This blog post is first in a series of ten blog posts to report on the EROTICS India workshop, recently concluded in Delhi. All the blog posts in this series are written by Richa Kaul Padte, the official rapporteur of the meeting
For boys it’s like, ‘Take it apart, put it back together, play with it,’ but for girls it’s like, ‘Don’t touch it, you’ll break it! – Jac Sm Kee, APC
Bringing together sexual rights activists, women’s groups and internet activists, the first EROTICS India workshop – organised by Point of View, APC (Association for Progressive Communications) and the Internet Democracy Project - explored the relationship between sexual rights activism, sexuality, and the Internet. Focusing on issues ranging from rights to security to advocacy, the workshop provided the tools for activists from across the country to explore, understand, and shape their experience of the Internet. It also considered the ways in which access to and governance of the Internet takes place in a gender-unequal area, where as the opening quotation of this post suggests, from a young age boys and girls are allowed different privileges and boundaries when accessing technology.
Spread across four days at a venue in New Delhi, much of the first day was spent getting to know the participating organisations – in their own words, and interestingly, in their own pictures! Each participant designed a poster visualising his or her organisation, and shared it with all. Given the sensitive nature the topics discussed during the workshop, only the names of organisations (as opposed to the individuals in attendance) will be listed in this blog series.
Sangama: Supporting various queer community organisations through an integrationist model, Sangama is based in Karnataka. The organisation works with working class sexual minorities, and looks at the sexual and reproductive health of female partners of men who have sex with men (MSMs). ‘Quite bad at using online spaces’ - apart from Facebook, most of their work is done at a grassroots level.
Must Bol: Using youth-made films to talk about gender to other young people, ‘It’s a social media experiment to see what is actually possible…It’s about self development as much as it is about community development.’ Apart from films, Must Bol uses popular songs in order to convey messages to young people.
Got Stared At: Designing creative posters, which include humour and striking graphics, to engage with people on the Internet, Got Stared At tries to see how the spaces in which offline work against sexual harassment is done can be replicated online.
Nirantar: ‘Based in the feminist movement with a queer perspective,’ Nirantar runs a resource centre, conducts training and workshops, and creates various material including reports and textbooks on issues surrounding women, girls and education. They recently began work with young Muslim women in Lucknow, who are being trained in the use of ICTs and are making their own films. Nirantar is in the process of starting up a blog.
Qashti: A non-funded, non-registered Delhi-based organisation for queer women and trans people, Qashti holds support group meetings, organises film screenings, and is currently starting a helpline for which members are being trained. They ‘use the Internet quite a lot,’ and have an active blog and Facebook account.
Sappho For Equality: A Kolkata-based platform that fights for the rights of sexually marginalised women and trans men, Sappho For Equality uses a ‘tridented’ approach to uphold sexual rights, focusing on their communities, mass awareness raising, and lobbying state machinery. They have a strong base of publications to reach out to people, including a magazine whose translated title reads ‘In Our Own Voice’.
TARSHI: With its beginnings in a call centre running a helpline, TARSHI believes that ‘all people have the right to sexual wellbeing and a self-affirming and enjoyable sexuality.’ TARSHI provides trainings to different kinds of organisations and a range of resources for specific groups of people. ‘The website is very dull and dry; we weren’t sure about censorship in terms of projecting sexuality. We use Facebook for more fun stuff.’ In addition to this, they have done Tweet-fests with other organisations.
Wajood: The first queer organisation in Hyderabad, Wajood’s tagline is ‘exclusively inclusive’, and they work on creating safe spaces, peer counselling, changing attitudes through workshops and reading, and community building. They aren’t very active on their organisational website, but would like to be.
Blank Noise: ‘A volunteer-led network talking about street sexual violence,’ Blank Noise began with workshops and then created a blog, which is when ‘we realised that there itself [on the Internet] people were responding…It’s an open dialogue, a lot of which has happened through discussions online.’ In 2006, Blank Noise ran a blogathon where people shared their experiences of street harassment. Currently, they work with a range of media to gather testimonials and disperse them back into the public domain.
Internet Democracy Project: Working on a range of issues related to freedom of expression and the Internet, the Internet Democracy Project has done research and advocacy surrounding Internet governance, laws relating to Internet-rights, and gender-based abuse faced by women online.
Point of View: A Mumbai-based platform that uses a range of media to promote the voices of women and advocate for various issues, Point of View lists three current areas of work, all with online components - sex workers’ rights, sexuality and disability, and creating an online presence for a rural newspaper run by women, including ICT training workshops for the journalists.
Sampoorna: Presenting a poster with an ‘infinity’ sign which they hope will become their logo – symbolising the idea of gender as infinite – Sampoorna is a network of trans Indians (extending to South Asians) across the globe. Beginning with a Yahoo Group in 2004, Sampoorna currently have various Facebook profiles, including those for their allies. They ‘want to move to a situation where the website will be the central presence of Sampoorna online.’
LABIA: Standing for Lesbians and Bisexuals in Action, LABIA is an LBT queer feminist collective. They are non-funded with a floating membership based in Mumbai, and work on crisis intervention, various campaigns and events, hold monthly screenings of queer and feminist films and bring out a zine called Scripts. LABIA is closely associated with the feminist collective Forum Against Oppression of Women (FAOW).
CREA: A Delhi-based sexuality rights organisation, CREA builds feminist leadership through a threefold approach: ‘empowering women and girls so they can make choices and challenge the power structure; building the capacity of women leaders and activists; changing perceptions and practices of organisations and movements to make them more rights-affirming.’ CREA runs nine annual sexuality institutes, produces knowledge and resources in both Hindi and English, and runs advocacy groups.
Sangini India Trust: The oldest counselling and community support programme for women attracted to women and trans men, Sangini runs a helpline, and works to empower individuals, and creates awareness about human rights. They have an active Facebook page, a WordPress blog, and a Twitter account.
Sahodari: ‘A group of [Chennai-based] underprivileged trans women working for social, economic and legal rights,’ Sahodari empowers trans women to find alternative employment opportunities. Conducting training in music and dance, education opportunities, legal rights campaigns and community journalism projects, Sahodari also teaches trans women Internet skills - especially blogging - in Tamil.
The YP Foundation: ‘A youth organisation that works with a feminist lens,’ The YP Foundation ‘tries to understand who young people are.’ Comprising 350,000 young people in 18 states, the organisation works through 5 programme divisions: know your body and rights, young homeless people, a digital media programme, right to information, and an artists’ rights programme.
Tactical Technology Collective: An international organisation that works with rights activists and bloggers, Tactical Tech Collective explores the perils and potentials of technology and information for activism. Many of their resources form the basis for this workshop’s sessions, and the collective describes its members as ‘information activists.’
AALI: Standing for the Association for Advocacy and Legal Initiatives, AALI runs feminist legal advocacy groups as well as wider resource groups. Using case work as their advocacy base, AALI do trainings with lawyers and the government, and work through their website, Facebook page, and give legal counselling over the phone. One of their biggest campaigns has focused on the right to choice in relationships, with a focus on inter-religious, inter-caste, and inter-class relationships.
Change.org: Defining themselves as a tech platform along the lines of YouTube rather than an NGO, Change.org allows ‘anyone and everyone to start a petition.’ Partnering with organisations with similar theories for change - wherein if a certain number of people take action online change can be effected in the community - Change.org works on a range of issues in countries across the world.
Pratyay Gender Trust: A small Koltaka-based community organisation working on trans feminist community organising, Pratyay focuses on building the leadership of trans women and kothis, while documenting violations around the human rights of trans women, and running a night-shelter for trans women who are in sex work. They have ‘practically no presence on the Internet’, but recently launched a Facebook group.
APC: The Association for Progressive Communications is a member-based organisation that emphasizes, amongst other things, women’s role in the shaping and use of technology. Working on a range of policy and research around communications technologies, APC is based in countries across the world.