Women in Politics: Wielding the Online Space Safely

By Amara Shaker-Brown | December 07, 2023

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A group of trainers and participants gather outside after the digital security training in Lilongwe, Malawi, in October 2023
Trainers and participants in Lilongwe, Malawi, October 2023

The internet is a powerful tool for women in politics, but it can also be a dangerous place that enhances their risk - both online and offline. Women are more likely than men to experience online violence and harassment, leading to a chilling effect on their political participation and further limiting their ability to achieve equal representation in parliaments, governments, and other areas of power. 

That's why NDI is developing a digital security curriculum specifically targeted to risks faced by women in politics. Supported by Microsoft, the curriculum contains training modules and context-specific activities designed to empower women in politics to take preventative action to protect themselves and their campaigns online, enabling them to focus on their critical day-to-day work serving their communities. 

In October 2023, NDI DemTech staff traveled to Lilongwe, Malawi, to pilot the curriculum for 12 politically and civically active women, including representatives from the government, civil society, and the media. . Utilizing its existing digital security training curriculum for partners, NDI adapted components from excellent resources like the Safe Sisters Guide, to target the specific safety concerns of women in politics and public life, focusing on elements that could be further contextualized to the local political and cultural environment.  For instance, during this pilot, NDI DemTech staff worked closely with NDI's in-country Malawi team and local digital safety experts, and conducted a pre-training survey to identify and highlight the most relevant security steps for an audience of Malawian women in politics.

During the two-day training, participants learned how to - among other topics - secure devices, communicate safely, and fortify social media account security. Each component of the curriculum included audience-specific training exercises and real-world examples highlighting the importance of women in public life taking these preventive measures. Additionally, NDI staff and the participants discussed the specific types of online violence and harassment faced by women in Malawi,  and the legal and community resources that are available to survivors of tech-facilitated gender-based violence (TF-GBV). Finally, the women-only environment enabled participants to be honest about their experiences, helping staff to tailor the training to their specific concerns further, and creating a shared community of trust throughout the workshop.

NDI is excited to further develop this curriculum, taking into account the rapidly changing risks faced by women in political life and public spaces, and ensuring it can easily be adapted and contextualized for a wide array of contexts in the future!