by Ashna Ali
There’s a lot going on right now. As the COVID-19 pandemic carries on, systemic inequalities have become more apparent than ever. This reality seeps into our digital spaces, which are a clear manifestation of our material world. At this moment in particular, we have a lot to say and even more to do. Not only to organize and build stronger feminist networks, but to pave way for decision makers to strategically respond to the issues that impact us most. Our messages and stories must be centered, and the way we tell them matters more than ever.
The internet has always been a double-edged sword—an awesome place where we can strengthen community, mobilize and share resources; and a darker place where the violence we face in our daily lives is replicated on a digital scale. Cyberviolence has materialized as an extension of systemic gender-based violence (GBV)—with online hate more prominent at the intersection of race, gender and youth. Amplified significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic (along with documented increases in rates of physical GBV), those from underrepresented backgrounds continue to be disproportionately targeted.
While we’ve seen some increased awareness of GBV during COVID-19, there is also an increase in risk factors and barriers to support as so much of our lives have become digital due to the pandemic. Therefore, an approach to communicating your feminist agenda within digital spaces is incomplete without an intersectional strategy of care for those who are speaking out.
We can begin to dismantle these systemic inequalities by how we choose to communicate our vision of a feminist world. Check out these five tips:
When we communicate, we must do so working from the bottom-up. This means that we’re engaging with the folks who are directly impacted by the issues we are communicating about, including activists and community organizers. As communicators, our role is to create space for those who are leading the work. This means amplifying their voices, sharing knowledge, and giving credit where it is due. Despite what capitalism has tried to ingrain in us, this is not a competition. A feminist approach prioritizes collaboration and understanding in working relationships. We all have the same goal!
Sharing and amplifying is great, but we also have to be sure to compensate folks for their hard work. We can actively work against wealth disparity with radical transparency around finances. This means that when we communicate our feminist agendas, it’s important to be mindful about invested time, labour, and expertise while considering the impacts of patriarchy, white supremacy and capitalism. If we are in need of someone’s labour, it should be paid. We should not expect people to work for free, especially if they are speaking on their own lived experiences.
Our self and collective-care practices are not separated from our activism. They are necessary for sustaining our energy, wellbeing and solidarity in order to fully commit ourselves to the work of dismantling oppressive systems and bringing forth communities rooted in dignity and justice. We must take care and wellbeing into consideration with every communication we create. This is both for the audience and the communicators themselves. Vicarious trauma is common for communicators dealing with difficult subject matter, in addition to the added stressors of gendered cyberviolence, online abuse and trolling. We must take into consideration these impacts on our wellbeing, and push against self-sacrifice narratives.
Through our work we want to encourage civic inclusion and engage with young people to use their voices to spark change and create a more inclusive and accessible world. Ask yourself the following: what are your communications trying to achieve? How are you using messaging and story-telling to advocate for a more just and equitable world? Our advocacy must be action-oriented — what do you want people to do with this information?
Coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, intersectionality is identifying how a person’s social and political identities combine to create different types of discrimination and privilege. Our communications always take into consideration the various intersections of our identities and the impact that our work has on different people. An intersectional approach to communications is non-hierarchical and ensures that we use inclusive language, are digitally accessible and representative of the diversity in our communities. The more inclusive and accessible the message, the more people it will reach. And remember that specificity is good– it’s a key part of storytelling! – so, don’t water down your communications to try to appeal to everyone. You will find your audience, and folks will relate to it.
Information and communications have a big connection to gender justice and safety. Effective communications are about telling a story, whether through data, visuals, or personal reflections. But no matter what you have to say, the way you do it is just as important. That’s why communicating your feminist agenda is way more than imparting or exchanging information. It must be grounded in a bottom-up approach, where self and collective care, advocacy, fair pay, and intersectionality, are the medium and the message. And this is just step one to creating safer digital spaces for everyone to engage with.
Ashna Ali (she/her) is a digital producer and illustrator based in Tkaronto. She is the co-founder of Anti-Heroine Media, where she specializes in feminist approaches to communications and technology.
Subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date with our work.