In keeping with our goal to bridge the gender digital divide, the internet has become an essential tool and political space to broaden debate, keep women connected and informed, reach out and mobilize allies and action. Women activists around the world are finding strategic and creative ways of using social media to engage and organize other women and new allies on issues affecting them – from corruption to religious fundamentalism to sexual rights and reproductive health. In Southeast Asia, activism on Facebook and Twitter has fed into the recent protests in Cambodia.
Due to claims of widespread irregularities and fraud in the July 28 election, there is growing political tension between the ruling party, Cambodia People’s Party (CCP), and the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP). CNRP has been holding massive actions to boycott CCP’s victory which has gone ahead to form a government without them. Even though the protests have been peaceful, they recently turned violent when police threw grenades and used water cannons at protestors leaving one person dead and many injured. In a country that is still living in the shadow of the brutal totalitarian Khmer Rouge regime, Cambodian women fear an increase in political repression and violence.
The Cambodian Young Women’s Empowerment Network (CYWEN), the JASS-inspired network, is active in a series of peace protests, including the publicized August 14 Rally of Peace organized by the Working Group for Peace. CWYEN, along with thousands of others, assembled in Phnom Penh to appeal for peace. The women peace activists carried placards with messages “Cambodian People Need Peace!” “No to Violence!” and “We Need Justice and Freedom!”
“We appeal to all the parties concerned to keep the spirit of peace in resolving the disputes arising from the alleged election irregularities. We call on all political parties to engage in talks and keep the communication lines open for the sake of the Cambodian people,” says Chamnorng Som, a peace activist and member of CYWEN.
Since July, CYWEN has spread the word on Facebook and Twitter to urge people to join in the protests denouncing electoral violence. Today, thousands of people continue to flood the streets of Phnom Penh every week. These successful organizing efforts provide a vivid example of how online activism can fluidly link disparate efforts into more powerful action. Facebook and Twitter are important vehicles for sharing and spotlighting women’s perspectives and leadership when mainstream media fails or refuses to do so.
Online Activism as an Organizing Tool
For several years, JASS has been working to bridge the gender digital divide by training women activists–especially grassroots and young women–on the how-tos of using internet communications technology to broadcast their extraordinary stories, make connections, inform, reach out, and mobilize support. Since 2011, JASS has conducted several dialogues and trainings in information and communication technology (ICT) in Indonesia, Cambodia and the Philippines as well as regionally, which has multiplied the presence and voice of women activists exponentially using photos and other creative use of language to overcome language differences.
While online activism has many advantages, how we engage with it and use it is still important. “The Internet reminds us that there are always new forms of power and that power is dynamic and constantly changing,” says Chat Garcia from Association for Progressive Communication (APC). For example, governments are increasingly using information gathered from internet communication to censure and prosecute activists. Activists’ digital security is becoming increasingly urgent. Activists have to understand the internet as a space with other competing players, interests and agendas, and have to constantly think of the most effective ways to make an impact and reach a wider audience, while also ensuring their protection.
There are many opportunities to build connections online, but many activists agree that the most effective organizing still involves a combination of “face-to-face” and “virtual” organizing. “The best organizing work manages to combine online and offline ‘appearances’ and actions. We are still trying to get the combination right,” says Smita Sharma of Fiesta Feminista, Malaysia.
Photo credit: www.demotix.com