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.