As Commission on Status of Women Concludes General Discussion, Speakers Call for Inclusion, Gender Transformative Actions, Digital Equality
As the general discussion of the Commission on the Status of Women concluded today, women and girls from all corners of the earth and of all ages and identities underscored the importance of inclusion, gender equitable assistive technology and gender transformative approaches in achieving gender equality in the digital spheres.
The session, which runs from 6 to 17 March, is focused on the theme “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”. (For background, see Press Release WOM/2221.)
The representative of the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, reporting that youth advocates have been hidden away and trying to make the best out of informal spaces during the session, informed the Commission they feel unheard and excluded. Stressing that agreed conclusions should reflect the rights and needs of women, girls and gender diverse people, she expressed hope that the outcome document will reflect recommendations and priorities of the global youth. “Nothing about us without us,” she stressed.
The representative of Equality Now, speaking via a pre-recorded video, also called on the Commission to leverage the global momentum to address human rights and accountability in the digital realm, starting with the forthcoming Global Digital Compact. The adoption of feminist-informed universal digital rights will ensure equality for all women and girls, as well as other vulnerable groups, in physical and digital spaces, she said.
The International Disability and Development Consortium’s delegate, addressing challenges faced by women and girls with disabilities, described the myriad of inequalities they face in accessing technology and services due to limitations in both online platforms and appropriate devices. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many online events remained inaccessible to them because assistive technologies were often not included in public health responses to COVID-19. The provision of gender equitable assistive technology must not be overlooked in discussions around innovation, she emphasized.
Echoing this stance, the representative of Women with Disabilities Australia highlighted the exclusion of women with disabilities in the conversation on technology and technology-related discrimination. Detailing the challenges facing women with multiple intersecting identities, including those who are indigenous, LGBTQIA+, culturally and linguistically diverse or living in a rural or institutional environment, she called on the Commission to set up a permanent working group on technology and disability.
In the same vein, digital exclusion in older age, said HelpAge International’s representative, rises from a lack of access to digital devices and the Internet, among other things. Stereotypes and prejudice about older women’s ability and willingness to use digital technologies are widespread. Yet many older women are able and willing to learn digital skills. To promote older women’s digital inclusion, intergenerational collaboration is needed to break down social and cultural barriers, she said.
The United States’ representative underscored that the abuse, harassment and violence women and girls face are facilitated by the Internet, noting that 8 in 10 women and girls have experienced some form of online harassment and abuse. The Commission’s theme is a chance to change this neglected global issue and bridge the gender digital divide, she said, adding that technology and digital platforms can also be a source of empowerment for women and girls.
Similarly, the representative of Djibouti, underlining the importance of eliminating algorithms that perpetuate and reproduce existing gender biases, said that Djibouti is also engaging technology to empower women and facilitate their access to health care, education and training. His Government has also established a gender observatory to combat violence against women and has enabled visual recognition to recognize perpetrators online and bring them justice.
However, the representative of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts reported the results of a survey of over 1,000 women and girls from over 70 countries worldwide, pointing out that two thirds of them felt uncomfortable as a result of seeing adult sexual or violent content online and receiving unwelcome sexual messages. A clear legal framework to address such online violence must be established through the adoption, strengthening and enforcement of laws. Calling for concrete action towards a gender equal world, she urged the Commission: “Take our asks seriously, not only in your discussions, but also in the outcome document.”
Affirming that call, Mathu Joyini (South Africa), Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, said she was particularly pleased with the presence of young people during the session, adding: “As we spoke with one voice, let’s see this through to the agreed conclusion.” Encouraging State representatives to translate the Commissions’ discussions into an agreed-upon outcome document, she appealed to Member States to be sisters in achieving a bold document that would advance the position of women and girls in the digital age.
Also speaking today were ministers, senior officials and representatives of Member States, United Nations agencies and entities, as well as non-governmental organizations, including Congo, United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, International Planned Parenthood Federation, Western Hemisphere Region; United Cities and Local Government; Women in Europe for a Common Future; World Organization of the Scout Movement; Young Diplomats of Canada; Afraz Cultural Association; British Columbia Council for International Cooperation; International Transport Workers’ Federation; Soroptimist International; and the World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations.
The Commission on the Status of Women will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 16 March, to continue its work.
LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States), recalling an Iranian activist who posted a video on social media expressing hope for change and then was shot dead by her country’s security forces, underscored that this is an example of the intersectionality between physical and digital attacks on women. Abuse, harassment and violence women and girls face are facilitated by the Internet, she said, noting that 8 in 10 women and girls have experienced some form of online harassment and abuse. The Commission’s theme is a chance to change this neglected global issue and bridge the gender digital divide, she said, adding that technology and digital platforms can also be a source of empowerment for women and girls. Her Government has created a task force that establishes programmes and research centres to counter digital violence. In February the White House Gender Policy Council released its first progress report on the National Strategy on Gender Equity and Equality and the first-ever National Plan to End Gender-Based Violence will be launched in 2023, she reported.
INES NEFER BERTILLE INGANI, Minister for the Promotion of Women, the Integration of Women in Development and the Informal Economy of the Congo, said that in 2022, more than 100 young women benefited from training in digital technology. The education strategy seeks to increase access to quality and free basic education. The President has been fighting violence against women and girls, she said, pointing to a law in 2022 in that regard and the creation of a centre that supports women victims of violence. Her Government has been able to organize national programmes to fight violence against women and adopted a national plan for implementation in her country of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on women, peace and security. It also seeks to mobilize more resources with bilateral and multilateral partners to benefit girls and improve and increase their participation in the creation of new technologies, she said.
YOUSSOUF ADEN MOUSSA (Djibouti), associating himself with the African Group and the Arab Group, said his country undertook major efforts to promote gender-equality in cooperation with the private sector and academia. Noting that the Government encourages companies to hire more women and promote inclusive workplace environments, he underlined the importance of ensuring that technology does not reproduce existing gender-biases. This is done by eliminating algorithms that perpetuate the issue. Emphasizing that the Government is promoting the use of technology to empower women and facilitate their access to health care, education and training, he said a gender observatory was created to combat violence against women. The observatory also provides opportunities for women victims to find support services. Moreover, the Government enabled visual recognition to recognize perpetrators online and bring them justice, he said.
MAIMUNAH MOHD SHARIF, United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT), said managing the digital transition well could help create cities where all women and girls are able to benefit from optimized services and enjoy the opportunities of digital urban life. Noting that the Programme works with local and national Governments to implement digitalization of cities and urban services, she underscored the importance of women’s participation in city-level decision-making, adding that cities and digital city technologies developed with and for women and girls result in better cities for everyone. While promoting multi-level governance strategies to support the use of digital technologies in an ethical and inclusive way, UN-HABITAT partners with youth, innovators, academia and the private sector. Urban innovation and digital inclusion to empower women and girls is, thus, the intentional result of a variety of different gender transformative approaches, ranging from grassroots levels up to the role of national Governments, she said.
The representative of the International Planned Parenthood Federation, Western Hemisphere Region, pointing to a set of recommendations with a view to influencing the Commission’s agreed conclusions, said Member States should guarantee the fulfilment of sexual and reproductive health and rights for all women, adolescents and girls, as well as gender-diverse people, including their right to bodily autonomy and integrity. She called for a legal and egalitarian framework that protects and expands the delivery of sexual and reproductive health rights services for innovative delivery models, particularly self-care and digital health solutions. Internet access must be acknowledged as a human right, she said, calling for measures to facilitate and encourage the use of technology and social media platforms for the delivery of comprehensive sexuality education. Groups of historically marginalized women, girls, and gender diverse people must benefit from those innovative content delivery methods, she added, detailing other recommendations.
The representative of United Cities and Local Government, noting that feminist politics means putting care for people and planet at the centre, said United Cities and the Feminist Municipal Movement are ready to continue addressing systemic inequalities, both online and offline. Local and regional Governments have been working to implement user-centred principles for the delivery of digital public services through facilitating access to technology and establishing artificial intelligence registries for its accountable and transparent use. In this regard, she called for support for a new way of doing politics, applying and regulating technology. While acknowledging that women and diverse groups’ active participation and leadership are fundamental to bridging the digital divide, she spotlighted the importance of gender-sensitive data collection in achieving safe design of public space and transforming gender-norms.
The representative of Women in Europe for a Common Future (Georgia), outlining Georgia’s progress in adopting a legislative and policy framework and strengthening national institutions on gender equality, said gender gaps in legislation and policies remain, including gender pay gap and adequate payment for parental leave, among others. Noting that the Parliament adopted the State concept of gender equality, and the Government approved a new human rights strategy, she lamented that none of the documents address LGBTQIA+ rights. Acknowledging the rise of gender disinformation and political misinformation in the country, she said those are key aspects of the Russian Federation’s war propaganda. Spotlighting the rise of populism, the manipulation of public opinion around gender and LGBTQI identity-related topics, she also pointed to targeted discreditation campaigns against female political opponents and journalists, female activists and human rights defenders. Over 50 per cent of women in politics in Georgia have suffered from violence, online and in person, she added.
The representative of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, noting the shocking results of its internet experience survey of over 1,000 women and girls from over 70 countries worldwide, said two thirds of them felt uncomfortable as a result of seeing adult sexual or violent content online and receiving unwelcome sexual messages. Due to this, they were forced to change their behaviour in online spaces. Calling for change and the Commission’s concrete action, she underscored the need for a gender responsive and intersectional approach to laws and policies concerning innovation, technology and digital innovation. A clear legal framework to address online violence against women and girls must be established by providing legislative direction to criminal justice bodies through the adoption, strengthening and enforcement of laws. To prioritize the body confidence of young women and girls, the marketing of unobtainable body ideals must be prevented and the representation of diverse young women and girls in the media increased. Calling for a gender equal world, she urged the Commission: “Take our asks seriously, not only in your discussions, but also in the outcome document.”
The representative of the World Organization of the Scout Movement, underscoring the importance of empowering women and girls through transformative education, said her youth-led organization facilitated the world’s largest coordinated youth contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals with more than 2.5 billion hours of community service through non-formal education. Noting that her organization annually organizes the world’s largest digital and radio Scout event on the Internet — JOTA-JOTI (Jamboree on the Air) — she said more than 2 million people take part in related education activities to learn a mix of traditional and innovative skills, including digital literacy. Pointing out that her organization has a massive network of young change-makers to help achieve gender equality, she called on global leaders to promote non-formal education; provide funding and political spaces for youth-led organization; and work in partnership with the private sector and civil society to share best practices and solutions to gender equality.
The representative of the Young Diplomats of Canada said it is a non-profit, non-partisan youth-led organization that aims to facilitate the inclusion, participation, and leadership of young Canadians in high-level political meetings and multilateral forums. To achieve gender equality and empowerment for all women, girls, and gender diverse people in the digital age, Member States must enhance access to the internet and information and communications technology by 2030 to increase opportunity for women, girls, and gender-diverse people and bridge the gap in access that exists between urban and rural regions. They must support national policies for infrastructure development to ensure equitable high-quality access to the internet and to information communications systems, as well as improve access to high-speed internet in remote indigenous communities. Detailing other areas of action, she also said that Member States must collect comprehensive gender data that is representative of society to eliminate the effects of gender-biased data and ensure the security of all data collected.
The representative of the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, noting that youth advocates are hidden away trying to make the best out of informal spaces of the Commission on the Status of Women, said they feel unheard and excluded. Stressing that agreed conclusions should reflect the rights and needs of youth advocates, she expressed hope the document would reflect recommendations and high-level priorities of the global youth. “We must centre those who are from historically excluded, marginalized and vulnerable communities and face multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination,” she said, underscoring the need for upholding human rights of women, girls and gender diverse people. In this regard, she called for “decolonization and democratization” of the digital space to include grassroot voices and tackle power imbalances and inequality. “Nothing about us without us,” she stressed.
The representative of the Afraz Cultural Association said the Association is a non-governmental organization that works in the field of history and culture in Iran. Unfortunately, in recent decades, with the predominance of specific narratives and with religion’s dominance over the Iranian Government, injustices have been committed against women. Longstanding rights have been severely distorted and women in Iran have suffered wide-ranging discrimination. The majority of Iran’s society, especially the young generation, do not tolerate such discrimination and will not stop trying to achieve their equal and self-evident rights. The Iranian nation welcomes the attention and companionship of other nations to navigate this difficult path, especially assistance in accessing new communication technologies and social media, which lay the foundation for the civil struggle of Iranians today, she said, adding that Iranians have no doubt that their nation will once again become a free society with free women.
The representative of the British Columbia Council for International Cooperation, speaking via a pre-recorded video, said half of the world’s out-of-school children live in conflict zones. The gendered dimensions of this and the risks to adolescent girls include early marriage, gender-based violence and increased risk of poverty. Noting that the situation for girls and women in Afghanistan is unparalleled in its intensity and impact, she said it is the only country in the world to deny women and girls a right to learn as a policy. Underscoring the importance of coordination, flexibility and innovation to tackle this issue, she called for funding and support in order to emerge alternative school options and facilitate access to higher education for girls. Also calling for resources to provide education for displaced women and girls, she encouraged innovative collaborations between Governments and the higher education sector globally to create flexible and accessible opportunities for women and girls who are locked out of education.
The representative of Equality Now, speaking via a pre-recorded video, noted that the Human Rights Council in 2018 resolved that the human rights protected in existing instruments should be promoted, protected, and enjoyed in the digital realm. However, how existing human rights apply in the digital realm is debatable and requires full analysis of the characteristics of the virtual experience. While there have been a number of initiatives, digital rights charters and declarations discussed or adopted, their development and adoption has not been universal, and most are not legally binding. She called on the Commission to leverage the global momentum to address human rights and accountability in the digital realm, starting with the forthcoming Global Digital Compact. The adoption of feminist informed universal digital rights will ensure equality for all women and girls, and other vulnerable groups, in physical and digital spaces. In addition, it will accelerate progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and commitments that Governments have made to “Generation Equality”.
The representative of HelpAge International said digital exclusion in older age rises from a lack of access to digital devices and the Internet, inadequate financial resources and limited digital literacy skills. These challenges are often greater for older women living in rural or remote areas. Stereotypes and prejudice about older women’s ability and willingness to use digital technologies are widespread, yet many older women are able and willing to learn digital skills. To promote older women’s digital inclusion, needed are digital learning; age-friendly design of digital services; and ageism-free, ethical and safe digital environments that embrace the diversity of older women. Also needed is intergenerational collaboration to break down social and cultural barriers. Specifically engaging older women in the design of policies and programmes can help ensure that initiatives are designed in a way that supports the needs of women of all ages, she said.
The representative of the International Disability and Development Consortium said that the specific barriers experienced by women and girls with disabilities, as a result of discrimination based on gender and disability, are often not considered in policies and practice. Moreover, they face inequalities in accessing technology and its services as a result of lower incomes, negative stereotypes and attitudes, lack of awareness and training, as well as the limited availability of accessible information and communications technology devices, programmes, and websites. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many online events remained inaccessible to them, she said, adding that assistive technologies were often not included in public health responses to COVID-19. Further, messages such as how to avoid transmission of the virus were often not accessible in national sign languages and other formats. The provision of gender equitable assistive technology must not be overlooked in discussions around innovation, she emphasized, calling on Member States to ensure that women and girls with disabilities are meaningfully included in the Commission’s priority theme.
The representative of the International Transport Workers’ Federation said she was speaking on behalf of global unions representing millions of women workers across public, private, and informal sectors. She pointed out that technology can pose a risk to certain jobs, and the most undervalued roles increasingly vulnerable to automation are disproportionately carried out by women, such as ticket sellers in the transport sector. However, technology can also be the stimulus for new and improved jobs and working conditions and must be employed to counter gendered systemic exclusion. In that regard, women workers must be fully trained in technology for the resulting new decent jobs. In addition, women disproportionately suffer from the impacts of the climate crisis, she said, adding that innovation is fundamental for many industries to adapt. Transport is among those sectors requiring investment in low-carbon technology and infrastructure, she said, calling for investment in gender-transformative education in science, technology, engineering and math subjects, technology transfer, and equitable, affordable access to quality internet connectivity.
The representative of Soroptimist International noted that basic digital fluency and technical skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are now lifelines for working, learning, accessing essential services and new opportunities. However, those in marginalized communities, including rural areas, lack basic resources such as electricity and connectivity, affordable technology systems, and information technology skills training. Member States must work together with the private sector and civil society to bridge the growing gender digital gap, and, together with the international community, ensure that women have equal access to employment opportunities at all stages of their life course, and that girls have regular and safe access to education. Further, safeguards must be in place to ensure that women and girls have safe access to the internet and digital platforms. Her organization signed onto the Non-governmental Organization Commission on the Status of Women Global Advocacy and Research Group’s Recommendations for the 2023 Zero Draft, she said, urging Member States to accept and implement those recommendations in full.
The representative of Women with Disabilities Australia highlighted the exclusion of women with disabilities in the conversation on technology and innovation. She also drew attention to the technology-related discrimination faced by women with disabilities around the world, specifically those with multiple intersecting identities, including those who are indigenous; LGBTQIA+; culturally and linguistically diverse; and living in a rural or institutional environment. Detailing the challenges they face in accessing digital technology, she called on the Commission to set up a permanent working group on technology and disability. She further encouraged it, as well as States parties and non-governmental and other organization representatives, to facilitate a safe, accessible and inclusive way for women with disabilities to participate in the planning, co-design and development of all current and future technology and digital spaces.
The representative of the World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations said the Russian aggression has compromised the most fundamental right of Ukrainians to life and has negatively impacted their physical and mental health, as well as the safety of millions of women and girls. Ukrainian women need innovative technologies that will enhance learning, retraining, and work opportunities, especially for the displaced. Voicing concern about the increased domestic burdens on women, especially older women, and challenges facing women and girls in rural or remote areas, she welcomed the draft agreed conclusions. The perspectives and human rights of women and girls, including of internally displaced and refugees, must be taken into account in armed conflict, peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction. It is paramount that all forms of violence against women and girls are condemned, prevented and eliminated, and that the perpetrators are prosecuted and punished, she said.
MATHU JOYINI (South Africa), Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women, expressed appreciation to Member States, civil society, non-governmental organizations and United Nations agencies for speaking with one voice that underscored the importance of women’s and girls’ access to innovation spaces, human rights and the protection and safety of women and girls in digital technologies. Noting she was particularly pleased with the presence of young people during the session, she said their voices came through very strongly. States should take a lead on how to enable young people to contribute to general discussions in their national capacity.
“As we spoke with one voice, let’s see this through to the agreed conclusion,” she said to Member States, encouraging those representatives to translate the Commissions’ discussions into that conclusion. This is the framework that would talk to the issues that the Commission has been listening to during the session, she stressed. “Let it translate into a great conclusion,” she added, appealing to Member States to be sisters in achieving a bold document that would advance the position of women and girls in the digital age.