Gender and Technology Pop Up Institute / Contribution from Donestech

Gender and Tech Pop-up Institute

Including Gender: New Approaches to Privacy and Security

Organised by Tactical Technology Collective and the Association for Progressive Communications (APC),  December 2014, Germany.

At the beginning of December last year, 76 women and a small group of men - human rights advocates, feminists, techies, activists - descended on an ageing East German 'Schloss' (manor house) near the border of Poland for seven days of training, collaboration, discussion, and knowledge exchange. (And potatoes! Lots of potatoes.)

As could probably be expected from that description alone, the Gender and Tech Pop-up Institute promised to be an intense, interesting, inspiring week.

But first: Why a gender and tech event?
The problem of online harassment and threats against women and their collaborators, coming from both governments and non-state individuals and groups, has become more visible in the last few years. Vocal women are too often trapped in a situation where the  internet is crucial to their work - for coordinating actions, gaining wider reach, etc - but is also the place where they are surveilled, harassed and punished for speaking out.

For women, the internet is not a safe space, and it is all too common to see the work of feminists and activists being deleted, (self)censored, and actively prevented from being seen, heard or read. Logically, these trends diminish both the freedom of expression and privacy rights of the people targeted.  Our aim with this event was to try to find new approaches to privacy and digital security that would include a gender and cultural diversity approach.

350 applications
Through a process of rigorous review,  350 applications were pared down to 51 participants coming from a wide range of countries, including Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Argentina, Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Egypt, Turkey, Bosnia Herzegovina and Macedonia, with six self-funded participants from Serbia, Canada, Germany, Sweden and the US.

We also had a great group of 18 facilitators, who came from organisations such as SAFE, Protection International and Donestech (as well as APC and Tactical Tech); add the logistics team and some visitors, and we were about 80 in total.

Tracks, skillshares, hands-on sessions, and a hackerspace
The mornings were mostly organised along two tracks: a Digital Security Training Skills track (for those who already had some tech background but who wanted to hone their training skills), and a Privacy Advocacy track, which looked at  issues like mass and targeted surveillance, managing digital shadows and online identities and tackling tech-related  violence.

Afternoons were reserved for hands-on sessions (ie, learning specific tools) and skillshares run by participants, including sessions on wikis and digital libraries,  self-doxing, interviewing survivors of violence, feminist servers, self care, self-defence, VPNs, regional discussion groups, and others.

Movies, conversation, tech sharing, and making houses out of biscuits
After dinner the evening programme kicked in, including lots of self-organised, participant-driven sessions:  movies,  discussion groups, stenciling, board games, card games, creating a 'herstory' exhibition, gingerbread-house-making... as well as bar shifts at our makeshift bar 'Gabi's' for the night owls, complete with impromptu dancing and the occasional outbreak of balloon-volleyball.

Evenings were also when the self-organised and popular hackerspace got going, which became the go-to place to gain knowledge and share skills around practical tech stuff in a chilled-out atmosphere.

And because a week is never complete without some loud group singing, on Sunday night we put some fairy-lights around the piano, set up the guitars and speakers and projectors and enjoyed some exclusive one-night-only performances. Top acts included a piano song, a poetry reading,  music-less karaoke, various guitar jams (with or without improvised rap),  and of course the unforgettable 'Left-Handed-Declaration of Human Lefts'.

And suddenly it was Monday
While everyone was no doubt ready for some rest and quiet by the end of the week, those feelings were mixed with sad goodbyes. From our side, we learned a lot and hope that those of you who were there did too. Big thanks to our collaborators APC and to all our facilitators and to everyone who traveled halfway across the world to join the event; we're excited to see new partnerships emerge.  
Thanks also to everyone who applied - the selection process involved some tough decisions. We are, however, currently working on supporting and developing similar, more regional events in other countries, so there will hopefully be more opportunities in future.

Read more
We're working toward releasing an edited version of the event documentation later in the year.

Updates and questions
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And if you have particular questions or suggestions around this new area of exploration at Tactical Tech, please contact alexandra[at]tacticaltech.org.