Gender rights online

Updates

UNESCO welcomed the new revision of UNHRC Resolution A/HRC/38/L.10/Rev.1 'concerning the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet', in particular, the re-affirmation that online human rights, especially those pertaining to freedom of expression, are the same rights online that are protected offline. The resolution decried significant abuses of human rights, such as attacks against journalists and women. At the same time, UNESCO noted progress on its project to define Internet Universality Indicators and the launch of the second draft of these R.O.A.M. indicators, which will 'help states and stakeholders to identify gaps within a country in relation to Internet Universality, and to make appropriate recommendations concerning policy and practice'.

                                                                      Internet Universality R-O-A-M Principles [image]

Ms Dubravka Šimonović, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, its causes and consequences, emphasised online/ICT-facilitated violence against women and girls in her statement to the 38th session of the Human Rights Council. Her report aims to 'start the process of understanding how to effectively apply a human rights-based approach and human rights instruments to prevent and combat online violence against women as human rights violations'. Recognising that emerging modalities of violence of women share common roots with other forms of violence against women, she pointed out that 'The definition of violence against women should be inclusive of all acts of gender-based violence against women and girls which are committed, facilitated or aggravated by use of ICTs, as well as including threats of such acts.' Šimonović called for new laws and recommended that states should ensure a regulatory framework that includes women's human rights instruments that prohibit gender-based violence online, as well as other points. The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) welcomed the report, supporting mention of the role of Internet intermediaries and highlighting that 'responses to content that reinforces violence against women should be rooted in human rights norms and require clear definitions, consistent with the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality, and legitimacy, for what constitutes harmful content'.

The free speech and journalism site PEN America has launched an Online Harassment Field Manual, challenging the assumption that 'online harassment is the price we collectively pay for enshrining free speech above all else'. Constance Grady notes that the manual offers a tool as a deterrent, because 'online harassment is antithetical to free speech because online harassment is designed to silence'. Grady concludes her description of the launch by saying 'The Internet is dark and full of horrors, and if you want to make it through unscathed, a field manual can only help.'

Jacky Habib of Women's Advancement Deeply explains how Kenyan App Developers Harness Technology to Take on Gender Gaps as the article explores how 'Kenyan developers offer women tech-based solutions to help them understand and fight for their rights.' The article describes Sophie Bot, which allows for anonymous consultation about sexual issues, offering information from Kenya’s National AIDS Control Council and the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) peer-mentor curriculum. According to Habib, Sophie Bot reaches outside of Kenya, with 30% of Sophie Bot’s 4,500 users in Kenya and reporting 18% from the United States.

A similar app, coming from Uganda, Ask Without Shame, uses Whatsapp, SMS, a toll-free line and their own app to offer answers to sex-related questions from medical experts. The app registered 50,000 users across East Africa in just three years. In another example, The 160 Girls Project is an initiative by a Canadian nonprofit called the Equality Effect that works to prevent sexual violence against girls in Kenya. 

Habib goes on to explain that there is still a gender gap in Kenya and sub-Saharan Africa, and details how, In an effort to close this gap, Women and the Web Alliance, a public-private partnership, is teaching digital literacy to women in rural Kenya. In conclusion, she cites Florence Korir, from World Vision, a partner in the alliance: 'We know that there is a large technology gap between men and women, and that addressing the gender gap will allow women to benefit from the opportunities that technology and the web hold.'

Francis Ryan explains in The Guardian how social media is The missing link: why disabled people can’t afford to #DeleteFacebookRyan shows that in spite of the dangers, even negligence, of social media companies, online networks offer 'a vital lifeline' to people with disabilities. She cites Phillip Green, who suffers from multiple health problems, and difficulties to go out to socialise: “Without social media, life would be so much harder”.

Ryan explains the importance of balancing the need for social media and its risks while emphasising the need to urgently address the problems illustrated by the Facebook example, since leaving social media networks is a privilege not available to everyone. 

She notes that improvements in safety and access are important for everyone, but especially minority and marginalised groups. Her quote from Astra Taylor, author of  The People’s Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age explains this point: 'We assume the Internet is open to all when it’s not,' says Taylor. Taylor further notes that more than 20% of persons with disabilities in the UK, had never used the Internet, compared with only 10% of the adult population overall lacking that experience. She also pointed out that poor and rural areas often lack access to high-speed broadband.

On 27-28 March, G7 Ministers of Employment and Innovation met in Montreal to discuss how the new economy is impacting industries and workers, and what measures governments can take to  support their citizens in the new world of work. Ministers agreed that more efforts are needed to promote gender equality and women empowerment, including in the field of science, technology, engineering, and maths. They also discussed the importance of public-private cooperation in ensuring that the workforce can adapt and transition to the new economy, as well as of investing in digital literacy and designing appropriate social protection systems. The ministers established an Employment Task Force to provide recommendations on these and other issues, and launched a Future of Work Forum (hosted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) to support the work of the task force. The impact of new digital technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and big data on society as a whole was also discussed, and ministers underlined the need for human-centric AI developments and for multistakeholder dialogue and cooperation on AI. They also decided to convene a multistakeholder conference on AI, to be held in Canada in the fall of 2018.

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

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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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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