Asia & Pacific

 By: Leakhena Saroeurn, storycollector | Cambodia

Freedom of expression! Freedom of voices!

Many international investors come to Cambodia to work on infrastructure development. As a developing country, sure, we need energy for industrialization and to create jobs for people. Hydropower dams are one type of development project that produces energy. However, young people have a right to participate and decide about these energy projects that greatly affect their communities.

I met one activist working on the hydropower project who has graduated as law student in Phnom Penh. She mentioned that the two huge hydropower dams are plans of the Royal Government of Cambodia. One is Sambo hydropower, and the second is Stung Treng Hydropower located at the Mekong Mainstream. There has been no proper consultation with the affected communities and also nothing done in terms of the environmental and social impact assessment of the mega projects. The information was closed to the public, and the Ministry of mines and energy website was coincidentally in repair―it was very difficult to find accurate information of what was actually going on.

SaroThere is a young woman, who prefers to remain anonymous, who advocates for youth voices on water governance to protect and sustainably use the Mekong River. She has been working with local organizations, mainly focusing on youth engagement on water governance issues, demanding their voices and participation in the decision-making process of the large-scale development projects, denouncing the human rights abuse in Cambodia. She has been a social and environmental activist since 2014. I had the chance to talk with her about her experience on self-care and security when using the internet or any digital platform. She shared this about the life of being an activist:

¨I had challenges with the district governor while doing the campaign along the Mekong river in Phnom Penh. It was such a lesson learned. I had brought about 60 young people from different universities, communities, and activist spaces to join the discussion on the Sambo hydropower dam and Stung Treng hydropower dam on the river. We had a discussion of the advantages and disadvantages of the dam, and our role in holding the company and project accountable. However, the city governor ordered the police to take all the materials and did not allow us to make any noise in the city or on the boat. My organization had previously sent a letter of request to hold the workshop to the governor, and we had been approved. There is simply no freedom of expression here”.

Being an activist for over 4 years, she has had many experiences that showed her that she was unsafe. One time, it was about 9 pm, and she was driving her motorbike to her home. There was another motorbike near her, which she then recognized that is the same motorbike that had following her since the beginning of her trip home. She said: “The road was quiet, and I was so scared. I pretended to enter another home in the village, and told the house owner what was happening. I waited until the motorbike left and continued to home. I learned that I must change roads and not go back home too late or ask my friend to stay if it is night time.”

She continued: “In the past, I did not realize that the digital world would be able to have negative impacts. I just know that my social network on the internet has been hacked by someone who I have no information about and thus I cannot fight against them through the government. Then I got a training on self-care and digital security. It was such an eye-opener about the importance of the digital security and self-care as an activist.”

She has learnt from another organization about digital security, particularly in social media and how to protect yourself when posting news and activities, and how to protect passwords from hacking. Sometime you cannot go the same ways and have to change the road and keep all the contact from important people. She said she is not afraid to raise her voice, but social platforms and media articles are literally giving their identity away, and leading to their deaths. She feels unsafe and insecure to say anything. She suggested there should be policies and laws for the journalists who write about the life of the activists. In Cambodia, journalists sometimes are harmful to activists by exposing their background and personal information—their relatives, their work, their home address. “I really want to share the things that I know and I would like to express myself, but I don’t trust the Internet. How can it protect me after I have shared a story?”

At the end of the discussion, she suggests that it is important to write the story of the activities which violate human and environmental rights at the international and national level. Money just goes into the pocket of the groups of powerful people, and communities and civilians are giving away our livelihoods, good, natural resources, culture, land, and education for their benefit. Natural resources are not for selected groups of people; they are for all living on earth. We need development projects for Cambodia our country, but we also need proper consultation and participation of every single infrastructure development project in the Mekong river. We also need the freedom of the expression and protection of our information.


By: Vidisha Saini, storycollector | India 

Open Source for the Margins: Project Mukti & The Bachao Project

It is important to mention why and who I have selected to speak about in this edition of Young Feminist for Climate Justice Storytelling Project. We know that much lies at the intersections of what environment and climate activism. Certain geographies are deprived of their resources by macro-global consumption cycles; many are deprived of resources and basic rights to their own land and natural resources. I mention two projects that are working to improve digital security and internet access for the marginalized in India. I feel it’s important to understand, not only how people consider care at a individual level, but how we can also organize systems of care.
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Dalit, Bahujan, and Adivasi people have been deprived of basic human rights in India, both constitutionally and socially—anti-caste atrocities are everyday phenomena. Project Mukti, founded by Sanghapali Aruna, works towards empowering the marginalized (dalit, bahujan, adivasi, gender non-conforming, and trans folks) through innovative digital strategies. Considering free and open source (FOSS) principles, they collectivise dalit activists, technologists, artists, and healers to work towards an inclusive Internet and digital space.

There has and continues to be little representation of Dalits in mainstream media. In September 2018, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting told the media to “refrain from using the nomenclature Dalit”, but other caste names have not been censored. Caste politics is sidelined by mainstream education and popular culture including cinema, music. Cultures and practices of Adivasis (tribals) are appropriated or institutionalized as tokens. It is important that as activists, we not only address legal rights in physical spaces, but also acknowledge how the violence of non-knowledge and the lack of representation on the internet affects our present and futures.

Sanghapali co-founded Dalit History Month, where people dedicate time to present stories, archives, and further research on Dalit lives through social media and events. They have set up micro grants to support this work across the country. The work on digital platforms, similar to any other important political work, has led to trolling and created unhealthy, unsafe digital environments for Dalit activists. Having this in mind, Project Mukti therefore promotes, trains, and enables digital activists through FOSS principles, leading them to have a safe presence online and for security of their devices. They have also organized multi language Wikipedia hackathons at the national level across India. Project Mukti uses other methods as research, arts, events, and fellowships to accomplish their goals.Vidisha.jpg________
The northeastern region in India has been sidelined in economic and cultural growth agendas set by central policy makers. There is violence, including armed conflict. Manipur, a state in northeast India, has the third lowest per capita income in the country, and infrastructure has historically arrived in the region much later than the rest of the country.

The Bachchao Project, founded by Chinmayi SK, is a techno-feminist collective that undertakes community-centric efforts to develop and support open source technologies with the goals of mitigating gender-based violence and working towards equal rights for women, LGBTQIA people, and gender non-conforming groups. They conduct research and advocacy in all the above areas and guide communities in determining appropriate technological interventions for themselves. The Bachao Project presented a research “Of Sieges and Shutdowns” that draws upon 16 qualitative interviews and many first-person accounts to unravel and document the impact of unreliable mobile network connectivity and network disruptions on the lives of women in Manipur. The research demonstrates how digital technology and internet eInterstitials_hands_03.jpgnable women in secluded areas to empower themselves at both personal and professional levels. There has been a rapid penetration of wireless Internet in Manipur since 2016, which has opened new prospects of personal and professional avenues and growth. Women entrepreneurs are using different digital tools to procure material, doing financial transactions, and selling goods online.

Activists that work on human rights issues and support groups, rely on the Internet for their activities. Facebook and Whatsapp are familiar tools being used. Many prefer Whatsapp to connect with people, as most don’t have email accounts or other apps. Whatsapp is also used as a tool for recruitment. Facebook as a platform to have dialogues, and assimilate information about issues, and share other relevant topics. Recent protest mobilisation happened through whatsapp, messenger, and facebook. Online mobilisation of people against state committed crimes, makes the central government agencies address the issues in Manipur, which have otherwise over years been ignored. Women in the region are coming out to protest more, keeping peaceful, non-violent protests. International funding bodies are unable to receive timely reports or have rare uninterrupted phone calls, leading to take away of funds. There is congestion in network, low bandwidth and intentional shutdowns. This also causes hindrances in crisis management in case of domestic abuse or violence, as people are unable to connect with supporters, leading to further economic, professional and credibility loss.

Awareness of digital rights, security, and privacy among activists is minimal. Intentional Internet shutdowns and network disruptions have been detrimental to activists´ personal and professional lives, causing them financial losses, curbing their human rights, and disempowering them. Considering the data and experience collected by The Bachao Project they propose:

I. To work on providing technical and policy recommendations to government and non-government actors and civil society entities.

II. Find a technical measurement to monitor internet shutdowns in this region.

III. Continue further policy research and create a road map to enable better network connectivity for communities in Manipur.