Joana Varon: Founder and director of Coding Rights, Brazil
United women in a man’s world: Joana’s indignation about gender imbalances in technology inspired her to found Coding Rights, an international woman-led network for human rights in the digital sphere. She believes technology development has to be feminist, non-discriminatory, and globally fair.
A family computer and an Atari console were Joana’s gateways into the world of technology. Like many kids in the 1980s and ‘90s, she was a huge video game enthusiast, though she quickly realised how different this experience was for boys and girls. She developed an ongoing interest in representation and gender in video games. As a researcher by profession, Joana found that the gender inequalities prevalent in society were replicated in the tech world. “The more I looked into it, the more I saw these gender asymmetries.”
Far from discouraging her, this realisation ignited the fire that still burns within her today, turning a researcher into an activist. In 2015, Joana founded Coding Rights, an organisation that aims to redress the power imbalances built into technology. And though the council is about much more than just issues of gender, it maintains a strict ‘female only’ policy: Coding Rights is an international and interdisciplinary consortium of female coders, lawyers, social scientists, artists and journalists that spans the globe from India, Poland and the US to Guatemala and Brazil. Together they have launched many creative campaigns on digital human rights. “I feel energised and inspired by so many women, especially in Latin America, involved in the tech branch, working on software development, digital policies or data security,” Joana says.
She has not lost her love of video games over the years either. The logo for her current project Chupadados (literally: the Datasucker) is reminiscent of the old Atari games, and the project’s website uses comic-style graphics. They enliven a fairly dry topic: Chupadados gathers stories about the mass collection of data from across Latin America. For example, it explains how menstruation apps make money from their users’ data, how children’s apps spy on kids or how targeted advertising manipulates consumer behavior. Through these short articles, Joana wants people to become aware of how their devices are sucking in their data.
Today, Joana is affiliated with the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society and is a proud Mozilla Foundation fellow. Politics and the internet have created an attachment that will not be broken any time soon, she is convinced. Her hope is to get as many women as possible participating in and mastering the evolution of technology, and to take away the fears that keep them from taking the lead. “Change can be brought about by women working together.” Joana sees a new era of communication and information technology made by women on the horizon, an era in which feminism and transfeminism are present, and in which a chain of women energising and inspiring each other continues to move forward.”
“We grow up thinking that technology is a complicated field. There’s a lot of mansplaining. Don’t be afraid.”
This article has originally been published as part of the publication “Women in Tech: Inspiration, no fairytales” by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). You can download the publication or order a print edition of the book on the BMZ’s website.