Image from Safe Sisters website.
My project is highly motivated by what I learnt at the Making a Feminist Internet convening in 2019, amongst other things. I learned about the Feminist Principles of Internet in depth and I thought that women’s rights advocates could benefit even more if the work was translated into 3 major languages. This project was very personal to me.
Selamawit T. Chaka, project leader of eSafe Girls in Ethiopia is a visionary. She also describes herself as a homebody who loves to sit at home, watch movies and eat chips as part of her peaceful life. After engaging in #MFIAfrica and the Safe Sisters Fellowship, she and the fellows conducted a project in Addis training high school girls. This was an eye-opener for her, realising that she wanted to do more work on online gender-based violence (OGBV). They were able to conduct OGBV research and through this research Selamawit realised that one of the most effective tools to curtail or minimise OGBV is by training women about how to protect themselves.
And there, began eSafe Girls.
The main objectives of their project included bringing OGBV and creating awareness of it within their community. The group was also able to establish a network of women who can protect each other online, forming a Telegram group to share and report instances of OGBV they experienced as well as network and share opportunities. This group was created at the suggestion of one of the trainees, who wanted to continue brainstorming solutions, collectively reporting OGBV and creating more awareness on the topic. eSafe Girls also trained young girls on the Feminist Principles of the Internet (FPI) by debating, sharing thoughts and coming up with an additional principle.
“While we were going through the principle, one participant (a high school student) suggested that the FPIs didn't foresee the pandemic and she suggested that the principle of care and wellbeing needs to be a part of the FPIs, especially when associated with the COVID pandemic. This was a very fascinating moment for me.”
eSafe Girls hosted 3 sets of training for 15 young high school girls and 2 sets of trainings for 15 women’s rights defenders discussing the worldwide trend of OGBV, understanding the different ways it can be encountered and highlighting digital security tips. In an effort to ensure that OGBV was understood by as many of their audiences in Ethiopia, the FPIs were translated into Amharic, Tigrigna and Afaan Oromo. This was done via a democratic process by hosting 3 consultation meetings with feminists to discuss the content and how to fit it into the local context. The translated texts were shared in 3 known feminist Telegram channels and garnered over 2000 views.
This work truly allowed more of their community in Ethiopia a safe space to discuss the violence they were experiencing online. Selamawit felt that Ethiopia didn’t show enough concern over the violence women face, especially online. This project brought together trainees from different backgrounds, exploring and unlearning many of the social and religious beliefs that had been imposed on them. They were able to engage in ways that allowed them to understand how OGBV is interconnected to other forms of misogyny and violence. It also became a safe space for young girls and women to find a sense of community and support during COVID-19.
After school closures due to COVID-19, they found that more students were online than ever before. Some young girls found themselves as victims of OGBV when boy classmates would body shame and threaten to post nude images of the girls online, extorting them for money.
There were various stories of the young girls having breakdowns because they didn’t know what to do when faced with this and would end up simply doing as the boys said. After participating in the training, a high school student was actually able to apply the knowledge and tactics she learnt to report an instance of OGBV happening to her friend to the police, with relevant documents as evidence.
One of the things this pandemic and stay-at-home measures taught us is that you need to always be creative. The experience was totally amazing, and it was a learning platform for me. We made sure to meet virtually and the participants’ mobile data was covered by the project.
Selamawit has felt change stir within her too as she did this work, feeling it to be a learning process for her. Being unsure of how to do this work and how to implement it initially, she was driven by knowing that the participants would be able to heal by having a space to share their stories, as many of whom felt like they couldn’t tell these stories to anyone. She was excited knowing that outside of a pandemic, she now knew how she could also implement this work in person.
The feedback that Selamawit received from all the trainees was excellent, with the majority of them noting that they had gained new insights and understanding that it’s vital for women to understand the FPIs. They had, almost immediately, set aside specific parts of the principles to combat the violence they observed online. The eSafe Girls team reached an incredible 5,229 subscribers in their Telegram groups, with over 2000 views of their content. With few feminist organisations and movements existing in Ethiopia, as relayed by Selamawit, few young feminists felt a source of community and support when rallying against the OGBV they experienced. She aims to continue supporting the trainees and help them achieve what they would like to achieve in combating OGBV and reaching more via activism.
AWC-TBTT grant has influenced my work a lot. Hearing about the healing process of OGBV victims and exploring the possible work that can be done in the area has forced me to work on the area of OGBV. I will be giving OGBV and digital security trainings for women afterward because it’s the lack of knowledge that affects women in the areas of online gender-based violence.