Women's rights online

Updates

18 Jul 2017

A new study by the Pew Research Center has found that online harassment affects men as much as women, leading Cathy Young at Reason.com to suggest that the online harrassment might not be a gender issue. In comments about the study, Maeve Duggan notes that online harrassment 'can be highly contextual and often a matter of personal interpretation. And while certain behaviors would seem to "cross a line", that line can vary from one person to the next.' 

7 Jul 2017

A forthcoming report: Internet Surveillance, Regulation, and Chilling Effects Online: A Comparative Case Study by Jonathon W. Penney concludes that 'Women and young people are more likely to self-censor if they think they’re being monitored'. In a world where the US Director of National Intelligence admits that even the US National Security Agency would be unable to determine the number of targets of warrantless surveillance, it is important to analyse how this monitoring affects Internet users. The paper also suggests that the same users who are most likely to self-censor, are those who are unlikely to take steps to defend themselves.

22 Jun 2017

In March 2016, on his visit to Cuba, then US President Obama said, speaking of the need for greater Internet access: 'It also depends on the free and open exchange of ideas ... [I]f you can't access information online, if you cannot be exposed to different points of view, you will not reach your full potential, and over time, the youth will lose hope'. Catherine Powell references this speech in her blog post What Expanding Internet Access in Cuba Could Mean for Women. She notes that 'Broadening access to the internet and other information and communication technology, such as mobile phones and social media, could be an important tool for women’s rights (and other human rights) in Cuba'. She explains four particular ways that increased access will improve women's access to the workforce: first, expanding opportunities to work from home; second, improved communications with children and caregivers during working hours; third, an easier balance of work and home responsibilities with a stronger Internet economy easing some tasks such as shopping; and fourth, increased access to information and communication technologies will create job opportunities for women.

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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

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 IGF 2016

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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