During the 16 days of Take Back the Tech, APC members from around the world raise awareness and build understanding around online gender/based violence through various projects specific to their local contexts. We had a chance to catch up with one of these organisations, One World Platform (OWP), based in Bosnia and Herzegovina, whose campaign this year highlighted the concerns, ideas and experiences of local activists through video. In conversation with TBTT, OWP’s Project Assistant Aida Salihovic discussed the many forms of online gender-based violence that commonly occur in Bosnia, the challenges of addressing this issue in terms of regulation and awareness and the inspiring impact of bringing together activist perspectives and brainstorming effective strategies and mechanisms to feel safer online.
TBTT: This year for Take Back the Tech, One World Platform published one video a day of local activists in Bosnia and Herzegovina sharing their perspectives and understanding of online gender-based violence (GBV), and discussing what can be done to prevent it. We want to know more about what you learned from making the videos, and the conversations that were spurred as a result.
Aida Salihovic: Yes, that’s right! Every day during the 16 days of the activist campaign, we published one video on our YouTube channel as well as on our Facebook page in order to present various perspectives and understandings of online GBV. We also discussed what can be done to prevent it and who are the responsible institutions/people to deal with it. We have to admit that we have learned a lot, but we think the most important feedback that we have received is that online GBV is a serious issue that needs to be treated like any other violence. It targets everyone, but it’s on a whole new level when it comes to activists who deal with marginalised groups in any way. Everyone who is familiar with the complex situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina knows that, no matter what, you will always be somehow singled out by your ethnicity or religion. Intersectionality definitely applies when it comes to online GBV
We were also happy to see that people from our interviews were mostly aware of the issue of online GBV and knew how to deal with it. Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle right now is that the law does not recognise all forms of online violence. It recognises the forms that are considered equal with some traditional ones. For example, if someone sends you a death threat, it can be treated as a crime, but the process is still quite slow and there’s many more things to be done, both in terms of raising awareness among people and improving the laws around online GBV.
TBTT: You mention that the law is inconsistent in terms of application to online GBV. What kind of forms of online violence does the law currently recognise in Bosnia?
AS: Actually, none. It sounds incredible, but it is like that. We don't have the term "online" in our Criminal Code or in any other law in relation to violence.
TBTT: So who participated in the series? How did you pick the activists to interview?
AS: The interviews took place during the convening that we had in Belgrade in October, together with the APC team. We were discussing online GBV and making a feminist internet. It was easy to find people who were interested in participating in the interviews, as all of the attendees were activists in various fields from Bosnia and Herzegovina and the wider region. The event was called “Making a feminist internet: End online gender based violence, sustain movement”. There were many activists from organisations that have safe houses, which is, I think, one of the most crucial aspects [of dealing with GBV]. Additionally, there were activists from feminist and LGBT organisations, as well as from organisations that deal with democracy and human rights in general.
TBTT: What kinds of online GBV are activists identifying? What were some of the prevention ideas?
AS: Many, many forms, definitely. The point is, most of the interviews were done after we had a presentation on 13 forms of online GBV so the interview was kind of a review for them. I think all of the answers were great, as I could see there is understanding of the issue when it comes to recognising it and preventing it, which is a great start. For prevention, as all of them are activists, they mostly suggested awareness campaigns, working with children and women from vulnerable groups and providing them with knowledge and facts, so they can recognise and deal with online GBV.
TBTT: Was there a particular type of online GBV that you felt was more frequent (i.e. discriminatory expression or threats)?
AS: Definitely discrimination and rude comments, especially for activists who speak in public often. When their videos or written interviews are posted, they receive hundreds of comments from people who disagree or simply want to undermine their efforts. When it comes to women activists, this backlash usually include comments such as: what do you know, you are just a women, go to the kitchen, get a husband, you are a slut, etc, etc.
TBTT: Who do activists identify as being responsible for dealing with online GBV?
AS: When it comes to those who are responsible for dealing with online GBV, there are many things that people say in this regard. Some of them claim [it’s the responsibility of] the Regulatory Agency for Communications, some of them think they should address their ISPs, but luckily, most of them are aware they should go to the local police station.
TBTT: Can you clarify why you say “luckily” most people know to to go the police? In TBTT we are concerned about online GBV being seen as a regulatory problem and therefore proposed solutions can lead to censorship. We’d consider that ISP playing a role as a responsible party would also put hard decisions better made by legal or civil entities into a private corporations’ hands. But was that what you meant by “luckily?”
AS: I say luckily because, honestly, when we first started interviewing people and police officers regarding the issue of online violence, we thought that the situation would be much worse. As I have previously mentioned, our law does not recognise online violence, so we were thinking, people will not bother going to the police station and police officers will not know how to deal with them. On the contrary, the situation was much better than this, and although there is still significant room for improvement, I think not everything is as bad as we thought it would be.
TBTT: I’m surprised that this is people’s response in Bosnia. In some countries TBTT campaigners have reported they wouldn’t go to the police after an incident of online GBV and there are not even laws to address it. This has a lot to do with people’s perception of how the police address GBV in general. It sounds very different in your country. What sort of cases would people go to the police for in Bosnia?
AS: We have mostly had examples from people who went through online violence after expressing their harsh opinions on certain things going on in their countries (i.e. criticising governments). Additionally, there were many examples from women who were stalked and harassed by their former partners. This is automatically connected to physical violence, as those people usually usually know [the women’s] addresses and can come to their homes as well as sending them messages or constantly calling them on the phone.
TBTT: Is there a way/are there plans to reach out to those who are identified as responsible, so they can see the videos too?
AS: To be honest, we did not think of targetting those who have a responsibility in addressing online GBV with our videos , but I have to mention that, as a part of our research on online GBV, One World Platform had many interviews with relevant institutions, including Federal Police Administration, Regulatory Agency for Communications, Agency for Gender Equality, Agency for the Protection of Personal Data. We wanted to see what can be done in cases of online GBV and what first steps a person who experiences it should take at each agency. We also wanted to see what first steps each agency is taking to address it. Our research report, to be titled “End Online Gender Based Violence, Sustain Movement” will be done soon, so we will let you know more about it and will definitely share a copy.
TBTT: Did anyone talk about social networking platforms also having a role to play? If so, what did they say? Did they talk about our responsibility as citizens and bystanders to online GBV?
AS: Yes, definitely. As most of our participants use Facebook, they talked about how this social network helps them deal with people who are harassing them online or stealing their photos, personal data, etc. Although it is quite important to know that these networks provide the option to report certain content or persons, the results are not always satisfactory. In most of the cases, Facebook will simply suggest you block the person you don't want to communicate to, but that person may have hundreds of other profiles. When it comes to our responsibility, I think it's definitely important to raise awareness and, as an individual, to be more cautious of what we share publicly, because once it's online, it's always there. So, definitely education and awareness.
TBTT: Education and awareness is absolutely vital, including regarding bystander responsibility and the way we share other people’s information. A lot of education and awareness programmes focus on what women have to do to be safe, and forget to also say how we all help to create a fun, enjoyable online environment for all where women and girls don’t have to be silent or cautious in the way they participate. You did 16 interviews! What were some of the most memorable or interesting comments from interviewees?
AS: Actually, all of them were great, and we have to say we were quite proud to conduct these interviews and to listen to them later on, as it really feels like we made a small impact and contributed to better understanding of online GBV.
TBTT: What have you learned through the video-making process, about online GBV as well as approaches to advocacy?
AS: There were so many things to learn from all the people that attended the convening in Belgrade, especially from those who participated in our interviews. We, as One World Platform, are currently working on advocacy against online GBV, but our “mission” for the first year, as I mentioned previously, was more directed towards mapping the relevant institutions and people to address when it happens. The interview series definitely helped us see who could be our allies in the future, especially when it comes to advocacy, law-making, and other crucial aspects of an effective [online GBV] response process.
TBTT: How are the videos being received? Are these issues talked about in your region? Are people surprised to hear that online GBV exists?
AS: Unfortunately, the issue of online GBV is not very popular in our region, and we are one of the rare organisations, if not the only one, dealing specifically with the issue. But, we are happy to see that people understand it, the videos are being received with lots of attention and enthusiasm, and we really hope we can make an impact by spreading the message. In particular, we have received so many positive comments from our participants in Belgrade. As we have already mentioned, all of them being activists, they are dealing with online GBV almost on a daily basis. They all told us that, after getting to know more about our organisation and about mechanisms and strategies to protect yourself on the internet, they feel much safer now. I don't think that people are surprised to learn that online GBV exists, but rather feel empowered knowing that they actually can and should do something in order to prevent it.
TBTT: What other activities did OWP do for Take Back the Tech? Are you doing any other work around online GBV more generally?
AS: Besides these videos and our long-lasting project that deals with online GBV, we publish articles from time to time, and only couple of days ago, we promoted the publication “Feminist principles of the internet: Bosnia and Herzegovina and the region.” This is available online, but currently only in the local language.
TBTT: We were thrilled to see you share regional perspectives during the Feminist principles of the internet (FPI) Content Carnival! The feminist internet site is enriched with content from Bosnia and Herzegovina and we await the translations to English soon! Do you know when they’ll be available?
AS: They will definitely be available by the end of December, if not earlier, but we will let you know. Thank you for following and promoting our activities!
TBTT: Thanks for your enthusiastic and transformative TBTT campaigns every year!