Feminist reflection on internet policies

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Bosnia and Herzegovina: Women are vulnerable online, but also speaking up on the internet

Analía Lavin
Analía Lavin on 10 December, 2013 - 14:44
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Analia is a member of the APC's communications team.
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During the last Internet Governance Forum, which took place in October in Bali, Indonesia, Analía Lavin from APCNews talked to Aida Mahmutović, from APC member Owpsee in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Owpsee is one of the national partners of APC’s project “End violence: women’s rights and safety online”.

Analía Lavin: What are the most pressing issues in terms of violence against women in Bosnia and Herzegovina now?

Aída Mahmutović: A lot of young women are using Facebook, and they experience some problems. We are talking to them as part of our research, and they are telling us about upsetting messages they get, especially when they are commenting on political issues. If people don’t like what they say, they mess around their profiles, steal their photos and re-use them in ways they haven’t consented to. And these reactions are more likely to be experienced by women than by men. They are also concerned about stalking. SMSs and MMS are also a source of threat.

AL: Can you give us an example of a concrete situation of violence?

AM: There is a case where a jealous boyfriend sang a rap song to this girl, who apparently had cheated on him, in front of her high school. It was an ugly poem, so violent that can’t be even translated, and other students gather around her started to tape it. People were laughing at her, and making comments on her behaviour, and when she tried to run away her boyfriend and his friends surrounded her and pushed her to the ground. The video, coming from a well known rapper, went viral.

But technology can also empower women. In my country it’s harder for women to speak up in off-line spaces, but they are taking the internet as space where they can be smart and creative, not only with language but also with images, videos, and more.

AL: How are the other sectors reacting to the issue of violence online?

AM: It’s a long process. We’ve been engaging women leaders and ICT providers. People from the telecommunications sector are more likely to understand the issue and more open to talk to us. But public servants who don’t know the ICT world normally don’t show any interest. It’s then very important to have a strategic approach when you’re trying to work with them. We avoid being confrontational and always try to start a conversation from an angle that might be interesting from them.

AL: What is the usefulness for women rights activists to be engaged in processes like the IGF?

AM: Since the internet governance scene is not very popular in my country, coming here and meeting in person people from companies like Google and Microsoft is key. You are able to ask them what are their perspectives as insiders, and to have that conversation with people from the government and other NGOs. The best thing is to be able to have a dialogue with all these people, and then go back to Bosnia and share our experience there. We were the only people from our country that attended the Internet Governance Forum!

 

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