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Take back the tech!

Corrected at 3.20pm, 10 Dec 2009

MORE than 30 years ago, a candlelight procession of women marched through the streets of Belgium in 1976 to Take Back the Night. Women asserted their right to move in public places, during the day and particularly at night, without having to fear that they would be harassed, raped or assaulted.

With the high crime rate today, the streets aren’t any safer. And in situations of domestic violence, danger lurks more in the home than on the streets. But there is now another realm that women are encouraged to “take back” to end gender violence: technology.


Over the past 16 days, the Take Back the Tech! campaign invited women, and men, to take one action a day to end gender violence. The campaign website says there is a connection between violence against women and information and communication technologies (ICT). “For example, websites can be a useful place for women in violent relationships to get information and help. However, tools like spyware and [Global Positioning System] tracking devices have been used by abusers to track and control their partner’s mobility.”

Safe digital space

Initiated in 2006 by the Association for Progressive Communications’ Women’s Networking Support Programme, Take Back the Tech! is now a worldwide annual movement. In Malaysia, the Women’s Aid Organisation and the Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) are working together to encourage the use of ICT, including through popular social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, to end gender violence.

“Our new activity is to create a blog (Magalir Mattum) in the Tamil language that contains information about women’s rights and document stories by women who have experienced some [form] of violence,” CIJ executive director Gayathry Venkiteswaran says in a statement.

If you’re wondering why 16 days, the campaign has been timed to cover three important days: the International Day Against Violence Against Women on 25 Nov; World AIDS Day on 1 Dec; and International Human Rights Day on 10 Dec, which is today.

(© Tomas Marek / Dreamstime)

But this does not mean that actions to end gender-based violence cannot go on beyond the 16 days. Here’s a summary of the 16 days of activism to take back the tech:

Day 1: Take a stand

Take a stand to end gender violence, post information on this and spread the word on Twitter, Facebook, chats, e-mail and blogs.

Day 2: Network safely – Protect your privacy

Online technology can be abused to stalk or threaten someone, such as by distributing personal and intimate photographs on the internet or mobile phone without permission. Take control of your privacy.

Day 3: Channel information – Leave a note

It may be difficult for women in situations of domestic violence to access information and support services because their movement and communication are monitored by the abusive partner. Women’s rights groups try to reach these women through creative ways, such as radio programmes and leaflets. Be part of this effort.

Day 4: Challenge stereotypes – Make an avatar

Is a woman in a short skirt sitting alone in a bar sexually available? Create an online avatar to challenge stereotypes about women and men. Some sites where you can create your avatar are: Minidolls and Doppelme.

Day 5: International Day on Women Human Rights Defenders – Name your “shero”

In Iran, the website for the Change for Equality signature campaign, calling for gender equality in the legal system, has been blocked by the state many times and has had to keep changing its URL to circumvent this.

There are many more stories that are untold and undocumented. Who is your “shero”? Tell others about her on Twitter — but don’t name her if this could endanger her safety. Use the hashtag #takebackthetech to make it easier for others to locate these stories. 

Day 6: Public or private? – Draw the line

Is what you post on social media really private or public, even though you can’t control how it could be circulated? When your partner insists on reading your SMS messages, are they still private? Draw the line, make it known. 

Day 7: Take control – My body, my terms

World AIDS Day, 1 Dec. As a result of unequal power relations between women and men, or social norms about acceptable gender behaviour, some women find it difficult to negotiate for safer sex with their partners. These women risk exposure to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV. Here are some resources on women and HIV/AIDS: UNAIDS, Malaysian AIDS Council and PT Foundation

Day 8: The great debate: Pornography –  What’s the harm?

Take Back the Tech! initiated an online debate for people to share different views on how online pornography affects women.

Day 9: 16 ideas to end violence against women – What’s yours?

It could be putting the police through gender awareness training, or having a witty response to a sexist remark or joke. Share these ideas on social media, e-mail and other platforms, and include the #takebackthetech hashtag where possible.

Day 10: Picture it – A world without violence

Picture a world where we can walk down any street at any time without the possibility of being harassed. Or where we can surf the internet without seeing sexually degrading advertisements. How would such a world look? Create a digital postcard and e-mail it to Take Back the Tech! and your friends.


Day 11: Stories of resistance – Share yours

Sharing stories on sexual harassment, for example, allows women to learn from each other about handling such harassment.

Day 12: Mute the violence – Tune into inspiration

Disrupt the norm of violence and sexism in entertainment materials and the news by populating your space with images and words that promote gender equality, empowerment and sexual rights. Share it. Here’s a music video created by Valentina Messeri about violence against women.

Day 13: Explore the internet – Search everywhere

Most people rely on a limited few search engines, like Google or Yahoo!, all of which store information about users’ online activity. Take Back the Tech! encourages internet users to try other search engines for comparison and discussion, such as: ASK, Collecta, Cuil, Duck Duck Go, Hunch, Ixquick, Kosmix and Yebol.

Day 14: Vote against violence – Say it with symbols

Communicate your stand to end violence against women by designing or wearing a button, for example. Take Back the Tech! has more information.

(Corrected ) Day 15: Build feminist knowledge – Wiki what you know

Build feminist knowledge and contribute to wiki websites on issues and content related to women’s rights and their diverse realities, perspectives and interests. 

(Corrected) Day 16: International Human Rights Day – Rights. Violence. Technology. Join the dots

Show the reality of violence against women and connect it with the need to take back the tech by creating a slide show with 16 powerful images.

Cindy Tham is using this digital space to take back the tech.

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One Response to “Take back the tech!”

  1. Cycads says:

    I like this idea. However, I feel that Take Back the Tech lacks the punch and symbolic value of Reclaim the Night marches that take place on the streets. Although the internet provides women a kind of refuge to talk more freely about sexual and domestic violence, there is nothing like the solidarity and collective involvement with other women and men that can be witnessed in such marches. It’s a message of non-violence to everyone out there, not to those who search for it on the internet.

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