A playbook for gender equality: How to harness the power of digital media and emerging tech

18 Dec 2017 11:45h - 13:15h

Event report

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The workshop addressed the ways in which digital and emerging technologies affect gender equality, and their role in promoting a more inclusive world. The objective of the round-table discussion was to inform and contribute to the creation of a Playbook for Gender Equality in the Digital Age, which aims to raise awareness on the pressing issues at the intersection of digital technologies and gender equality, and lay the ground for the creation of a multistakeholder network.

In the role of moderator Ms Tara Denham, Director of the Democracy Division at Global Affairs Canada, introduced the panellists and their presentations regarding the provocations that gender equality is facing. 

Ms Valentina Hvale Pellizzer, Association for Progressive Communications, opened the presentations session by raising the issue of the challenges that digital technologies pose for gender equality. According to Pellizzer, gender inequality starts from the body. In the digital world, our body is data, and data is political, and the data on these bodies is not equal. The classification of data is biased, which makes a body either visible or invisible. The issue of data needs to be addressed from a human rights perspective, in order to prevent gender inequality.

Ms Marketa Geislerova, Senior Policy Analyst at Global Affairs Canada, introduced the next speaker, Ms Dhyta Caturani, Indonesia-based human and women’s rights activist). Caturani brought up the cultural aspect of using digital media which hinders women from using ICTs   (information communication technology). Therefore, as technologies are not built with women in mind, algorithms become biased and this leads to a limited use of ICTs by women. Caturani touched upon the censorship and the filtering of online data that further hinders women from accessing ICTs, and the silence of women themselves. As a solution, women should be engaged from the start, when building the technology infrastructure, to provide them with meaningful access to ICTs and digital media.

Ms Irene Poetranto, Senior Researcher and Doctoral Student, The Citizen Lab, made a presentation about Internet censoring, filtering and surveillance issues, and the potential of ICT regulation in advancing women’s access to ICTs, as well as tackling the challenge of making them more vulnerable. Poetranto spoke about evidence in research about the use of malware against civil society groups and activists, including women, and the implementation of Internet censorship policies that result in the blocking of websites belonging to women’s groups.  Awareness was raised regarding automation due to the miscategorisation resulting in legitimate context being blocked, and the need of transparency and accountability in how sophisticated tools are made and purchased to avoid the risk of infringing on human rights.

Ms Farhaan Ladhani Perennial, CEO of Digital Public Square, presented the challenges and opportunities of developing technologies that do not promote gender inequality. Perennial explained that key algorithmic decisions in our daily virtual actions have gender impacts and that the prominent datasets used to teach everything from language skills to photo recognition for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have been demonstrated to generate gender bias right from the very start. Therefore, the key challenge is the need for the stakeholders and companies that develop and apply machine learning systems to limit algorithmic bias.

On the building of a Playbook for Gender Equality in the Digital Age, the findings of the global survey from October 2017 refer to actions, different players and their role in ensuring gender equality.  Four areas were identified:

  • ensuring equal access to and inclusion in digital technologies;
  • cultural area through overcoming traditional thinking and deconstructing social barriers;
  • education area on how to improve education and training; and
  • the governance regime area on building an international framework.

During this workshop session four groups were formed to validate the identified actions throughout the global survey for each area.  The playbook will be released after all the input from the participants in the workshop is sorted.

By Noemi Szabo