As well as having the privilege of co-chairing OER17, I was also fortunate enough to share a panel on day one of the conference with an amazing group of women. Sheila MacNeill, Frances Bell, Vivien Rolfe, and Kate Bowles, are all familiar names within the education technology and open education worlds. As I also mentioned in the introduction, the panel was also supported by Catherine Cronin, who was with us in spirit, and delivering a parallel open praxis workshop with Caroline Kuhn.
Staying open: sustaining critical open educational practice in a time of walls and borders ran under the conference participation & social equality strand.
The session looked at keeping open practice open, in a time of rapid electoral shift away from the ideals of transnational cooperation, and the widespread manipulation of anxiety in relation to migration as well as of austerity budgeting, and the expanding precarity of labour. The panel invited attendees to join us in developing tactics that will sustain ethical open practice, supported and framed by five x five minute provocations.
Between us, we covered a lot of ground, taking a range of approaches. Kate Bowles wasn’t able to be with us physically, but was well represented by Frances Bell who read her provocation on desire lines and path making beautifully.
Vivien Rolfe (who will be co-chairing OER18) looked at how open relates to the focus on excellence, impact, metrics, performance indicators, market development and brand management in institutions, and asked ‘what can the Five Rs learn from the 3Rs?’
Sheila McNeil looked at the comfort and discomfort of open practitioners and practice within open and closed digital spaces, following up her reflections of the session and conference in this powerful post.
Frances Bell used a video story to ask how open are our research and education practices, looking at whether open access journals, blogs and web pages address or dissolve power relations.
I looked at the issue of structural inequality and violence against women in online environments, delivering a five minute version of the notes I’m sharing here. My aim was to convey how violence against women and girls exists on an ordinary, everyday spectrum, that implicitly curtails engagement and speech in online spaces.
Open Educational Practice: recognising structural violence against women & girls (VAWG) online
Conversation and connections are critical to online communities and engagement in open practice and activities. What can we learn from present-day political attacks online, and new forms of censorship? What is acceptable and non-acceptable, and how might this translate to an effective way forward for the open movement?
Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) is a form of structural violence which reproduces and perpetuates structural inequality. It intersects with, and exacerbates, other forms of discrimination, including racism, agism, disabalism, classism, and heteronormativity.
The continuum of VAWG includes includes sexual harassment, sexual violence, coercive control, intimidation, humiliation and threats. It directly and indirectly limits and regulates the lives of women and girls. VAWG is detrimental to feelings of safety, physical and psychological health and well-being, and has negative social and financial impacts.
“Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) is already a problem of pandemic proportion; research shows that one in three women will experience some form of violence in her lifetime. The new problem of ‘cyber VAWG’ could significantly increase this staggering number .”
Violence Against Women and Girls Online
Online violence also reinforces and perpetuates systemic gender inequality, as forms of abuse are enacted and extended into digital spaces, and as new variants of abusive behaviour are developed in relation to the affordances of digital environments, applications, and systems.
The United Nations 2015 “wake up” report estimates that 73% of females worldwide have endured online abuse. Online VAGW limits speech, social participation, and digital inclusion. It “can have adverse impact on the exercise of and advocacy for free speech and other human rights.”
“Failure to address and solve cyber VAWG could significantly impede the digital inclusion of women everywhere, putting women at increasing disadvantage for being excluded from enjoying the benefits of ICTs and the Internet.“
“With the proliferation of the Internet, online violence against women has taken on a global dimension. Online crimes are not a ‘first world’ problem; they seamlessly follow the spread of the Internet.”
Violence Against Women and Girls – a normative cultural backdrop?
VAWA takes place within contexts where women and girls are disadvantaged in a host of ways:
- Global inequality in girls access to education and literacy
- Global internet user gap – this has increased from 11% in 2013 to 12% in 2016. Highest in Least Developed Countries (31%) and Africa (23%), but rates remain higher for men than women in all regions. (UN, 2017)
- Rapid adoption of technologies by abusers – the swift and continuing growth of technology-facilitated domestic violence
- Growth in individual and orchestrated attacks on feminists and women speaking out about issues concerning women
- Lack of acknowledgement that a lot of what we talk about online positions the subject (‘deafening androcentrism‘)
OER & VAWG – working in the open examples
There are a range of direct examples of the ways in which online violence against women impacts all of us trying to work equitably in the open:
- Educators, researchers, students and civilians talking about gendered issues in public networks – wether they identify as feminist or not
- Wikipedia editors & subjects. Given the critical cultural importance of Wikipedia, underrepresentation of women both as editors and women as subjects is a politically urgent issue.
- The personal and political cost of the tidal wave of false equivalency arguments relating to gender inequality from trolls, misogynists, and the naive.
- Openly accessible feminist research, or research which focuses on girls and women
VAWG is structural violence
“For it matters to us what is said about us, who says it, and to whom it is said: having the opportunity to talk about one’s life, to give an account of it, to interpret it, is integral to leading that life rather than being led through it…part of human life, human living, is talking about it, and we can be sure that being silenced in one’s own account of one’s life is a kind of amputation that signals oppression.”
Taking action – the good news
Addressing the issue of violence against women challenges, rather than reinforces, established gender roles in most places.
“Countries with the strongest feminist movements tend, other things being equal, to have more comprehensive policies on violence against women than those with weaker or non-existent movements. This plays a more important role than left-wing parties, numbers of women legislators, or even national wealth.”
“International and regional treaties were most influential in countries with strong domestic feminist movements. Feminist activists magnify the effects of treaties in local contexts by drawing attention to any gaps between ratification and compliance with goals for equality…Treaties give normative leverage to national civil society organisations…International treaties alter the expectations of domestic actors and strengthen and even spark domestic mobilisation.”
VAWG increasingly recognised as reinforcing and perpetuating systemic discrimination and structural violence (‘a cause and consequence of gender inequality’), and online abuse is increasingly recognised as a part of this continum of violence.
Laws are being introduced to address the specific forms VAWG takes online – for example, ‘revenge porn’ laws, helplines, training
Many kinds of online abuse and discrimination are now illegal, but hard fought for laws and rights will be eroded if abuse is normalised and accepted. Silence on issues relating to discrimination and hate supports the normalisation of abuse, which in turn effects what reasonable behaviour is.
Combatting Online Violence Against Women & Girls: A Worldwide Wake-Up Call UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development Working Group on Broadband and Gender 2015
Feminist mobilisation and progressive policy change: why governments take action to combat violence against women S. Laurel Weldon & Mala Htun Gender & Development Volume 21, Issue 2: Feminist solidarity and collective action 2013
Fighting for recognition: Online abuse of women bloggers in Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States Stine Eckert, New Media & Society 2017
Have We Got a Theory for You! Feminist Theory, Cultural Imperialism and the Demand for “The Woman’s Voice” Maria Lugones & Elizabeth Spelman 1983
Misogyny on Twitter Jamie Bartlett et al, DEMOS 2014
Online Abuse of Feminists as An Emerging form of Violence Against Women and Girls Ruth Lewis, Michael Rowe and Clare Wiper 2016
Working Group on the Digital Gender Divide Recommendations for action: bridging the gender gap in Internet and broadband access and use UN Broadband Working Group on the Digital Gender Divide 2017
Practical information & advice
Crisis support and assistance to the targets of online harassment
Real-time support for people being harassed online
Global, collaborative campaign for journalists, bloggers and publishers that are under attack
Information about violence against women online