Women’s civil society and digital rights groups shape South-East Asian digital security training
Author: Dina Abdulkareem A. Albahri
Pioneering online training that will better equip digital rights and civil society organizations (CSOs) in South-East Asia to promote women’s peace and security in the digital world has moved a step closer, following consultations in Bangkok.
UN Women and the UN University Institute in Macau (UNU Macau) are developing e-Learning modules on cyber hygiene (measures to maintain the security of data systems and their users) for women’s CSOs and women human rights defenders (WHRDs), and on artificial intelligence in the context of the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda as part of efforts to strengthen digital security practices for women and persons with diverse gender identities in the region.
“This training is crucial for women and youth, especially in the deep south of Thailand, where many security issues have been ignited from online spaces with impact in the real world,” said Wannakanok Pohitaedaoh, Founder of the Association for Children and Youth for Peace in the Deep South. “We’re the first organization in our area that is raising awareness of cybersecurity and staying safe online, and that is thanks to UN Women.”
She was among more than 20 representatives of digital rights and women’s CSOs from seven countries who reviewed the draft modules during the “Regional Workshop to Enhance Capacities and Pilot e-Learning Modules on Digital Security for Women’s CSOs in South-East Asia” from 26–29 September 2023.
“While serious risks exist, we cannot ignore the vast peacebuilding potential that technologies present for all groups of women and girls,’’ Regional Director for UN Women in Asia and the Pacific, Alia El-Yassir, said while addressing the workshop participants.
The attendees included members of the UN Women-facilitated Women, Peace and Cybersecurity Regional Civil Society Network and local civil society partners from Thailand, Viet Nam and the Philippines.
The workshop was organized by the UN Women Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific in partnership with UNU Macau under the project “Women, Peace and Cybersecurity: Promoting Women’s Peace and Security in the Digital World”. The project is supported by the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, and the Government of Australia through their Cyber and Critical Tech Cooperation Programme, in partnership with the UN Women Centre of Excellence for Gender Equality in the Republic of Korea.
“Participants worked together to ensure that the training materials being developing will have the most positive impact possible and be relevant to those who need them the most,” said Senior Researcher at UNU Macau, Jaimee Stuart, PhD. “These events can help us create better solutions for the complex, systematic issues resulting from gender inequalities and gendered harms online, and support safety and security for women, girls and marginalized peoples in digital contexts.”
The project’s goal is to support women’s leadership in preventing online harms, cybersecurity threats and the malicious use of technology, while strengthening their capacities to use technologies for peace and conflict-prevention efforts.
“We’re facing a lot of issues, for example, concerning gender-related disinformation, misinformation and advancing the extremist narrative,” explained Datusikie Ampilan, Executive Director of Magungaya Mindanao Incorporated. “We cannot run away. Rather, we can confront this. So, it’s really important that we see how we’re going to mitigate risks and translate what we’ve learned at this workshop about cybersecurity and AI into the real world.”
Given the dearth of data on these issues, UN Women and UNU Macau have conducted research through the project on the intersection of artificial intelligence (AI) in the context of the WPS agenda in South-East Asia and explored cyber resilience for CSOs and WHRDs. The preliminary research findings were shared during the workshop and informed the discussions.
The workshop organizers found the event to be a success, with active and engaged participants who shared their experience and expertise, validated the research findings and critically challenged assumptions.
“The modules are very useful for me,” confirmed Ha Thanh Huyen, Officer for the Viet Nam Women Entrepreneurs Council (VWEC) within the Viet Nam Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “First, our organization can use them as internal training material. If possible, with the support of UN Women, VWEC will use them in combination with our Handbook on Cybersecurity for Women Leaders to create a set of training materials for women leaders and women-owned/led enterprises in our network.”
The e-Learning modules are due to be released in early 2024 and will be publicly available for use by interested stakeholders.