Women at Access Reflect on International Women’s Day and Digital Rights


International Women’s Day (March 8) is an opportunity for everyone around the world to celebrate the economic, social, and political achievements of women. While this is a time to reflect on the extraordinary progress of the past, it is also a moment to address the challenges that women continue to face today.

Access envisions a world in which women are empowered to fully participate in political and economic life, and in which all women, everywhere, can make decisions free from inequity or violence. From a Vietnamese blogger jailed for expressing her views online, to a grassroots activist in Turkey mobilizing women on Instagram, digital rights are essential to the battle for self-determination.

This year, we’re celebrating International Women’s Day by spotlighting Access staffers around the world — in Washington, Tunisia, Brussels, and New York. We asked them a simple question: Why do you fight for digital rights?

Esra’a Al Shafei | Board Member, Director of Mideast Youth

Coming from a country with rampant surveillance and censorship, I learned early on about the importance of an open internet. Oppressive governments fear their people, and therefore seek to limit access to information and block the ability of opposition movements to organize and mobilize. A free internet is paramount to the advancement of human rights, and is the cornerstone of effective social movements.

Yvette Alberdingk-Thijm | Board Member, Executive Director of WITNESS

I fight for digital rights because the rights to dignity, security, privacy, and equality are universal human rights. So long as one of us cannot realize his or her rights, none of us can enjoy these freedoms.

Deniz Aydin | Policy Fellow

Since I am from Istanbul, Turkey — where you can find graffiti of DNS numbers that help you circumvent the latest Twitter censorship — I proudly support the efforts of internet activists around the world who work for a free and open internet for all, despite all the hardships they face.

Nerida Brownlee | Operations and Development Manager

As human beings, I believe we all have the right to freedom of expression and access to information. Access to the internet is key to this principal — digital rights are human rights.

Justine Chauvin | Policy Intern

I fight for digital rights because I want people to be able to express their opinions and engage freely online — whether it is for raising awareness on important issues, promoting social justice and human rights, or arguing about the color of a dress. I fight because the internet is a big part of our lives, and diversity is often what gives it its savour.

Nina Komakhidze | Operations Associate

We can’t imagine accepting intruders into our homes or strangers rummaging through our belongings… so why accept that our online privacy should be subject to any less respect? Our most personal and confidential information can be found on the internet, as well as the opportunity to express our thoughts and opinions, and so we have the obligation to fight to protect what is intrinsically ours. This is why I fight for digital rights.

Sage Cheng | Visual Advocate

I was taught in my early life the importance of communication. Dialogue, discourse, and the exchange of information enable us — people from different places, sectors, cultures, societies, and ideologies — to shake off bias, break down barriers, build respect, reach consensus, tolerate different opinions, and develop a sustainable, pluralist world. I’m grateful that I live in an age where these can happen because of the invention of internet. This also makes me intolerant of the abuse of power, disrespect toward user rights, and any inhuman approach to stopping communication or connection between one another.

Coming from a totalitarian society, I’ve witnessed the dark side and all the misuses of the internet and other means of communication. I’ve seen how these acts facilitated problems instead of solving them. And my experience in-between ideologies gives me a more sophisticated view of my generation. I can feel the confusion in my peers. We are given such a powerful tool (the internet) but at the same time there are people and authorities who are trying to sway us, fool us, build walls around us, and treat us not as individuals but as stats, results, or resources. So, if you were me, would you sit aside and watch all of this happen?

Raegan MacDonald | European Policy Manager

I come from a background in history. I’ve studied time and time again how dominant actors seek to control information and the actions of citizens. The internet, to me, is a unique technology, that allows us to not only seek and receive information but to impart our ideas, opinions, and knowledge. Its openness and universality means that it is an online agora, where people can associate and share ideas without fearing that someone is looking over their shoulders. But because of these very qualities — its most liberating aspects — the internet is persistently under threat. This is one of the many reasons why this beautiful and unique platform must be preserved, and its openness defended.

Olivia Martin | Advocacy Intern

I fight for digital rights because I have no recollection of a time before the internet, but I have become inured to a reality rife with online censorship and surveillance states. My generation runs the risk of becoming comfortable with the methods of coercion and censorship that have rapidly become the modus operandi of both tyrannical and “democratic” governments. I hope to become a voice in the discussion around the protection of human rights in the digital sphere, and to educate and empower my peers to rise up against the violation of our rights.

Estelle Massé | Policy Analyst

I lived for a long time with the illusion that Europe was a place where people enjoyed a right to privacy, where our every move was not being monitored, recorded, retained, analyzed or shared. Once one realizes that is not the truth, it is impossible to go back and ignore the constant violation of our freedoms around the world.

Amie Stepanovich | U.S. Policy Manager

I feel like I’ve grown up along with the internet — I’ve seen its growing pains, but also its great potential to improve our lives. The internet has meant many things to me — it’s been an escape, a resource, and a connection to those I care about most. I want to make sure the positive forces that the internet brings to bear are not undermined, that future generations will be able to take advantage of all the internet has, and will have, to offer openly and without fear of oppression or retribution.

Carolyn Tackett | Advocacy Fellow

People deserve to have their fundamental rights respected whether they’re at home or on the street, on a battlefield or in a newsroom, behind a computer screen or on a mobile device. In our tech-driven society, violations of digital rights have real, offline consequences — often on a massive scale — and putting a stop to those abuses is something worth fighting for.

Jamie Tomasello | Technology Director

I want the internet to be an open environment where all voices can be heard and experiences shared. The internet should not be used as a tool to silence speech or a technology to manipulate perspectives towards one controlled thought. The internet overcomes physical barriers such as oceans and mountains to connect people — why shouldn’t it overcome societal barriers such as oppression and intolerance as well?

Rian Elizabeth Wanstreet | Special Projects Manager

I grew up reading a lot of Science Fiction. Whether it’s the snarky AI’s in the Hyperion Cantos, the mathematical magic of psychohistory in Foundation, or the abject horror of the Handmaid’s Tale, SciFi, at its best, illustrates both the thrilling possibilities and the incredible dangers innovation and tech can bring to society. What makes tech work for good or ill in fictional universes is often the same as in real life: it’s the triumph of the human spirit, and the commitment of a small group of dedicated people.

I fight for digital rights because I find constant wonder at the possibilities inherent in tech and innovation. And by working with people at Access, I have the opportunity to push for the future of technology to remain wondrous, and not destructive.