Arab Media Analyst POV – #PITAPAL Reflects on Women’s Online Voice

Dear Pita-Consumers,

Thanks to all who attended our third workshop covering strategy development from our joint initiative with Jordin’s Paradise “Mind Your Body, Exercise Your Mind” series.  Our next one is scheduled for April 14th ,Sunday at 2pm in Washington, DC. 

Earlier this week Reporters Without Borders issued its report on internet freedom. The report listed Bahrain, Syria, and Iran as “Enemies of the Internet”.  So, we would like to highlight an astute piece by our PITAPAL, Courtney Radsch, who is a Technology Specialist.  She has tried to visit Bahrain to review freedom indices, but she, like other journalists, were turned away by the Bahraini authorities. 

Her work reviews cyber activism in the Arab world, and PITAPOLICY Founder, Mehrunisa Qayyum, will provide a response to this in a future post!  Racsch’s piece was originally written for Huffington Post Blog.  You may follow Radsch on Twitter as @CourtneyR!

Online Voices For All? Women’s Marginalization Online and What It Means for Internet Freedom

By: Courtney Radsch for Huffington Post

The core principals of internet freedom include the ability to access the internet and freely express one’s opinions, but there is a large online gender gap that materializes both in terms of access, ability to freely express oneself, and in terms of online representation. These gaps limit access to the internet for many women and other marginalized groups, such as LGBT, ethnic and linguistic minorities, and other as well as their ability to freely and fully express themselves, leading to inequality based on identity. On Friday I participated in a panel entitled ‘Online Voice for All‘ at the Tech@State Internet Freedom conference to discuss the specific gender dynamics related to women journalists and cyberactivists, particularly in the Arab world. Drawing on my study of cyberactivism but women during and in the wake of the 2011 Arab uprisings, as well as research in the US, UK, Africa, my contribution focused on outlining some of the key security threats women face online, and the particular gendered dimension of cyberthreats against women and homosexuals. These include reputation assassination and defamation campaigns, online stalking and trolling, technological attacks and the hijacking of identities through fake social media accounts, online harassment and false accusations that often revolve around a woman’s sexual activities or allegations regarding her sex life, and threats of rape. For as psychoanalyst Susie Orbach has noted, “The threat of sexual violence is a violence itself, it’s a complete violation and it’s meant to shut the people up,” and thereby restrict their freedom of speech.

Women face specific threats and violence that their male counterparts for the most part do not, and they have paid a steep price for the online activism, facing those who would use sexual violence in an attempt to silence and intimidate them. Gender-specific threats, threats of sexual violence, and character assassination specifically exploit cultural taboos in which female victims are seen as having brought dishonor upon themselves. Sexual assault, including rape, has become a defining feature of the ongoing struggle in Egypt, and thus threats of such violence cause real psychological harm to the recipients.

Online defamation campaigns against women cyberactivists have been seen throughout the world, and in the Arab region, where they have come to play a central role in the uprisings, even becoming memes online. In December 2011, amateur mobile phone videos captured the beating of a woman by Egyptian security forces, who tore off her abaya and exposed her blue bra. Video and photos of the assault quickly went viral and the”blue bra girl” became a symbol of the continuing military repression and violence against women as people tweeted and Facebooked the attack.

Women, sexual minorities, and others often limit their engagement and use of social media and blogs because they are aware of stalking, filtering and monitoring, and fear the harassment, intimidation and defamation campaigns that are far too commonly levied against outspoken cyberactivists, journalists, and bloggers in an attempt to disenfranchise and marginalize them. click here to continue.

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