Protecting and supporting women’s rights defenders in Brazil

Issues Affecting Women

5 July 2022

Photo by arrideo from Shutterstock

All over the world, whether organising public demonstrations or leading online activism, women’s rights activists are at the forefront, demanding transformative change, challenging the status quo, and striving for a world where women are safe, free, and have an equal chance to thrive. With that visibility, many women’s rights defenders are experiencing increased levels of stress, threats, violence, and discrimination. All of this can lead to exhaustion, mental and physical illness, and burnout. Often these threats come from within families and communities, as well as from the government and systems that activists seek to reform.

The Brazilian Transfeminist Digital Care Network (TFN) was founded in 2018 to bring together feminist tech activists across Brazil to support digital security training for women human rights defenders. In recent times, the security situation for defenders has become even more perilous, and the kind of security training and support that TFN provides has become more critical. In the past, this training took the form of in-person workshops with Brazilian women human rights defenders, mostly from urban centres of the country. The trainings focused on navigating digital spaces while safeguarding personal data and protecting against trolls and harassment, which disproportionately target feminist activists.

In 2020, TFN re-designed its training methodology to move to virtual trainings. It turned its training into an eight-week long ‘Gincana Monstra’, named after traditional community treasure hunts that take place in Brazil. Designed to help build technical skills, the Gincana also created a playful and fun space for women human rights defenders to connect, providing them with a much-needed break from daily life. The participants received prizes in the form of phones and computers with pre-installed security applications. The women could use this equipment to further their online and in-person activism.

Traditional digital security trainings focus almost exclusively on digital threats and the potential harm to individual activists. They start from a place of fear and caution. However, the TFN training also celebrates the internet for creating new spaces for connection and solidarity. Because the training was virtual, TFN could reach women in remote and rural parts of Brazil, especially in the Amazon and the northeast of the country, further strengthening their networks. The team also reinforced the importance of collective care by acknowledging that solidarity networks enable feminist activism and movements to endure multiple and ongoing crises, such as the Covid-19 pandemic. Relying on support and care from each other is how activists withstand security threats and how they deal with burnout or depression. TFN calls this ‘building an infrastructure of affection’.

“Without Covid-19, we would have done the training as we normally did. But Covid-19 made us think about technology and digital care in a different way,” said one TFN member. “We could also reach so many more women in rural and remote areas, so our network expanded. We reached more women and we could connect them with each other, and they also lifted each other.”

TFN plans to continue to strengthen this infrastructure of affection in Brazil and is also sharing its methodology with other digital security trainers throughout the world. The aim is to focus on supporting collective care and encouraging solidarity among women human rights defenders to help women’s movements stay strong, secure, and resilient.

The Brazilian Transfeminist Digital Care Network is supported through a grant to the Association for Progressive Communications. You can find more about its work on their website: https://www.apc.org/

Oak’s Issues Affecting Women programme (IAWP) seeks to strengthen women’s organisations and movements, enabling them to learn from each other and work together to develop knowledge and skills, and to plan, organise and mobilise. You can find more about the programme by clicking here.

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