Feminist helplines create a global community of practice

Initiatives addressing gender-based violence online shared their best practices in the 2022 Community Conversations cycle.

The information, support, and solidarity that strangers can provide to each other can change and sometimes even save lives. Support from a distance depends on certain infrastructures and initiatives capable of mediating between those who seek support and those who can provide it. These groups’ definitions, motives and motivations, formats, workflows, institutional arrangements, policies, and strategies can vary widely. However, providing information and enabling support between strangers from a distance is always akin to building networks of support and solidarity.

In 2021, Digital Defenders Partnership (DDP) decided to study how different feminist organisations were supporting people and collectives facing gender-based violence amplified or facilitated by ICT in different contexts. DDP organised three webinars in which twelve pioneering projects presented their work and developed a research paper analising in-depth those different projects located in Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, France, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan, Peru, USA and at the international level. This research fed in a broader international study carried out by FemBloc, which analysed 56 different types of helplines and outlined a number of models of attention and support.

This first step of the study aimed at mapping the scene’s state of the art, identifying feminist helplines and raising awareness around their work. At the end of 2021, DDP conducted a survey to better understand how feminist helplines wanted to keep in touch and what activities they wanted to engage with. The vast majority of respondents opted to maintain a communication channel through a moderated mailing list, which now has 56 subscribers from 23 different initiatives.. They also demanded spaces for sharing knowledge and practices among the different initiatives, which evolved into a series of Community Conversations.

Community conversations 2022 cycle

The 2022 Feminist Helplines’ Community Conversations cycle was a series of five online encounters organised to share experiences and ideas on specific issues feminist helplines had identified as relevant to their work. The sessions, in which facilitation was rotated among members of the feminist helplines community, focused on feminist accompaniment, collaboration strategies with social media platforms, ticketing systems to document the cases, caring strategies for the helplines’ teams, and the development of technical documentation.

The cycle started in March with a dialogue on what feminist accompaniment meant. Participants shared their tips about building safe spaces for listening, accompanying without judgement and defusing blame. Also, some drew attention to how they recognised themselves as recipients of multiple forms of violence and the need to prioritise their holistic self-care.

The second session, held in May, explored the relationship between feminist helplines and commercial social media platforms in cases of gender-based violence online. Participants shared their expectations on building partnerships with tech companies, after which they learnt the ins and outs of a collaboration of such a kind from Luchadoras.

In July, the third Community Conversation discussed the best ticketing systems options for feminist helplines. Maria d’Ajuda and Fembloc shared their experiences with Zammad and CDR Link. DDP’s Tech Officer also provided an outline comparing the most popular systems among helpdesks supporting civil society (Zammad, CDR Link, Request Tracker, Freescout, TRAC, GLPI, First, GBVIMS, Discourse, Nextcloud, and Gitlab’s issues board).

Navegando Libres facilitated the fourth Community Conversation in September. The session was dedicated to discussing caring strategies for the helplines’ case handlers, considering mental and physical health, digital security, infrastructure, protocols, and process assessment. Navegando Libres shared their experience and described how they’ve managed to put care at the centre in their helpline.

The fifth Community Conversation took place in December to discuss the challenges in developing and maintaining technical documentation. In this final session, CypherSex shared the principles, strategies and tools for developing documentation; FemBloc presented how they put into practice those strategies, and AwasKGBO explained the challenges in accessibility to make information available for all.

All Community Conversations were conducted with simultaneous translation from English to Spanish and vice versa, enabling the participants to engage in a language they felt confortable.

The Feminist Helplines community will meet at the beginning of 2023 to assess activities developed in 2022 and collectively decide the focus of the activities for this year. DDP looks forward to facilitating capacity-building initiatives around forensics of devices, spyware identification, proof of GBVO to be used in legal cases, and supporting the organisation of a global meeting of feminist helplines.

Last but not least, complementary to these efforts, DDP and CiviCERT members launched Tech Care: A step-by-step guide to providing digital support for civil society to enable smaller organisations and grassroots groups to set up a team to respond to the digital safety needs of the people they work and fight with. The Tech Care guide provides a set of simple instructions to help you navigate the workflows and procedures of a feminist helpline or a digital security helpline for civil society. This guide is available in English and Spanish.

We will soon be sharing more feminist helplines resources. If you are interested in this project, please do not hesitate to contact team@digitaldefenders.org.