Feminist helplines for people facing gender-based violence in digital spaces

Digital Defenders Partnership Initiative on Feminist Helplines to support people facing digital gender-based violence.

From the area of the Rapid Response Networks of the Digital Defenders partnership, we started in mid 2021 the exercise of reviewing how different feminist organisations, projects and collectives, in their different contexts, are supporting people and collectives facing gender-based violence amplified or facilitated by ICT.

On the one hand, the consideration that the bulk of helplines for people facing digital attacks and emergencies are dominated by cybersecurity institutes (e.g. national CERTs and SOCs), and the fact that these institutions are primarily oriented towards minors, large companies and SMEs.  Their view of technologies is often apolitical and neutral, and they tend not to have an intersectional gender perspective in the way they analyse the risks faced by the different audiences they serve. On the other hand, helplines for people facing attacks and digital emergencies that emerge by and for civil society, and that specialise in supporting human rights defenders and activists, do not yet have enough experienced organisations with a track record of providing support to people facing gender-based violence in digital spaces.

These two gaps result in an international landscape that tends to ignore, or not know how to adequately address the risks faced by women, LGTBIQ+ people, and traditionally discriminated and marginalised populations. This lack of interest or expertise is of particular concern as these groups disproportionately face gender-based violence and hate speech carried out in digital spaces, and are also targets of cyber fraud, cybercrime, attacks and digital emergencies. 

This is a post quote documenting the three webinars that took place in June and July 2021 in which 12 pioneering projects presented their work

Digital Defenders Partnership

To counter these gaps, feminist collectives and networks are creating local and/or regional helplines for people facing gender-based violence in digital spaces in various parts of the world. These initiatives are often not very visible, precarious, and do not usually have the resources they need to carry out their work in optimal conditions. Nevertheless, they are acting on the front line to mitigate gender-based violence in digital spaces, and today they do not have the support they need given the scope of the work they carry out.    All these elements have motivated us to undertake this project to map these initiatives, give visibility to their work and think about how to create bridges and exchanges between the different feminist helplines, and between these and other communities such as hotlines for defenders and activists facing digital emergencies (for example the organisations that make up CiviCERT).

This international mapping of feminist services and helplines has shown us that there is a great diversity of formats and flavours. We find a generous and empathetic environment, with a myriad of skills that are actively working on the production and development of resources and support structures. We find this diversity a richness and believe it reflects the fact that local contexts and networks devise tactical and contextualised responses to these violences. Although gender-based violence in digital spaces is a global problem, the ways to confront, mitigate and overcome it are always contextual and depend on the social, political, legal, cultural and technical particularities of the environment. We understand that the creation and multiplication of feminist helplines symbolise the most recent example of creation and innovation of “feminist infrastructure” to mitigate and counteract violences that root in patriarchalism.

We are happy to be able to share with you this first post documenting the three webinars that took place in June and July 2021 in which 12 pioneering projects presented their work, sharing in feminist terms: how and why they emerged, how they organised themselves to sustain the helplines, what were the challenges to their sustainability, what strategies they developed, what problems they encountered and how they solved them.

With these visions that emerge from the design of processes developed from different territories and experiences, whose theoretical bases are the learnings from feminist solidarity, a critical review of the current panorama is established, and we give visibility to the different strategies and practices that have been developing, in a collective way, processes to support victims of gender violence. In this action of moving through the problem, of reviewing with our colleagues what is being done, how it is being done and why it is being done, we seek to share perspectives, to observe the multiple layers of the problem, the possible responses, and to learn from the multiple strategies and knowledge that exist to confront and overcome the gender-based violence that occurs in digital spaces. We also recognise that the gender-based violence that these projects address and mitigate is a problem that infiltrates our personal and emotional territories, and that it is difficult to ignore the transformations that are happening in terms of our relationships and environments. Working on these issues, it is necessary to recognise that the expectation of self-care is high, but is not always attained. Therefore, we suggest that these webinars are also a way of thinking and realising how we are inhabiting the territories where we work to mitigate the violence created by the patriarchal system.

The construction of safe, respectful and trustworthy spaces is a task that requires a lot of dedication, it is certainly a labour of love and solidarity. Exposing and mobilizing these different perspectives and experiences embodied in the voices of our feminist comrades from different parts of the world is a first step. Under the Rapid Response Networks area of the Digital Defenders programme, we will continue to work in 2021 and 2022 to support feminist helplines aimed at facing gender-based violence in digital spaces, and will facilitate activities that enable the exchange of knowledge and experiences within this international community.

We will soon be sharing more resources derived from this project. If you are interested in this project, please do not hesitate to contact team@digitaldefenders who will put you in touch with the people in charge of its coordination.

Thanks to all the projects that have presented during the webinars for their time and dedication.   Thanks to Zenobia Translators who were in charge of the simultaneous translation of the webinars.

Thanks to Constanza Figueroa, designer and consultant on gender-based violence on the internet and part of the collective acoso.online, and to Anaís Córdova-Páez, Digital Protection Facilitator for DDP and part of Navegando Libres, who supported the development and public documentation of these three webinars. 

2021 Feminist Helplines' Webinars 2022 Community Conversations 2022 Community Converstions 2024-2027 Strategic Plan Accessibility CiviCERT communications Community Conversations cyberfeminism decolonisation DFAK digital gender-based violence Digital security Digital Security Help Desks Disability Justice environmental justice feminism feminist helplines feminist infrastructure Freedom of Expression GEDI helplines líneas de atención feminista publications Rapid Response RaReNET research RightsCon tecnologías comunitarias UnlearnColonialism UnlearnDecolonialism vacancies vacancy violencia machista en línea