Decolonising Digital Rights
The Digital Freedom Fund and its partner European Digital Rights (EDRi) are in the initial phases of a new initiative to begin a decolonising process for the digital rights field.
The initiative emerged from conversations held at DFF strategy meetings, which brought into focus the need to reflect on the way in which uneven power dynamics, exclusion, and privilege play out in our field, including how these shape the way in which digital rights are conceived and how they are protected.
What do we mean by a 'decolonising' process?
The growing use and deployment of digital technologies has the potential to affect almost every aspect of our lives, as they become involved in everything from hiring processes to the operation of the “welfare state” and the criminal justice system.
The digital rights field exists to promote and protect rights and freedoms in the digital sphere. In order to do so, it is crucial that the field reflects the society it works to safeguard. Here, the field must do better and ensure there are no blind spots in our work so that the digital rights of marginalised groups are upheld. This is especially important given the growing evidence that the use of digital technologies has the potential not only to reproduce but also to amplify existing forms of oppression, such as racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia.
By a decolonising process, we mean a process which acknowledges that these forms of oppression have their roots in a history of domination and colonisation and are maintained by structural forces. Our goal is to initiate a process that challenges the structural causes of oppression in order to work towards a digital rights field in which all groups in society have their voices heard and which works to protect the digital rights of all.
What steps are we taking?
Bringing about lasting change in the digital rights field requires the involvement and input of a broad range of stakeholders. Following initial discussions of these issues at successive strategy meetings over the years, resulting in some initial ideas about what decolonising the digital rights field would mean, in 2020 we began an initial consultation phase, listening and learning to better understand the current state of the digital rights field and what could be improved.
We spoke with individuals and organisations working on social, racial and climate justice, before discussing with digital rights organisations as well as with some of the organisations which fund digital rights work in Europe.
Drawing on the insights gained through these conversations, we have now entered the second phase of this decolonising process. Over the course of one year, we will collaborate to design a multiyear programme to start decolonising the digital rights field. We will work iteratively, reviewing and refining our process as we go. This design process includes more than 30 people and roughly 24 organisations.
There is a need to profoundly change the way digital rights are conceived and guaranteed to ensure that all of us can enjoy our fundamental rights, both on and offline, free from systemic oppression.
How can I contribute and get involved?
As we continue this work, our focus is on building a community of a broad range of people interested in finding out what a decolonised digital rights field could look like and which steps we could take to get there.
If you are interested in contributing or would simply like to know more, please let us know – we’d be delighted to speak to you. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This post was co-authored by Laurence Meyer and Sarah Chander. During the DFF strategy meeting 2021, participants organised two sessions on “decolonising digital rights.” A
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