Online activism is human rights work: my experience as a digital activist


My name is Sara, I am a HRG 2nd year student and I have been a human rights activist on Instagram for the last year.

Sara on the stage of the MicaMachoFest at Circolo Magnolia in Milan, September 2021. Taken by Silvia Violante Rouge @silviaviolanterouge

At the beginning of 2021, I opened an Instagram page on human rights education with a focus on the rights of minorities. I wanted to shed light on important topics such as oppressions and privileges to an Italian audience since I believed I had the appropriate knowledge. My goal was to inform rather than to perform. Soon, I realised that there are not enough online Italian activists and that only a few of them studied human rights. I thought something was missing: there was a demand for activists that came from my area of expertise, namely women’s rights, gender and queer studies. Therefore, a few months after the beginning of the MA, I opened my Instagram page @stregafemminista to share what I was learning with others.


On my page I am publishing posts to educate about human rights issues, with a particular focus on women’s rights, the LGBTQIA+ community, people with disabilities and BIPOC. I talk about the history of feminism, about unexplored issues such as the history of hair removal and the meaning of incel, about what it means to have a privilege and how to use it for the good of marginalised communities. In my stories I most often comment on the latest news and analyse media products, through an intersectional lens.

Screenshot of @stregafemminista’s account. Taken on 10 January 2022.

I love my work and I know I have an impact on people as very often my followers text me and thank me for enlightening them on important topics they knew nothing about. In twelve months I reached almost 11k followers: I don’t take pride in numbers but I am proud of the big and active community I built.


I believe I could not have had the same results by working offline. When spreading awareness on human rights issues, social media has become the way to go. Even international NGOs are realizing it and they are building online platforms for awareness campaigns and fundraising calls.

I can make a comparison with my voluntary work with Unicef. I fundraise by stopping people in the street to sell them the so-called Pigotta (a doll) or asking for donations. In the “real world” most often people are not interested or have no time. Differently, in the “online world“ interested people do look for you, do follow you and do listen to your words.


This brings me to the downside of being involved in online activism: it becomes easy to talk to a “bubble” of people. I know that all the people who follow me and who I follow are on the same page as I am. However, I am often shocked when my content is read by people with ideals opposite to mine. I cannot ignore that these people are also the target of my activism. It is easy to advocate to those who are already open minded but lack education, it is another thing advocating to people who think minorities should not have “any more rights”. On the positive side, online activism has helped me meet wonderful people who share the same mission and has given me the chance to talk on the platform of two important stages, at the 2021 Monza Pride and at the MicaMachoFest at Circolo Magnolia in Milan. On this last occasion, I was given the chance to talk in a panel of activists about toxic masculinity in the LGBTQIA+ community.

A photo that has gone viral and appeared in La Repubblica and Il Post, among other Italian magazines. It was taken by a photographer during a demonstration in Milan against the rejection of the Zan law in October 2021. Taken by Andrea Fasani, @a.fasani

At university nobody talks about being an online activist as a future career, but I believe what I do is human rights work: I advocate for human rights and very often help fundraise or collect signatures for relevant issues.

It is a challenging job that takes many hours of my week and for which I have not been - yet - compensated. It is also a challenging job for my mental health since people online have no filters and when my posts go viral, they often reach a different and massive audience that has no problem insulting me in my DMs. Notwithstanding the hard times, I will never stop doing what I do and love. My hope is to bring human rights education to a larger audience and to continue educate people on intersectional feminism and human rights.


Written by Sara Fuso Edited by Giulia Rosina Photo courtesy of Sara Fuso

 

Sara Fuso is a 2nd year HRG student. She studied International Relations as a Bachelor’s Degree and gave her dissertation on Theories of Equality and Rights about the legitimization of women’s oppression through the law. She is interested in women’s rights, gender and queer studies and she has been consistently enlarging her knowledge in such area by taking online courses and reading a lot. Follow Sara on Instagram @stregafemminista

 

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