Gender rights online

Updates

The LOL League (La Ligue du LoL), a secret group of mostly French male journalists, has been accused of leading and coordinating a decade long campaign of harassment and abuse towards women, in particular writers, activists, women of color, and LGBT people. The media reports that so far three journalists have been suspended, one resigned, and one fired since the accusations went public. Four of France’s biggest news outlets who are implicated are: Libération, Les Inrocks, Slate France, and Télérama. The group has been initiated on Facebook in 2009 by Vincent Glad, Libération journalist. Group provided space for offensive content towards influential French females. Liberation reacted by publishing an article questioning the negative impact of the group and downplaying its activities. Twitter feed has been filled by hundreds of testimonies by victims of the group. Lucile Bellan, Slate France contributor accused the group of systematic harassment aimed at her confidence as a journalist. Benjamin LeReilly published an article on Medium underlining group’s anti-LGBT and anti-feminist harassment. One of the most disturbing examples gave Florence Porcel who has been interviewed for fake position of an editor-in-chief for a news programme in France. Audio of this interview has been later posted on Soundcloud. This has also been confirmed by David Doucet, editor of Inrocks, admitting he was the one behind the fake interview, but claiming he ‘didn’t know the extend to trauma he had caused to her’.

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.’.

During the African Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 10 girls from the African Girls Can Code Initiative  met with the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, to share their experiences and what it meant for them to be part of the programme. The programme is a joint initiative of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and UN Women. Over 80 girls from 34 African countries went through the program and have joined the first 10-days long Coding Camp in Addis Ababa in 2018. It offered courses on digital literacy, coding, and personal development skills, enabling them to compete for jobs in information and communication technology (ICT) field. This initiative is set to run until 2022 with the goal to reach over 2,000 girls within 18 coding camps. ITU data from 2017 shows that the African region has the widest digital gender gap in the world. ‘If more girls and women are not joining these professions, the power relations of the world will remain very male dominated’, said Guterres. He addressed the audience noting that ‘It needs a movement of girls to bring more women into the field of science and technology, including ICT.’. Few days earlier, in his statement,Guterres noted that there is need to do more in order to change current workplace culture and enable girls from are set to become scientists, engineers, or mathematicians to be able to have equal job opportunities and fulfil themselves in these fields.

Safety of Female Journalists Online (SOFJO) Conference 2019 under the theme ‘Expanding Opportunities for Freedom of Expression and Media Plurality’ has been organised by the Organization for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) in Europe. OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media (RFoM), Mr Harlem Désir, and Council of Europe (CoE) Commissioner for Human Rights and former OSCE FRoM, Ms Dunja Mijatović, addressed the audience. In his opening speech, Désir noted that with the increase of threats against the press, female journalists face specific type of gender-based violence online. It includes sexually explicit and misogynistic abuse, death threats, surveillance, imprisonment, and other types of intimidation against female journalists and their families. It is aimed at silencing their voices and removing them from work. He called for ‘meaningful and systematic response and holistic approach’, which needs to include Internet platforms, media companies, and political will at the highest level. Last December, OSCE participating states unanimously adopted an OSCE Ministerial Decision on Safety of Journalists. Désir underlined the courage of journalists who have shared their challenging experiences, which resulted with a documentary ‘A Dark Place’. Mijatović launched ‘Safety of Female Journalists Online’ project in 2014 in order to highlight the issue and call for greater action against the trend which attacks both media freedom and human rights. She reminded about the importance of adopting gender sensitive approaches to policy developments in order to have the full participation of women in online spaces. ‘States must step up the implementation of the human rights standards they have adopted on the safety of journalists and on combating violence against women. They have the duty to adopt protective measures for female journalists and to encourage the private sector and the media to fight gender-based violence online.’

Absher, the official app for eServices of the Saudi Ministry of Interior’s National Information Center in Saudi Arabia, allows men to track and restrict the movement to women. It sends text messages to men when their wife or daughter tries to use their passport and men can use it to alert airports in Saudi Arabia to catch a woman in case the is trying to travel without permission or flee Saudi Arabia. U.S. Senator Ron Wyden sent an open letter to Apple and Google chief executive officers, Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai, urging them to ‘immediately remove from your app stores the Saudi government’s Absher app, which enables Saudi men to track and control the movements of Saudi women.’ Wyden asked them to prevent technical infrastructure, including app stores, from being used by Saudi government to enable ‘abhorrent surveillance and control of women.’ Cook was not familiar with the case, but promised the company will look into it and consider next steps on Apple’s App Store. A spokesman for Google said the company has also started investigating the app hosted on Google Play Store in order to determine if it is in accordance with its policies.

Ab Or Nahin, an online portal by Digital Rights Foundation, provides free help for women in Pakistan who seek legal representation and psychological counselling in cases of sexual harassment, abuse, and gender-based violence. It offers resources to survivors to which otherwise they would not have access to, such are experienced lawyers and professional counsellors. Immediately after its launch beginning of February, they have received four such cases. Nighat Dad, Digital Rights Foundation (DRF) founder, activist, and lawyer, spoke about women’s need of such an initiative: ‘DRF people, including female lawyers, felt we needed to start because in the last one year we saw a spike in these cases and complaints, specifically to our helpline and our Facebook pages and to me, mostly after the Meesha Shafi case I took up. There hasn't been much information around these services. In this digital age, these initiatives need to do much more to raise awareness about themselves and what they offer. There also needs to be much more conversation around legal aid.’ The website offers options such are to get in touch with the DRF team via email, to ‘speak to a Lawyer’, to ‘Speak to a Counsellor’, as well as ‘Resources’, and ‘FAQs’.

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

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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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.

 

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