WSIS+20 Forum session outlines recommendations for gender-just digital governance
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A girl reaches for a computer mouse in front of two women in headscarves sitting in front of a computer while a third woman in a headscarf points to the computer screen. All look intently at the screen

WSIS+20 Forum session outlines recommendations for gender-just digital governance

A New Gender Deal should be included as part of the outcomes of the 20-year review of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS+20) if our digital future is to be an inclusive and empowering one for women and girls, panelists stressed at a session at the recent WSIS+20 Forum High-Level Event in Geneva.

Under the theme ”Gender Equality and Inclusion in Our Digital Future: A New Gender Deal for WSIS+20,” the session took a closer look at the proposed United Nations Global Digital Compact (GDC) through the lens of gender equality and women’s digital rights. WACC and the Global Alliance on Media and Gender (GAMAG) co-organized the 29 May session.

Aimée Vega Montiel sits at a table and speaks into a microphone

Aimée Vega Montiel, GAMAG chair

The internet and digital technologies, the global digital architecture, and all elements of local and global tech ecosystems today are still far from being inclusive and empowering for women and girls, moderator and GAMAG chair Aimée Vega Montiel said in her introduction.

“Women’s rights are being eroded, in an era where a Global Digital Compact is proposed as a roadmap for key digital principles globally,” she noted, pointing to a deepening digital gender divide, increasing power imbalances, and surging forms of technology-facilitated gender-based violence (TFGBV).

“We want to open spaces such as this one to put women’s voice at the center of global debates.”

Closing gender gaps in the Global Digital Compact

Anita Gurumurthy sits at a table and speaks into a microphone.

Anita Gurumurthy, It for Change executive director

While the first revision of the GDC notes the need to address the concentration of digital market power, it does not analyze markets through a gender lens, Anita Gurumurthy, executive director of IT for Change, pointed out.

Actions are needed to challenge the status quo rather than simply adding women to the existing unequal system, she stressed. “Gender equality is not about sharing in the poisoned pie; you need a different pie.”

Gurumurthy noted that the imagination of public participation is missing from the GDC, with the default being that the market will provide for women’s rights. “We need stronger articulation of sovereignty of the people, individuals and communities, which is extremely vital for feminist principles.”

Online violence silencing women

Albertina Piterbarg sits at a table and speaks into a microphone.

Albertina Piterbarg, UNESCO Freedom of Expression and Security of Journalists

TFGBV is amplifying risks and harms for women who want to be part of the digital public space, according to Albertina Piterbarg, who works with UNESCO’s section on freedom of expression and the safety of journalists.

Drawing on her particular focus on the intersection between freedom of expression and political participation, she observed that the public arena is “a site for power.” In this digital space of power, gender biases and stereotypes are being amplified to manipulate public perceptions.

She also flagged the lack of algorithm transparency, with the result that it is not clear whether women are able to exercise the same right to visibility on platforms as men.

Piterbarg pointed out that platforms are not interlocutors for everyone, only in countries where companies are domiciled, meaning that users in global majority nations often have no resource in the case of misinformation or online harassment or abuse.

Collaboration with digital platforms

Sylvia Musalagani

Sylvia Musalagani, Meta head of safety policy for Africa, Middle East, and Turkey

Sylvia Musalagani, Meta head of safety policy for Africa, Middle East, and Turkey, spoke of the importance of the platform’s collaboration with civil society in informing the development of gender-sensitive community guidelines and safety tools.

This consultation with non-profit organizations, academics, activists, and others is key to Meta’s understanding how their policies and products impact women and girls and their participation on the platforms.

“We recognize that we are not the experts in everything,” she said. Working with civil society means “we are able to do much more to protect everyone who uses our technologies.”

Musalagani highlighted the need for regulation, for governmental policies that enhance women’s participation online and address any biases that hinder this participation.

Towards a gender-just Global Digital Compact

Reem Alsalem speaking

Reem Alsalem, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls

The GDC “offers a historic opportunity to shape a digital future that is safe, equitable, and empowering,” said Reem Alsalem, UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls.

She outlined a series of recommendations to ensure that this key global digital governance framework is not only inclusive of women and girls but also seeks to protect and empower them.

A standalone goal to prioritize the rights of women and girls would be useful, Alsalem said. This means the right to live free from violence and benefit equally from technological advances.

The UN Special Rapporteur suggested creating a dedicated gender equality committee to integrate gender perspectives, comprising experts in gender, digital rights, and cybersecurity, as well as representatives from women rights organizations and survivors of digital violence. “This would ensure that our strategies are informed by lived experience and specialized knowledge.”

Alsalem also recommended implementing a mandatory gender impact assessment for all digital policies and initiatives to anticipate and mitigate potential negative impacts. “This pro-active approach will ensure that gender considerations are embedded in the very fabric of our digital governance.”

She further suggested promoting gender parity in decision-making bodies related to digital technologies to ensure diverse perspectives and equitable outcomes, developing comprehensive online safety standards that prioritize the protection of women and girls, and facilitating international data sharing given the cross-border nature of TFGBV.

Call for a systemic approach

To ensure a gender-responsive, gender-aware GDC, it is essential that there is recognition of misogyny — a misogyny that is “on steroids” in society today, Gurumurthy stressed. The aim is not to stifle freedom of expression, she clarified, but to “take responsibility for the consequences of what is being realized in the name of innovation.”

She urged that the GDC hold rights bearers accountable for violating human rights regardless of jurisdiction.

The panelists stressed the need for systemic solutions rather than individualizing problems. Piterbarg noted that it is important to address the “chilling effects” of the structure of TFGBV and to consider the lack of equality overall in the world of knowledge, communication, and information.

“Women’s voices are not able to be heard because the right to be heard is not there.”

A New Gender Deal for WSIS+20

GAMAG has been advocating for a New Gender Deal in Media and Digital Communication since 2021.

Philip Lee sits at a table and speaks into a microphone.

WACC General Secretary Philip Lee

Since the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action in 1995, WACC has sought to address gender inequality perpetuated in and through the media — to stop unequal gender power relations at the root of discriminatory attitudes and practices from being normalized and further entrenched, noted WACC General Secretary Philip Lee. The New Gender Deal for WSIS+20 is a natural continuation to advance gender justice in today’s digital media.

“It’s a call on all relevant actors — the UN system, governments, media and digital corporations, also civil society organizations — to support the inclusion of a new gender deal in the digital ecosystem,” Vega Montiel announced.

This new gender deal for WSIS+20 should examine existing norms and reinforce mechanisms to strengthen gender equality within the digital sector and implement actions to respond to the urgent needs identified in the conversation thus far, she said.

These needs include universal and safe access to the digital ecosystem, regulatory and co-regulatory mechanisms at different levels, frameworks for algorithmic transparency, digital literacy with a gender component, safety for women journalists and human rights defenders, and steps to respond and end TFGBV as well as offline violence against women and girls.

“Our goal is to urge the international community to recognize the centrality of all these issues in achieving gender equality, to ensure the inclusion in the Global Digital Compact, and to assume the responsibility in pursuing women’s digital rights,” Vega Montiel said.

Iraqi refugee women in Jordan learn computer skills with help from one of their daughters.
Photo: Paul Jeffrey/Life on Earth

WSIS+20 event graphic with title, time, and panelists

Discover the key takeaways of the session “Gender Equality and Inclusion in Our Digital Future: A New Gender Deal for WSIS+20” at the WSIS+20 Forum High-Level Event in 2024.

Watch the session “Gender Equality and Inclusion in Our Digital Future”:

1. Go to www.itu.int/net4/wsis/forum/2024/Agenda/RPWeb/301

2. Scroll down to “2024-05-29 17:00(UTC +1)” — “Gender Equality and Inclusion in our Digital Future (CICG Pleniere EF)”

3. Click on “Floor”

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