The Spirit of Persistence

On March 8th, International Women’s Day, the Internet Society and Panos Pictures are celebrating the spirit of persistence by telling the story of women who are boldly making the Internet a safer, more trusted place.

Top: Anne-Marie Eklund Löwinder, Sweden and Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale, Nigeria. Above: Saadia Muzaffar, Canada and Angélica Contreras, Mexico. Below: Japleen Pasricha, India and Katja Ulbert, Switzerland

There is nothing worse than showing up to a party uninvited. The awkward conversations, the constant justification of why you’re there, and often facing up to the downright hostility of the hosts. It’s enough to make any of us want to quietly make our way towards the closest exit sign we find and never look back.

And that’s exactly what’s happening to many women around the world for simply taking the time to log on.

Online harassment and cyber bullying are real. In theory, these things can happen to anyone — but they don’t.
They happen overwhelmingly to women.

Too often we tell women they must quietly adapt. If you don’t like the way you’re being treated online, you should log off.

In other parts of the world, women don’t even get through the front door.

This shouldn’t be something that we accept.

On International Women’s Day, we want to #ShineTheLight on women who are standing up to make the Internet a safer, more trusted place.

Some just by logging on again and again and again.

Japleen Pasricha, founder of a Delhi-based “Feminism in India.” Image: Atul Loke/Panos

In India, Japleen Pasricha, founder of a Delhi-based non-profit called “Feminism in India.” It offers an online space for women to write about gender quality issues and fight sexual harassment. Her research was also part of the 2016 Freedom on the Net report.

“I think one thing we can do to make the Internet more secure is to not get off the Internet. A lot of women, and for very right reasons, get off the Internet when they are harassed and/or are victims of doxing. But there is a logic that applies everywhere, even in the digital space. The more women there are, the safer that place becomes [for women.] So even on the Internet, this logic stands true, that the more women there are on the Internet, on any platform, be it Facebook, Reddit, etc, the better it will be for other women. If I even see female name handles, for example, on a platform that’s still very typically male-dominated, like a gaming thread on Reddit, I would feel much more comfortable to post something there, as when I don’t see any women there.”

Anne-Marie Eklund Löwinder, Chief Information Security Officer at IIS, the Internet Foundation. Image: Mikkel Østergaard/Panos

Anne-Marie Eklund Löwinder is Chief Information Security Officer at IIS, the Internet Foundation in Sweden. She is ranked as one of Sweden’s leading experts on IT security. In 2013 Anne-Marie was the first swede to become inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame.

She is a frequently asked expert in public inquiries on matters relating to Internet and security, and answers on governmental referrals within the same area.

“Are people or tech harder to fix when it comes to making the Internet safer? People. They have far many more bugs. When you connect to the Internet you become a part of something that is a common. Like any other commons you need to show respect to others sharing it with you. The biggest advice I can give to people to keep Internet safer is by keeping your equipment updated, don’t click on unknown links, don’t trust anything by default and don’t get carried away sharing things that you haven’t checked whether they are true or not. And, if someone pushes you — push back if you can. Don’t take any crap.”

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale is a woman’s rights activist and citizen journalist, working specifically on prevention of child sexual assault and providing skill acquisition training for women. She’s also the founder of the non-profit organization, Star of Hope Transformation Center in Lagos dedicated to ending child sexual abuse, heal survivors and train women for income generating projects. Olutosin is researching methods for improving women and girls’ internet access in rural Nigeria.

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale, Star of Hope Transformation Center. Image: Andrew Esiebo/Panos
“In 2015, I took part in a documentary, and we went to Northern Nigeria to film the girls who had escaped from Boko Haram. And Boko Haram sent a message to me saying ‘We are going to send you to your ancestors. We don’t want you in Northern Nigeria.’ And I said to them ‘You can’t send me to my ancestors, you’re not my creator.’ When things like that happen, sometimes I deactivate my [Facebook] page for a week or so, or change my profile name. But I always come back. Backlash? I expect it.”

Angélica Contreras is a young blogger, feminist, and Internet Activist. Image: Brett Grundlock/Panos
“My state, Aguascalientes, is a very conservative place. To say that ‘I am a feminist’ is still a sensitive issue. In the rest of Mexico and Latin America, my blog is well received. There are women who write to me that they identified with me, that I write what they can not or do not dare to say.”

Angélica Contreras is a young blogger, feminist, and Internet Activist. Based in Aguascalientes City, she is a member of the Internet Society’s Youth Observatory which fights to give youth more of a voice in the decisions that govern the Internet.

She says her blog is a way to challenge perceptions and give women and girls a platform to discuss what is sometimes considering the undiscussable.

Heather Leson, Federation of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent. Image: Mark Henley/Panos

Heather Leson works at the Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent where she promotes and trains people on the importance of data and digital literacy for humanitarian work. She’s on the board of Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team and an Advisor for MapSwipe.

She says that women are leading some of the efforts in the world of digital humanitarianism. For them going offline is not an option.

“All around the world women are using maps and the Internet to connect the most vulnerable. Katja Ulbert of Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team launched Mapfugees to work with migrants in Calais and Dunkirk to map their community then share online to give voice. Janet Chapman, also a HOT member, creates maps to support campaigns against FGM in partnership with Missing Maps. By working with local and global communities, both women make the internet more inclusive. These are just two of many women leaders in the mapping community who use the power of the Internet to give voice to those in need.”

And finally Saadia Muzaffar reminds us that persisting — and resisting — is only part of the solution.

Saadia Muzaffar, TechGirls Canada. Image: Ian Willms/Panos

Muzaffar, who was born and raised in Pakistan, is a leading force in Canada’s tech scene. In 2011, she founded TechGirls Canada, a community that promotes women’s leadership in technology. She also organizes Startup Weekends and is passionate about gender issues.

“ . . . Why do we have to get to a point where we have to celebrate the fact that “she persisted” instead of holding to account why that thankless persistence is warranted? I like that there’s this acknowledgement that so many women didn’t let up, but while we’re celebrating that, I would like to put the same sort of effort into holding people accountable. I would love, honestly, for a lot of the work that’s happening right now around activism to not be a thing we have to be so consumed by, specifically for communities of colour and others who are on the margins. Personally, I would love to just build in tech, that’s really what I want to do. I don’t want to be that one single brown person who gets pulled in to talk about equity and inclusion all the time. Because it’s really tiresome, and I’m very wary of celebrating resilience at the cost of not highlighting what “persisting” does to us on the front lines.”

Join us and share your story of a woman who is making the Internet a safer and more trusted place. Tag them with #ShineTheLight and #ShePersisted.