Power at our fingertips: feminists in Asia stake their claim to digital space

Myrah Nerine Butt Gender, Innovation, Participation and Leadership

Whether reshaping gender narratives via TikTok, or highlighting sustainable farming via Facebook, women in Asia are mobilising on digital platforms like never before, says Myrah Butt in the latest blog in our International Women’s Day series

Sem Siphon, a community leader in Cambodia, has used Facebook and Telegram to campaign on natural resources (picture: Sem Siphon)

Amid increasing curbs on free speech, movement, and collective action in Asia, digital spaces are emerging as powerful platforms for feminist activism.  Across our continent, feminist movements are using digital channels to improve their reach, information handling, petitioning, and online organising. 

Of course, digital spaces mirror physical public spaces, with patriarchal social norms that normalise violence and protect perpetrators perpetuated in digital spaces. Despite this, women are fighting to claim these spaces, confronting the challenges, and voicing their demands for an equal and just world.

‘Women workers from across the Global South were able to tell their own stories to a global online audience’

In this blog, we set out six examples of how Oxfam, our partners and allies are leveraging digital platforms for #FeministPower, inspiring stories of collective organising and projects that are working to dismantle systems of oppression.

1. Connecting community radio to Facebook Live in Indonesia

Kampung Darim is a village in West Java, Indonesia, where residents have limited access to the internet so people there use an older form of communication: community radio. Oxfam and its partner KRKP supported the village  to put that radio content on Facebook Live to amplify community voices. That innovation has helped to win local government attention and resources for climate-smart farming efforts

On the community radio platform, Swara Darim, local people talk about their lives, whether that’s music, daily activities, or their social lives. Kampung Darim’s residents include many families of migrant women workers, so discussions have often covered the challenges families face when one member migrates and in particular how care roles shift. Another big area of discussion in the community has been innovative agricultural practices to deal with the impacts of climate change. Local farmers have been testing climate-smart agricultural practices at an adaptation field school, spreading learning via community radio.

The Facebook live broadcasts put the village on the radar of the local government and has prompted officials to invest in the development of the village, particularly in climate adaptation and in addressing the challenges of shifting care responsibilities.

2. Challenging hate speech in Nepal

COVID-19 lockdowns in Nepal sparked a rise in both misinformation and abuse on social media, with the latter targeting people because of their gender, caste, colour and political views.

Yuwalaya, a youth-led non-profit organsation set out to tackle this problem, training more than 450 young people on strategies to combat hate speech online and nurture positive and collaborative behaviours. It supported young people to encourage healthy dialogue, as well as to report hate speech on Facebook, Twitter and other social media to make these spaces safer.  These people then trained other people in their own local areas to take similar action.

3. #ExperTok answers on Tiktok help to empower young people in the Philippines

Oxfam Pilipinas launched its #ExperTok series on TikTok to empower young Filipinos by providing safe and reliable information on areas including gender-based violence, sexual health and reproductive rights, and challenges to LGBTQIA+ communities.

Doctors and lawyers share their knowledge with young people through engaging shorts in the Filipino language. The platform also enables two-way communication: young people can ask their questions anonymously and get expert answers. Sensitive issues that have been tackled include catcalling, red flags in relationships and cyberbullying.

4. Trying out digital tools to tackle GBV in Pakistan

The Women’s Voice and Leadership-Pakistan (WVL-Pakistan), an Oxfam project supported by Global Affairs Canada, is supporting  local women’s rights organizations (WROs), to use digital activism to influence policies and programmes and hold officials to account. It encouraged WROs to test out different digital tactics to amplify their voices. 

A good example has been its support for the work of the Roshni Welfare Organization during last year’s 16 Days of Activism campaign to tackle gender-based violence (GBV). That project recorded and shared statements from local officials and activists on Facebook about violence against women and sparked a healthy and constructive debate on local attitudes towards GBV, as well as amplifying the advocacy work of activists on the ground. The involvement of government stakeholders has also laid the foundations for further advocacy and action by local government on countering GBV.

5. Using Facebook and Telegram to protect natural resources in Cambodia

The 3S Rivers Protection Network (3SPN) is an Oxfam partner that brings together indigenous community groups in Cambodia to influence decision-making over hydropower dams. Sem Siphon is head of one of the network’s community groups and Chief of the Community Protected Area of Ou Koki. She used Facebook and Telegram groups to report illegal fishing, and land grabbing to local authorities. She also shared pictures and videos of private companies dumping waste into a lake, prompting local authorities to step in and take action to stop the pollution.

6. A new global platform to share the voices of women workers

In September 2022, International Women’s Rights Action Watch (IWRAW) Asia Pacific, with 28 partner organisations, convened the online Global Tribunal of Women Workers during the annual Global South Women’s Forum.

Women workers from across the Global South – whose rights in the world of work were, and continue to be, denied – were able to tell their own stories to a global online audience. The 73 witnesses included domestic workers, factory workers, sex workers, entertainment workers, migrant workers, street sweepers, street vendors, home-based workers, hospital cleaners, and agricultural workers.

The inclusive online platform tackled the challenges of differences in time, language, connectivity, and online capabilities to push forward Global South feminism. The sessions were translated simultaneously into 16 languages to reflect the languages spoken by the workers featured, including Arabic, Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa Indonesia, Bangla, English, French, Khmer, Nepali, Portuguese, Sinhala, Spanish, Tagalog, Tamil, Thai, Urdu, and Vietnamese.

This initiative by the IWRAW, a long-time Oxfam partner in social protection programmes, demonstrated how feminist organisations can support online space for groups of women workers who are too often denied access to technology and digital infrastructure, as well as build transnational and cross-sectoral solidarity.

Let’s tackle the obstacles that limit the power of activism

The above projects point to an exciting future for digital activism by Asian feminists. But there are key obstacles we need to address to boost that action in the years to come. We need to ensure that digital spaces are both accessible and safe. We also need to protect future activism by campaigning against digital censorship, government control and for the right to digital expression. 

Accessibility is crucial because of the digital gender divide. According to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), across Asia and the Pacific, only 54 percent of women use the Internet compared to 59 percent of men. Governments would need to ensure that any efforts to foster digitisation should be inclusive and address the barriers women face in accessing technology. The Internet must be treated as a public good to reduce digital inequalities.

Beyond access, safety is another barrier to promoting activism While international organisations need to continue to support women in digital spaces, they also need to be alert to the fact that these platforms open the door to individual and mass attacks against women’s organisations, the issues they campaign on and individual women behind their work.

Campaigners should look to influence internet governance and cybercrime laws and their implementation to ensure that women can access these spaces safely. We also need to work with big tech corporations to build safer online communities. All of these projects show how feminists can use online platforms: now we all need to work to build an environment that can enable digital feminist activism to become an even stronger force for change across Asia.


Myrah Nerine Butt

Myrah Nerine Butt is Gender Justice Advocacy Manager Asia, Oxfam in Asia

This article was compiled by Myrah Nerine Butt with contributions from:
Ayu Rahayu,  Knowledge Management and Communications Officer KRKP
Caecilia Galih Krisnhamurti, Project manager climate change and sustainability, Oxfam in Indonesia
Jeanette Dulawan, Gender justice portfolio manager, Oxfam Pilipinas
Kanwal Manzoor, Media and communications coordinator, Oxfam in Pakistan  
Phan Thi Thu Huong, GEDSI advisor, Oxfam Mekong Water Governance Program
Pravind Premnath Communications Officer, International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW Asia Pacific)
Santosh Maharjan, President Yuwalaya Nepal

This is the fourth in a series of blogs we are running this month around International Women’s Day. Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn to keep up with the latest posts.