Hacking Patriarchy: the first #femhack experience

by Digital Rights LAC on July 14, 2015

lac junio sin fondo

Some weeks ago we started to plan the Nicaragua femhack: we made a public announcement inviting women with diverse backgrounds to propose seminars and workshops. The announcement spread across social media and reached a group on programming in which most participants were men. “Are there women programmers?”, “It sounds weird to me, I’ve never seen women doing this”, “It’s something I’ve never seen; I haven’t even met many docile women in the computing field”, were some of the comments. Is anyone surprised?

By Gema Manzanares*

“Science and technology provide fresh sources of power, that we need fresh sources of analysis and political action”
–Donna Haraway (1991)

What is the source of this inability to see and acknowledge women involved in technology, science and engineering? I think of many reasons: educational programs where girls socialize to achieve order and where they rarely have the opportunity to disassemble and reassemble things; indifference towards women’s contributions to technology and science throughout history; contempt for women’s abilities; among other.

But it’s the idea of the female technophobia what troubles me the most. When they say that women are simply “afraid” of using/creating technology, they are blaming us and justifying a social system of disadvantages. They are conveniently overlooking that there are huge access gaps, between men and women, to basic rights such as education; and that the system delegates to women household responsibilities, so they have less time and income to dedicate themselves to their own interests. Just to illustrate my point: according to ECLAC, in 2013, two out of three people without Internet access worldwide were women.

But there are women who can indeed be found in these places: women who live on the Internet, women programmers, developers, women studying engineering, women who learn to repair computers and cell phones; and we see that the path is not an easy one. In a context where practically all our interactions take place through the screen, women have to deal with trolls and bullies, who target them for their attacks just because they are women.

A cyberfeminist proposal

A lot has been written about cyberfeminism and yet not enough. Cyberfeminism acknowledges technology as a key element for the social changes of the last decades, and it proposes to build fairer and more equitable societies through the Internet. As cyberfeminists, we believe that technology is not neutral: because it is always used based on subjectivities and human prejudice.

We saw the need to promote the involvement of more women in courses and jobs relating to engineering, mathematics, computing and science in general; the need to review the course of history to rescue the life of women who have made contributions to these fields; the need to reflect on our own practices, on the content we are creating and sharing online; and the need to re-signify spaces and create new ways of interacting, new languages, new ways of creating knowledge. But we also identified systems of daily oppression empowered by a sexist way of thinking that we must be aware of so that measures can be taken to mitigate its impact on our lives.

Many feminists are using the new technologies to promote and defend women’s rights, many women are becoming involved in technology projects: developing companies, writing codes, running online businesses, maintaining blogs on diverse subjects, keeping diary videos; the question remains: what can we do to bring them together?


By the end of last year, we, a group of women interested in promoting a feminist interpretation of technology use, agreed to work collectively on a global event to make visible the need of a space of mutual recognition and collective creation for women and queers. That is how the idea of #femhack was born.

The first thing we made clear was the diverse and adaptable nature of #femhack. We weren’t talking about a single event that would follow the same methodology in all countries: we wanted an event as diverse as the women who were planning it, with its own agenda, its own content work, and its own identity in each place. We all agreed about the need of femhack being a safe space: free of sexist remarks, racism, homo/lesbian/transphobia and any other kind of violence and hatred towards participants; in addition to the promotion and use of digital security practices as part of the event.

During the planning stage, we received the news about the assassination of Sabeen Munhad, who, despite not being part of the group promoting femhack, worked very hard for digital rights; she was the mind behind the first hackathon in Pakistan and a pillar of activism in the region. We thought it was fair to honor her memory around the world by dedicating femhack to her name and by taking the time in each country to share information about her life and achievements with those participating in the event.

After many discussions and postponed dates, it was decided that May 23rd be the date for holding the event simultaneously. We started to organize activities in each of our own countries and some comrades created a website to make a public announcement and invite more women/ women groups to participate around the world.

Little by little, pink spots started to appear, marking the venues of the activities on the map of the website: Mexico, Nicaragua, Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, United States, Canada, Spain, Basque Country, France, Scotland, Germany, Serbia, Austria, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Kenya and Australia. The femhack agenda included workshops, round tables, hacker groups, forums, festivals, performances and other diverse methodologies.

We were on social media and communicated using the hashtag #femhack: recording experiences, sharing thoughts and resources, passing the torch from country to country. After May 23 activities continued taking place: the following Saturday, May 30, Mexico and Colombia resumed their events and on June 6 it was our turn in Nicaragua.

Feminist Hackathon in Nicaragua

I wish I could show you national statistics and data on the binary women-technology in Nicaragua, but there are no official nor unofficial public records on the subject: because those who have the capacity and means to conduct this type of investigation are not interested and we, who are interested, do not have the capacity and resources.

As I mentioned at the beginning, we made an announcement for lecturers and facilitators. We wanted to know, hear it from women’s voices, how they are interacting with technologies: we wanted to create a space to learn collectively. We received 11 proposals, new seminars and two workshops on digital security, activism, virtual identities, being a blogger, resources to learn programming online, and the presentation of individual and collective projects arising from the Internet.

The event of June 6 meant a lot of learning and thinking.

We concluded that, on the Internet, personal means political: in a context where spaces are being closed day to day and women’s contributions undervalued, expressing and sharing our personal experiences and opinions are revolutionary acts. We notice that there isn’t a single way of coexisting with technology: that some of them are creators, some of us are prosumers, we have blogs, they create applications, some of them do programming, others write, some of them design, others take pictures, some administer forums, others edit wikis, there are so many possibilities.

We notice an adverse situation towards women who are on the Internet, manifesting through virtual violence and surveillance of our communications; which obliges us to promote and include digital security practices in all our actions. We need to develop more effective strategies for creating alliances with key people and groups to achieve a greater impact on a local level. We gained strength and support from the global network of #femhack, as well as support and advice from our Latin American comrades who live in similar contexts.

What is next for us? Internationally: more femhacks. Nationally: more femhacks. We are committed to facilitating spaces for reflection and creativity where feminism goes hand in hand with technology. We want to continue growing, see a map full of pink spots. I hope I’ll be in front of this computer within a couple of months, working on a new announcement, this time for the second #femhack.

*Gema Manzanares, communicator, (cyber)feminist, activist, founder of @EnRedadasNi and Nicaraguan designer. @gemadenisse