EROTICS: Sex, rights and the internet - an exploratory research study
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This report presents an overview of the EROTICS (Exploratory Research on Sexuality and the Internet) research project. The project was initiated in 2008 as an exploratory step to bridge the gap between policy and legislative measures that regulate content and practice on the internet, and the actual lived practices, experiences and concerns of internet users in the exercise of their sexual rights. The project was coordinated by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and conducted with local partners comprising feminist academics and activists in five countries, namely Brazil, India, Lebanon, South Africa and the United States.
The EROTICS research aimed to promote evidence-based policy making by engaging in on-the-ground research with a range of internet users, especially those most affected by internet regulation measures, to inform and guide policy making for a more accountable process of decision making.
The primary research question -How may emerging debates and the growing practice of online content regulation either impede or facilitate the different ways women use the internet and the impact on their sexual expression, sexualities and sexual health practices,and the assertion of their sexual rights? - acted as a common framework to guide the specific in-depth analysis in each of the five countries of focus. Each of the country teams engaged with diverse sections of society and communities, including young women (India), library users and particularly young people among them (US), transgender people (SouthAfrica), lesbian women (Lebanon, India and Brazil), sexual rights advocates (Lebanon and Brazil), social networking users (all countries) and men who advocate for intergenerational relationships (Brazil).
The research was informed by feminist methodology, and data was gathered via range of methods, specific to each context and area of study: critical analysis of laws, policy and literature, quantitative surveys, in-depth interviews, critical textual analysis, auto-ethnography, online ethnography, onsite technical tests and crowdsourcing.
The five EROTICS country reports map the current landscape of sexual and internet rights, and examine the value of the internet in the exercise of rights by people of diverse sexualities. They demonstrate the key function of the internet in the exercise of sexual citizenship and the advancement of sexual rights, especially for persons who are socially and politically excluded due to their sexual identity, beliefs or practices:
- South Africa report unpacks in detail how transgendered women and men converge at a popular transgender site to share their struggles in transitioning, including treatment options, unlearning dominant gender norms, celebration of achieved milestones and exchange of experiences in discrimination faced.
- Lebanon report highlights the registration of www.gaylebanon.com – also the only known website to face legal prosecution in the country – as being recognised to mark the beginning of an organised movement.
- Brazilian report documents the “Mega No” online campaign against a proposed law that could significantly hamper the free flow of information on sexuality and sexual health online demonstrates the potency of civil society engagement and mass mobilisation of support through the internet.
- India report uncovers ways in which young women are able to push the boundaries of cultural and social barriers that place intense scrutiny on their sexuality.
The reports also outline the different forms of challenges, threats and restrictions to the free flow of information and engagement online that emerged, and the key actors involved. For example the US report showcases that young people under the age of seventeen are unable to access unfiltered content in publicly funded libraries. Added to the lack of comprehensive sex education in schools, this may place them under further risk by denying them access to critical information.
The synthesis chapter of the report raises important insights into the patterns and movement towards greater regulation of online expression, content and interaction, and draws important connections and analysis of how the regulation of sexualities is intertwined at the heart of this process. They also demonstrate that internet content regulation measures are complex, rarely straightforward, and involve in formal and informal ways, a range of actors, both state and non-state that enforce regulation in four different layers: i) access and infrastructure, ii) law and policy, iii) markets and economic forces, and iv) culture and social norms.
Brazil: Internet regulation and sexual politics in Brazil - page 19
Sonia Corrêa, Marina Maria and Jandira Queiroz (Sexuality Policy Watch) and Bruno Dallacort Zilli and Horacio Federico Sívori (Latin American Center on Sexuality and Human Rights, CLAM)
India: Negotiating intimacy and harm: Female internet users in Mumbai - page 66
Manjima Bhattacharjya and Maya Indira Ganesh
Lebanon: Who’s afraid of the big bad internet? - page 109
Nadine Moawad and Tamara Qiblaw
South Africa: The internet and sexual identities: Exploring transgender and lesbian
use of the internet in South Africa - page 135
Jeanne Prinsloo and Nicolene C. McLean (Rhodes University)
and Relebohile Moletsane (University of KwaZulu-Natal)
United States: Restricted access to information: Youth and sexuality - page 176
Kevicha Echols and Melissa Ditmore, Sex Work Awareness
Read more about the EROTICS project:
Get intimate with the EROTICS research findings through the edition 'EROTICS: Sex, rights, and the net - part 2' that includes a series of posts by the GenderIT.org bloggers. They provide a window into the rich and complex universe of the 3-year EROTICS project.
Find out more about the EROTICS research and its impacts via interviews with the EROTICS researchers and the experts involved within the fields of the internet governance, sexuality and women's rights.