Gender rights online

Updates

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) kicked off the eTrade for Women Network during the fifth UNCTAD eCommerce Week on 1-5 April 2019 in Geneva. The network aims to empower women in developing countries through improving the profile of women leaders engaged in the digital economy and making their voices heard in policy processes both domestically and internationally. ‘A systematic effort to collect, nurture and enhance the experiences of women involved in e-commerce is needed,’ elaborated UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General Isabelle Durant. To this aim, the eTrade for Women Network was developed for four main reasons: 1- visibility: to increase the visibility of successful women entrepreneurs in e-commerce in developing countries, 2- largesse: to provide them with a relevant network of peers, 3- Inspiration: to inspire the next generation of women entrepreneurs and e-business leaders in developing countries, and 4- learning: to highlight good practices emerging from the field that are likely to add value to existing gender initiatives.

The Representative on Freedom of the Media (RFoM) of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) published a report which looks into legal remedies for attacks against journalists happening online. It specifically looks into three case studies, in Finland, France, and Ireland, of female journalists who have suffered online attacks for the work they do. Journalist face increased attacks and abuse through social media, online fora and other through other ICT means, which ‘often includes violent threats of death and rape’. Female journalists ‘bare additional burden’ since they are being attacked solely on the basis of their gender. The report offers best practices and recommendations for OSCE member States in implementing and interpreting laws in order to respond more effectively to increased and diversified forms of online harassment of journalists.

The United Nations University in collaboration with EQUALS Research Group published report on Taking Stock: Data and Evidence on Gender Equality in Digital Access, Skills and Leadership which was presented at the 63rd session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 63). The report looks at the impact of information and communication technologies (ICT) on women and girls in different aspects including jobs and wages, security and privacy, cyber-threats, and new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI). The research notes that the gender digital divide is attributed to not only lack of access to ICT but also the lack of digital skills required to reap the benefits of these technologies in improving the economic and social conditions of women and girls. The report pinpoints six impediments to gender digital divide: (a) availability of infrastructure, (b) financial constraints, (c) ICT ability and aptitude, (d) interest and perceived relevance of ICTs, (e) safety and security, (f) socio-cultural barriers, and (g) institutional contexts. According to the report, the gender digital divide becomes persistent as technology becomes more sophisticated and expensive.

On the occasion of the International Women’s Day, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the World Food Programme (WFP) discoursed how women empowerment and gender equality are quintessential to achieving sustainable development. The talks further tackled how information and communication technologies (ICT) can promote gender equality and bridge the gender digital divide. ‘The global rise of information has deeply affected rural women in poor countries, who often find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide: because they live in developing countries, in rural areas, and because they are women, leaving them more likely poor and vulnerable to economic and climatic shocks,’ underscored FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva. In that sense, ICT can improve the livelihood of women in developing countries particularly those living in rural areas who lack access to health care, education, decent work, and social protection. For example, WEP developed an application that allows women to sell their crops and promote gender equity through economic empowerment via digital technology.

Through Facebook Connectivity, Facebook is launching several initiatives in partnership with global operators, equipment manufacturers among other partners to provide high-quality Internet connectivity to more people. The initiatives aim at giving more people a voice, strengthening communities, and creating new economic opportunities. They include: (a) new partnerships and technologies to extend rural connectivity in Peru and Mexico, (b) open source technology to enable new operator business models – Magma in Latin America, (c) new investments in fiber connectivity in Nigeria, South Africa, and Uganda (d) Express wi-fi  platform to provide people with fast, affordable, and reliable access to the Internet, and (e) high-speed connectivity to urban and suburban communities through growing the millimeter-wave gigabit wireless ecosystem with Terragraph in Malaysia, Brazil, California, and Greece. Through these initiatives, Facebook endeavors to address some of the global Internet connectivity challenges of accessibility, affordability, and relevance through a multi-faceted approach.

The media reports a Belgian security research has discovered Facebook’s search function lets search photos of female friends, but does not do the same when it comes to pictures of male friends. When a person types into the search bar ‘photos of my male friends’, Facebook will ask the user if instead they meant to type ‘female’. In addition, Facebook suggests finishing the search for ‘female friends’ with words such are ‘in bikinis’ or ‘at the beach’. Facebook responded but has edited their repose in few occasions. After Facebook’s spokesperson claimed that it was a bug and the company is working to fix it, they said that instead of being a bug it is actually an auto-suggesting search feature which shows results for popular and recent searches of the whole platform. ‘Female friends in bikinis’ and ‘photos of female friends’ do not violate Facebook’s Community Standards, therefore Facebook does not remove them. Latest response quotes: ‘We know that just because something doesn’t violate our Community Standards doesn’t necessarily mean people want to see it, so we’re constantly working to improve search to make sure predictions are relevant to people.’.

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.

(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.

(UNHRC)

Privacy and data protection online has been the subject of many UNHRC resolutions.

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Privacy and data protection online has been the subject of many UNHRC resolutions. General resolutions on the promotion and protection of human rights on the Internet have underlined the need for states ensure a balance between cybersecurity measures and the protection of privacy online. The Council has also adopted specific resolutions on the right to privacy in the digital age, emphasising the fact that individuals should not be subjected to arbitrary of unlawful interference with their privacy, either online or offline. The UNHRC has also mandated the Special Rapporteur on the right to privacy to address the issue of online privacy in his reports.

Resources

Africa goes digital: Leaving no one behind (2018)

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

ICT Facts and Figures 2017 (2017)
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

Feminist Principles of the Internet (2018)
A toolkit for researching women’s Internet access and use (2018)
PEN America online harassment Field Manual (2018)
Action Plan to Close the Digital Gender Gap (2015)
End Violence: Women's Rights and Safety Online

Processes

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WSIS Forum 2019

UNCTAD 2019

OECD Summit 2019

13th IGF 2018

UNCTAD 2018

WSIS Forum 2018

12th IGF 2017

WSIS Forum 2017

IGF 2016

WTO Public Forum 2016

WSIS Forum 2016

WSIS10HL

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.

 

The GIP Digital Watch observatory is provided by

 

 

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