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🌈🤍 #StopDigitalDictatorship: X (Twitter) Space Recap “How does Digital Dictatorship Threaten the Safety of Women and Gender Minorities in Southeast Asia?”

💌 On Monday, May 13, 2024, we hosted an X (Twitter) Space focused on the findings of our coalition first Thematic Report, in particular the safety of women and gender minorities in Southeast Asia! The panel was moderated by Founder and Coordinator of ALTSEAN Burma, Debbie Stothard and assembled by a diverse array of guest speakers including advocates and experts from the ASEAN Regional Coalition to #StopDigitalDictatorship. Speakers included Yasmin Ullah of Rohingya Maiyafuinor Collaborative Network (RMCN), Nenden Sekar Arum of Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFENet), Liza Garcia of Foundation for Media Alternatives. 


🗣️This X (Twitter) Space served as a platform to discuss how Digital Dictatorship threatens the safety of women and gender minorities in Southeast Asia, and also as a reminder that intersectional feminism in the digital rights movement is necessary to reset a digital space that is liberating each of individuals and communities.


ASEAN Regional Coalition to #StopDigitalDictatorship is a group of Southeast Asia human rights organisation who have joined forces to resist attacks on our online democracies. This report is the ASEAN coalition’s effort to document how prompt changes in the digital landscape also affect our multifaceted identities, as citizens, as marginalised groups, as consumers, as the ASEAN community in the Global South. This inaugural series of joint reports presents a novel perspective. It not only embodies the concept of being 'glocal,' signifying a fusion of global and local considerations, but also advocates for an alternative regionalism. This approach prioritises both human rights and flourishing democracies through decent lawmaking processes, and emphasises the integration of intersectionality as a lens throughout the report.

Our online democracies in the region are under attack. Digital Dictatorship across Southeast Asia over the past 4 years has seen alarming weaponization of laws, including the tactics of oppressive Southeast Asia Governments that impact our courageous activists, journalists, feminists, women and gender minority human rights defenders.

🤔 Missed our #StopDigitalDictatorship on Gender lens X Space? 

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Listen to the passionate and fearless feminist and digital rights defenders conversation🎙 Part ! |  Part II

Or scroll to keep on reading the perspectives of our amazing speakers as they share valuable insights and ideas about the gendered aspects and hopeful expectations surrounding the latest thematic report. At Manushya, we firmly believe that their voices deserve to be heard! ⤵️

Yasmin Ullah,  Founder and Executive Director of the Rohingya Maìyafuìnor Collaborative Network which is a women-led, Rohingya-led and refugee-led organization working on Rohingya human rights issues, SGBV (sexual and gender-based violence), education and translocal solidarity with a focus on women, peace and security as well as intersectionality frameworks. Yasmin began the session by offering an overview of roles of international community and the current link between online spaces and how it further exacerbates the oppression of the Rohingya people:

  • “...Misinformation, disinformation and hate speech against each other and against so many different groups of people but specifically Rohingya became a testing ground... So, we are seeing reproduction of this, of this sort of narrative of this sort of hate speech across the region and it’s not just you know, the usual suspect…” 

Nenden Sekar Arum, Executive Director of the Southeast Asia Freedom of Expression Network (SAFEnet) noted the importance of creating inclusive digital policies to promote gender equality:

  • “...We can see that when it comes to promoting gender equality, several key considerations should be addressed to ensure development in this area. It is crucial for policymakers to create inclusive policies. In Indonesia, there is a noticeable digital gap between western and eastern regions, particularly affecting women and rural communities. Thus, inclusive policies are essential. Initiatives such as subsidizing internet access and promoting digital literacy for all are vital steps. Building capacity through digital literacy programs is necessary, and developing technology solutions must consider gender perspectives. Developers and the government need to address the specific needs of women, providing content in traditional languages to cater to Indonesia's diverse linguistic landscape. Additionally, the design of these technologies should enhance digital safety for users. Investing in training and capacity building for women and marginalized communities is crucial. Without proper digital literacy, the introduction of new technologies could have negative repercussions, as noted by Debbie. Ensuring security and data privacy is also essential, allowing all users to feel safe in the digital space. As Yasmin mentioned earlier on how MDH and maybe the others digital attacks such as data breaches, and online gender-based violence (OGBV) can be mitigated by women and marginalized groups...”

As Nenden said, the main issue at hand is ensuring security and data privacy, allowing all users from diverse genders to be able to feel safe in the digital space. This includes journalists and women journalists. Liza Garcia, Executive Director of Foundation for Media Alternatives, further underscored the situation of women journalists and gender minorities in the Philippines that infamous as deadly place for journalist:

  • "...The Philippines is actually a dangerous place for journalists, in fact… if you look at the 2023 Global Impunity Index, the Philippines ranked number 8. Women journalists are really vulnerable to politically motivated attacks. In the previous administration that we had, in the previous President, he encouraged… he epitomized what misogyny was all about, such a pervasive patriarchal and misogynistic culture that was happening. Unfortunately if you are vocal in the Philippines specially during previous administrations and actually continue in this administration, they want to silence voices. Actually, Maria Ressa is just one of the cases. However, many other women journalists and media workers have also been threatened or incarcerated for simply reporting facts. One alternative journalist was imprisoned for over four years on fabricated charges of illegal possession of arms and ammunition. Despite the UN special rapporteur the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Irene Khan, stating she should not have been jailed and her eventual release, she remains under police surveillance and lives in fear. Advocating for rights in such an environment is challenging. Solidarity among women and gender minorities is essential to support those who speak out..." 

Moderator Debbie Stothard further inquired about the current state of digital rights of all the speakers, asking if it is getting better or worse for women and gender minorities in the digital space. Yasmin added to this sentiment by noting that intersectionality is essential  when it comes to alleviating the refugee crises across the region:

  • “The situation in ASEAN countries regarding this issue is complex, showing both deterioration and improvement. On one hand, incidents of hate speech and violence against minorities, like the Rohingyas, are increasing. On the other hand, awareness and efforts to address these issues are also growing. A poignant example highlights the severity of the situation: a 20-year-old Rohingya woman embarked on a perilous journey by boat with her baby, reaching the shores of Indonesia. Due to online hate of refugees, the local community rallied against her, leading to further tragedy. When they were pushed back to sea for the second time, her toddler passed away, as the young mother did not know what to do,  forcing her to make the heartbreaking decision to throw the body overboard. This tragedy underscores the devastating impact of hate speech and misinformation.

On the same question, Nenden Sekar Arum powerfully shared her thoughts as someone who advocates for freedom of expression and also her role as researcher focusing on digital rights and internet freedom

  • “The hate speech, I can say it’s getting worse in Indonesia. On the other hand, besides the refugee issue, major problems still exist, such as online harassment and the underrepresentation of women and gender minorities… On the bright side actually there has been some progress. Women and other marginalized communities use technology as a tool for advocacy, and we see people expressing themselves in their own online spaces, even though many challenges remain… We still need to hold not only the government but also digital platforms to be accountable for this issue. We still have a task to do and a long way to go. One positive development is the coalition-building in the region, which shows progress in building awareness.

Liza Garcia reinforced Nenden’s statements, and further reminded us lot of the works to be done and the importance of centering Large Language Models: 

“It’s difficult to say if the situation is getting better or worse because we need more data. Even if there are some policies in place, they are not effective deterrents. There is still a lot of work to be done. Many cases go unreported due to fear of sanctions, normalization of violence, and lack of mechanisms to access justice. The persistent culture of victim-blaming and misogyny can prevent people from speaking up. Regarding the role of AI in gender discrimination, I would like to add that large language models (LLMs) create gender biases, especially against women of color. LLMs often associate names with gender roles: if it’s a man, it’s business and career; if it’s a woman, it’s babies. We should recognize the contributions of women in the tech industry. AI is very new to Southeast Asia, so we need to examine it and its regulation carefully...

Debbie Stothard was closing the session by highlighting the importance of solidarity in the regional scale: 

  • “So, the resistance continues… Don’t forget, solidarity is the most important element to resistance and this is how we have to speak together to resist the digital dictatorship…”

✊ Manushya Foundation stands in solidarity with all pro-democracy and human-rights activists in Southeast Asia and across the world. Manushya is dedicated to promoting alternative regionalism where democracies, both online and offline, can thrive, and to stopping the authoritarianism that has been strengthened and supported by digital dictatorship. 

We humbly thank our speakers for their energy, for such an engaging Twitter Space conversation, for their nuanced and empathetic words demanding accountability from not only governments but also Big Tech companies, and for their unshakable commitment to advancing democracy, gender equality, social justice, and the state of freedom of expression in the region.

✊This X (Twitter) Space is part of our #StopDigitalDictatorship campaign, which aims to restore our online democracies in Southeast Asia.

🎙️Intrigued? Listen to the full X (Twitter) Space!

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While you’re here, read more about our work with the ASEAN Regional Coalition to #StopDigitalDictatorship and promote online democracies and freedom of expression. We are dedicated to combating dictatorship and empowering women leaders and youth movements. We are committed to creating a safer, inclusive space both online and offline for everyone. ⤵️


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