This Friday I will be formally stepping down as Director of The Empower Project; a quirky, bold, innovative and super cool wee charity tackling tech abuse. I founded TEP (as we know it) three years ago, after working as consultant for violence against women services interested in tackling digital abuse. At the time, there was nothing in the Scottish environment quite like it- we developed a model of participation and co-production with young people, who would share their experiences with us and policy makers. We’d then take that learning to practitioners to enhance their practice in supporting and preventing victimisation. Prior to this, I was working at Scottish Women’s Aid, as part of the team that campaigned successfully to change the law around non-consensual sharing of intimate images, so I knew the landscape and the dialogue around it pretty well.
At the time young people victimised in this way were being told they stood to be prosecuted for the possession of child abuse images (these were images of themselves btw), police were advising to delete stalking messages, and teachers continued to tell victims to turn off the computer rather than tackle why boys were sending violent messages with impunity.
I’d love to say things are super different now- they’re not (hello dick pics!)- but we are getting there. Practitioners and policy makers are becoming much more aware of the realities of tech facilitated abuse, and Governments are becoming a lot more proactive in their response to victims. We know we can no longer simply tell people just to “cope”; to live with their experiences in the hope that old images won’t resurface, or that we can pretend that online misogyny has nothing to do with offline threats to life. There is no IRL/online division anymore, and more and more folk are coming round to this reality.
At TEP we worked crazy hard to make participation fun, we had pizza policy parties, discos and alternative markets, we made zines and playlists and had picnics. We knew that the biggest hurdle for change lay in the fact that those in power were generationally too far removed from the realities of digital natives. We wanted to bridge that gap and place their voices front and centre of policy and practice responses.
Because of this emphasis on young people leading, I knew it was time to go when my focus for change, as a 37 year old mum of two wee people, stopped matching those of the young people I was speaking with.
I’m absolutely dedicated to ending tech facilitated abuse,as a consultant for hire* exploring research projects and supporting practitioners to that end. But my eyes are very much on the absolute state of things for mothers, wellbeing and supporting reflective practice, and it’s only fair that I acknowledge that, and go where my energies are best placed. Also, as a 37 year old mum of two, I was TIRED. My energy was on constant low, I was not #chillvibes and I knew I wasn’t leading the organisation to it’s full potential.
Many many arms of social change aren’t necessarily led by those people they represent (in my day job I manage a children’s centre) but for TEP this felt more important, more ideological and more necessary. In the spirit of feminist community organising, I am committed to being part of a movement that moves, that is represented by those people from that community, and as such, I needed to move on.
Founders have a bad habit of staying around too long, and although their vision is instrumental to the start up years for an organisation, a fresh perspective re-energises an organisation and ultimately enhances it’s impact. Practically, I gave myself a year to leave, and myself and the board interviewed for young feminists interested in taking on this role. We recruited for two co-directors, and for the last six months I’ve been mentoring and supporting these wonderful folk, gradually handing over work and talking through what work balance means, and how to freelance as well as do the books. From leading and organising fun workshops to the… well, let’s just say less than fun management accounts.
Founders also have the pretty cool habit of founding shit, and it’s important to allow one door to close so that we can see what’s behind the next. We need to give ourselves space for ideas that are bubbling away to develop and grow, to reflect and learn on past experiences and resist the temptation to take on too much, too soon and burn out to a crisp. This is where I’m at, on the cusp of a new chapter, and it’s very exciting.
Supporting young women to take on leadership roles is also kind of my bag, so for me, giving up that space and cheer-leading two fantastic younger women is a really joyful conclusion to my last three years as a founder and Director. I’ve really enjoyed working with them and being part of the quiet network of feminists who mentor and support each other across generations, to work through burn-out, ideology, work, life and gin and tonic.
At the end of these three years, I’m mega proud to have been part of this movement to tackle tech abuse, alongside survivors, activists and academics all over the world.*I’m so grateful for the founding board, and consequent trustees for tending to and developing my wee seed of a vision into this totally cool forest that’s before me.
When we started TEP, I was heavy into the idea of joyful resistance, to take back the notion that activism led to sacrificing yourself for the movement. I wanted to learn from the feminists before and around me, to acknowledge our own community history, and create spaces for feminist disco balls and anti-capitalist nail art alongside complex policy conversations. I think we did this, and it really was a total joy.
*again, still here for hire