Gender rights online

Updates

15 Sep 2017

Google is being sued for gender discrimination in its employee practices, over pay discrimination and channeling of women into lower paying job tracks. Google spokeswoman Gina Scigliano said that 'Job levels and promotions are determined through rigorous hiring and promotion committees, and must pass multiple levels of review, including checks to make sure there is no gender bias in these decisions.' The current lawsuit, however, 'alleges that Google segregates women into lower paying jobs that curb progression, while men with equivalent qualifications face no such hurdles'. Earlier this year, the US Department of Labor 'found systemic compensation disparities against women pretty much across the entire workforce', although Google disputes this contentionAccording to Google's VP of People Operations,  'Google’s updated workforce representation data shows that overall women make up 31 percent of our employees. In the past three years, women in tech roles have grown from 17 percent to 20 percent (from 19 percent to 20 percent over the last year) and women in leadership roles have grown from 21 percent to 25 percent (from 24 percent to 25 percent over the last year.'

1 Aug 2017

The U.S. Senate has introduced an amendment to a law protecting hosts of websites with unlawful content. The existing law protects hosts from liability for content posted by others on their platforms. The amendment has been formulated in the context of child sex trafficking, as regulators referred to sites as Backpage.com, which has been accused of 'knowingly [facilitating] the criminal sex trafficking of vulnerable women and young girls'. According to the Washington Post, the bill 'sets the stage for a battle between Congress and some of the Internet's most powerful players', and is contested by free-speech advocates who are concerned about Congress' potential power to regulate Internet content.

25 Jul 2017

Continuing the strong debate about the right to be forgotten (often termed delisting), France has referred the CNIL (the French data protection authority) vs Google (Alphabet) case to the European Union Court of Justice (ECJ), saying 'With today's decision, the Council of State believes that the scope of the right to be delisted poses several serious difficulties of the interpretation of European Union law.' In 2014, the ECJ ruled that search engines must comply with the so-called right to be forgotten. There are differing global positions on the right to be forgotten, including calls to protect high tech Internet companies to opinions that this step will permit intervention in favor of 'America’s leading internet companies — and freedom of speech on the internet'.  The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press notes that 'Demands to delist search results globally, including links to news articles, pose a significant threat to media organizations and freedom of the press around the world. They also raise concern over the idea that the laws of any one country could supersede another’s on the Internet in a way that limits access to information'. In a practical example with subtle differences, the Karnataka HC upholds forcibly married woman's right to be forgotten online, as in 'a first-of-its-kind ruling, the High Court of Karnataka has allowed a person’s name to be deleted from its online records, including the digital order copy. Sowmya (name changed) was kidnapped and forcibly married'.

Pages

Women's rights online address online aspects of traditional women rights with respect to discrimination in the exercise of rights, the right to hold office, the right to equal pay and the right to education. Women represent more than half of the world’s population, yet their participation in technology-mediated processes is an area where progress is still needed.

Protecting women's rights online

The protection of women’s rights online is part of a broader sociocultural and professional shift focusing attention on reducing discrimination and diminishing the bias in the exercise of rights, including for accessing educational and economic opportunities, holding office, and receiving equal pay. While access to the Internet has increased over the last two decades, gendered patterns of use create uneven opportunities and generate important gaps in the empowerment of girls and women across the globe.

 

With strengthened online participation, women’s involvement in public and political life has been on the rise, yet taking full advantage of the benefits of information communication technologies (ICTs) depends on eliminating a set of barriers such as inequality of access and technology-related violence against women. Among the acts of violence perpetrated via online means are cyberstalking, surveillance and privacy breaches, sexual harassment, and the unauthorised use and manipulation of personal information including images and videos. In the era of ubiquitous connectivity, creating safer online spaces with the cooperation of the Internet intermediaries comes into sharper focus as a first step towards the full realisation of women’s human rights and development.

Historically, girls and women have faced discrimination and major inequalities in education (including ICT specialisations), health, social welfare, political participation and justice. Many of these disparities between men and women in the enjoyment of fundamental rights have been perpetuated online. Violence, migration, conflict and crisis have also affected the wellbeing of women and their ability to fulfil their potential both offline and online, with important obstructions of their private sphere.  The main international instruments for the protection of women’s rights are the 1952 Convention on the Political Rights of Women and the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Both UN Women and the UN Human Rights Council work actively on various dimensions of women’s rights. Mainstreaming the online facets of activities of existing women’s rights bodies remains challenging. Groups such as the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and the IGF Dynamic Coalition on Gender Rights have been actively involved in advocacy for women’s right online.

Support for women’s rights online is also offered by the World Wide Web Foundation’s Women’s Rights Online: Raising Voices. New research by the Web Foundation shows that ‘the dramatic spread of mobile phones is not enough to get women online, or to achieve empowerment of women through technology. The study, based on a survey of thousands of poor urban men and women across nine developing countries, found that while nearly all women and men own a phone, women are still nearly 50% less likely to access the Internet than men in the same communities, with Internet use reported by just 37% of women surveyed. Once online, women are 30-50% less likely than men to use the Internet to increase their income or participate in public life’. An infographic with key findings and the full report give more detail on the current situation.

Events

Actors

(UNCTAD)

UNCTAD is very active in the field of e-commerce.

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UNCTAD is very active in the field of e-commerce. It assists developing countries in developing e-commerce legislation, through its e-Commerce and Law Reform Programme. The entity has launched the eTrade for All initiative, aimed to improving the ability of developing countries to use and benefit from e-commerce.  As part of its ICT Policy Review Programme, UNCTAD undertakes reviews, research, and analysis on e-commerce-related issues. It also reviews national policies and provides policy advice to countries on areas such as developing e-commerce strategies and devising measures to strengthen e-commerce. UNCTAD holds an annual E-Commerce Week, featuring events focusing on specific policy areas of e-commerce.

(UN Women)

UN WOMEN advocates for women’s rights online through its work on gender mainstreaming, ending

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UN WOMEN advocates for women’s rights online through its work on gender mainstreaming, ending violence against women, economic empowerment of women, and women in leadership.  Some of the activities include Girls in ICT Day held in collaboration with the ITU; recognition of women empowering tech through the Equals in Tech Awards; as well as hackathons and support for women-owned tech businesses. The agency also provides gender data to support gender empowerment in UN policies.

(ITU, UIT)
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The ITU Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) develops international standards (called recommendations) covering information and communications technologies. Standards are developed on a consensus-based approach, by study groups composed of representatives of ITU members (both member states and companies). These groups focus on a wide range of topics: operational issues, economic and policy issues, broadband networks, Internet protocol based networks, future networks and cloud computing, multimedia, security, the Internet of Things and smart cities, and performance and quality of service. The World Telecommunication Standardization Assembly (WTSA), held every four years, defines the next period of study for the ITU-T.

(BCSD)

The Commission promotes the adoption of practices and policies that enable the deployment of broadband network

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The Commission promotes the adoption of practices and policies that enable the deployment of broadband networks at national level, especially within developing countries. It engages in advocacy activities aimed to demonstrate that broadband networks are basic infrastructures in modern societies and could accelerate the achievement of the sustainable development goals. The Commission publishes an annual State of the Broadband Report, providing an overview of broadband network access and affordability, with country-by-country data measuring broadband access. Other reports, open letters, and calls for actions issues by the Commission also underline the benefits of broadband as a critical infrastructure towards achieving growth and development.

(APC)

The Association for Progressive Communications regularly participates at the UN Human Rights Council,

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The Association for Progressive Communications regularly participates at the UN Human Rights Council, to defend the freedom to use encryption technology and to communicate anonymously. One of APC’s strategic priorities for 2016-2019 is to ensure civil society actors and human rights defenders have the capacity to confidently use the Internet and ICTs, by means of privacy-enabling technologies.

(Web Foundation)

World Web Foundation’s work on

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World Web Foundation’s work on women’s rights online focusses on access for women. They provide research on access gaps particularly in developing and least developed countries. They also participate in policy making at global and national level and have for the past few years been advocating for gender responsive ICT policies in middle and low-income countries. Web Foundation also advances women’s rights online by providing tools to enhance capacity of civil society actors in issues such as digital gender gap auditing and open data.

Resources

Multimedia

Is the Web Really Empowering Women? (2015)

Publications

Internet Governance Acronym Glossary (2015)
An Introduction to Internet Governance (2014)

Papers

Encouraging the Participation of the Private Sector and the Media in the Prevention of Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence: Article 17 of the Istanbul Convention (2016) (2016)
Violence Against Women and the Use of Information and Communications Technologies in Jamaica (2015)

Reports

Smartphone Ownership and Internet Usage continues to climb in Emerging Economies (2016)
Best Practice Forum on Online Abuse and Gender-Based Violence Against Women (2015)
Freedom on the Net 2015 (2015)
Women's Rights Online: Translating Access into Empowerment (2015)
New Challenges to Freedom of Expression: Countering Online Abuse of Female Journalists (2015)

GIP event reports

Report for ITU CWG-Internet - 4th Physical Open Consultation Meeting (2017)

Other resources

Action Plan to Close the Digital Gender Gap (2015)
End Violence: Women's Rights and Safety Online

Processes

Sessions at WSIS Forum 2016

Sessions at IGF 2015

IGF 2016 Report

 

Gender issues were discussed in several sessions at the IGF 2016 meeting. The Best Practice Forum on Gender and Access underlined the need to more strongly support the empowerment of girls and women, and looked at several challenges and barriers, such as the effect of culture and norms, lack of women in decision-making roles, and relevant policies. Several calls were made to more intensively promote the rights of women on the Internet and to tackle the increasing gender violence online (Open Forum: Freedom Online Coalition - OF27).

WSIS Forum 2016 Report

 

Issues related to the empowerment of girls and women through ICTs were discussed in several sessions. The role of ICTs in promoting and accelerating access to education for girls and women was explored in Harnessing ICTs for Greater Access to Education for Girls and Women (session 176). The importance of the gender gap, support for choices, and the roles that parents and women play in supporting choices were discussed, among other important topics. UNESCO projects, the Africa Engineering Week, and other examples highlighted increasing possibilities for girls. Acceleration of Girls Education and Rights to Ensure Sustainable Gender Empowerment Through ICTs (session 157) pointed out the importance of including ICT skills in educational system curricula to give girls equal opportunities in ICTs from an early age. Getting to school in the first place, learning about ICTs, mastering the skills, and gaining the confidence to enter the related fields were all mentioned as steps to ensuring a healthy environment for all children. 

IGF 2015 Report

 

Several sessions addressed the need for content control in the context of fighting violence against women online.  Although there was general consensus on the need to protect vulnerable communities, the extent of content control was not always agreed on. For example, during the Best Practice Forum on Practices to Countering Abuse and Gender-Based Violence against Women Online, several panellists spoke of the difficulty of establishing strong legal mechanisms that do not cause over-censorship.

The workshop on Tech-related Gender Violence x Freedom of Expression (WS 196) explicitly dealt with the tension between gender protection and the right to free speech. At the other end of the spectrum, several sessions addressed cases in which Internet content is censored by governments to establish digital control over their citizens. For example, Information Controls in the Global South (WS 224) addressed the challenges faced by civil society to have a meaningful impact when faced with information censorship.

 

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