cosmo article, Avcil is quoted as saying that, “These women have experienced torture, rape, violence, sexual abuse. They have been tortured mentally and physically. So when they come to this country to seek refuge, they’re being tortured again by being put in prison.” As a result of her experience, Avcil has started a change.org petition and called on the UK’s on Home Secretary Theresa May, to end the incarceration of abused women seeking asylum.
Recommendation #8: Nuala Cabral
Nuala Cabral created a short film in 2009 called Walking Home, to address street harassment. The film was uploaded to YouTube and was watched by tens of thousands. After Walking Home went viral, the film won the Speaking Out Award at the non-profit Media That Matters Film Festival. Cabral is a cofounder of FAAN (Fostering Activism and Alternatives Now), a media literacy and activism project that focuses on transforming the way women of colour are depicted in the media. To achieve this and as part of their community engagement, FAAN offers and facilitates a range of workshops, presentations and professional development around media literacy, social media activism and creating media for social change.
Recommendation #9: Raquel Evita Saraswati
Raquel Evita Saraswati is the first woman under the age of 30 to receive a Durga Award for dedication to ending gender-based violence, FGM and forced and child marriages. Saraswati has spoken out publically against honour killings all over the world and has written for prestigious media outlets while campaigning vigorously online via her blog and Twitter where she has over 20,000 followers. Her new initiative is called Adalah: Ending Gender-Based Violence and will focus on “a holistic approach to ending gender-based violence”.
Recommendation #10: Soraya Chemaly
Soraya Chemaly is a feminist media critic and activist whose work focuses on women’s rights, freedom of speech, and the role of gender and violence in politics, religion and pop culture. She is a contributor to Salon, CNN, The Huffington Post, The Guardian, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and Time and her work is also regularly published in gender-focused media. In May 2013, she teamed up with Women, Action, and The Media (WAM!) to organise a successful global social media campaign demanding that Facebook recognise misogynistic content as hate speech. She works regularly with social media companies to address gender-based inequalities.
Recommendation #11: Stop Street Harassment
Stop Street Harassment (SSH) is a non-profit organisation dedicated to documenting and ending gender-based street harassment worldwide. It started as a blog in 2008 by founder Holly Kearl and quickly went from strength to strength over the last 7 years as Kearl built a fast-growing community to push back against street harassment. Today, SSH runs the highly successful International Anti-Street Harassment Week every Spring, using social media, their website resources, and their mailing list to organise groups and tens of thousands of people around the world to take action against street harassment in their community. SSH also continues to collect and document stories of street harassment submitted by women and girls worldwide.
Recommendation #12: Take Back The Tech
Take Back The Tech! was initiated in 2006 by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) Women’s Rights Programme and was created as a call to everyone, especially women and girls, to take control of technology to end violence against women. It’s a global, collaborative campaign project that highlights the problem of tech-related violence against women such as cyberstalking, together with research and solutions from different parts of the world. The campaign offers safety roadmaps and information and provides an avenue for taking action. The collective runs several campaigns every year, and their biggest annual campaign takes place during 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (25 Nov – 10 Dec).
Recommendation #13: The Pixel Project
The Pixel Project is a global virtual non-profit working to raise awareness, funds, and volunteer power for the cause to end violence against women (VAW) worldwide. They focus on online campaigns which combine social media, new technologies, pop culture, and the arts. Their campaigns span a range of online tools and social media including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google Hangouts, YouTube, and blogs, tailoring these online platforms to reach, involve, and mobilise a wide range of social demographics for the cause including VAW survivors, fathers, music artistes, authors, geeks and book lovers, pet lovers, and foodies. Their flagship campaign is the Celebrity Male Role Model Pixel Reveal campaign – a crowdfunding campaign which aims to get donors worldwide to reveal a million-pixel collage of 4 celebrity male role models by donating a dollar a pixel.
Recommendention #14: UN Women
The United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), is a United Nations entity working for the empowerment of women. One of their key focal issues is violence against women (VAW) and in the last decade, they have successfully leveraged the power of the internet and social media to rally the global community to take action to stop VAW. In 2009, they launched the SayNO – UNiTE to end Violence Against Women campaign which aimed to raise at least 1 million actions to stop VAW (and succeeded). In 2014, they launched the #HeForShe campaign with Harry Potter star Emma Watson as the ambassador to get men and boys to step up to end sexism, misogyny, and VAW.
Recommendation #15: Women, Action, and The Media (WAM!)
WAM! states that they are a “nonprofit dedicated to building a robust, effective, inclusive movement for gender justice in media”. Founded by feminist activist Jaclyn Friedman, WAM! runs a variety of campaigns that aims to change the way online and traditional media treat and portray women and girls. WAM! has broken new ground with getting social media giants such as Facebook and Twitter to become more pro-active in addressing online harassment and misogyny that take place on their sites. In November 2014, WAM! collaborated with Twitter to address the online harassment of female Twitter users. In May 2013, WAM! took on Facebook with an open letter signed by more than 100 anti-Violence Against Women organisations demanding that Facebook recognize misogynistic content as hate speech. They won.
Recommendation #16: Yas Necati
Yas Necati is an 18 year old activist who describes herself as a “full-time patriarchy-smasher”. In 2013, she launched a campaign called #BetterSexEducation due to the UK’s Sex and Relationships Education out-dated curriculum. Nescati helps run the Campaign4Consent, which aims to make consent and information about sexual assault part of the UK’s Sex and Relationships Education curriculum. She is managing editor of Powered By Girl and a member of No More Page 3. And if all of the above isn’t enough, Necati is also writing a book on feminism for teens.
- Aimee Smith – Blog headline from https://onewoman365.wordpress.com/
- Anita Sarkeesian – Photo from Wikipedia
- Breakthrough – Logo courtesy of Breakthrough
- Caroline Criado-Perez – Photo from The Guardian
- Jennifer Baumgardner – Photo from : http://www.jenniferbaumgardner.net/
- Jessica Valenti – Photo from Wikipedia (taken on March 12th 2014 at Roanoke College‘s 8th Annual Women’s Forum)
- June Eric-Udorie – Photo from http://june-writes.com/about/
- Nuala Cabral – Photo from http://www.stopstreetharassment.org/about/board-of-directors/past-board-members/
- Raquel Eva Saraswati – Photo from http://www.raquelevita.com/
- Soraya Chemaly – Photo from Facebook/Soraya Chemaly
- Stop Street Harassment – Logo courtesy of Stop Street Harassment
- Take Back The Tech – Logo from www.takebackthetech.org
- The Pixel Project – Logo courtesy of The Pixel Project
- UN Women – Logo from www.unwomen.org
- Women, Action, and The Media (WAM!) – Logo from http://www.womenactionmedia.org/
- Yas Necati – Photo from http://www.yasnecati.com/