Back


Council debates advancing women’s rights in the economic sphere through information and communication

Back

22 June 2018

MORNING

GENEVA (22 June 2018) - The Human Rights Council this morning held the second part of its annual full-day discussion on the human rights of women with a panel focusing on advancing women’s rights in the economic sphere through access and participation in information and communication technologies.  

The first part of the annual discussion was held on 21 June with a panel focusing on the impact of violence against women human rights defenders and women’s organizations in digital spaces, and a summary can be found here.

The Council heard an opening statement by Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, and a keynote address by Eva Kjer Hansen, Minister for Fisheries and Equal Opportunities and Minister for Nordic Cooperation of Denmark.  The panellists were Chenai Chair, Researcher and Communications and Evaluations Manager at Research ICT Africa; Basheerhamad Shadrach, Coordinator for Asia, Alliance for Affordable Internet at the World Wide Web Foundation; and Rokhaya Solange Ndir, Head of Digital Ecosystem Relations at Sonatel; the moderator of the discussion was Anna Mori, Programme Officer and Partnerships Manager at the International Trade Centre SheTrades initiative.

In her opening statement, Kate Gilmore, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, underscored the human rights dimension of the information and communication technologies.  Technologies could work for or against women’s rights, and under the right circumstances, technology could be a key enabler for the realization of women’s and girls’ human rights.  Accessible technologies could facilitate the availability of health services and employment, paving the way for the social, political and economic inclusion of women and girls.

Eva Kjer Hansen, Minister for Fisheries and Equal Opportunities and Minister for Nordic Cooperation of Denmark, in a keynote address, said that development in information and communication technology was presenting new opportunities, but also new dangers.  There were 200 million fewer women online than men, and the gap was widening.  Enhancing women’s access to the use of the Internet could help close the digital gender gap.  More women in information and communication could become a pathway for progress on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal No. 5 to achieve gender equality.  

Anna Mori, discussion moderator and Programme Officer and Partnerships Manager, International Trade Centre – SheTrades initiative, noted that Internet penetration was 10 per cent lower for females than males.  In developed countries this gap was narrowing but in least developed countries it was widening, so the question was what kind of research and data collection would be needed to develop policies to prevent discrimination against women in the use of data-driven technologies in the economic sphere.

Chenai Chair, Researcher and Communications and Evaluations Manager at Research ICT Africa, said that women had been using information and communication technologies to benefit their business but in a context of biased social and cultural norms.  Thus the question was whether the use of new data-driven technologies bore a risk to replicate existing patterns of discrimination against women in relation to their economic activities, and the answer was yes.  

Basheerhamad Shadrach, Coordinator for Asia, Alliance for Affordable Internet at the World Wide Web Foundation, said that stereotypes witnessed in offline spaces also existed online, especially when women openly expressed their views.  In the economic sphere, women were unable to take full potential of online tools due to a lack of digital literacy.  Noting a widening digital gender gap, he said affordability was a main factor preventing women from participating in the online sphere.  

Rokhaya Solange Ndir, Head of Digital Ecosystem Relations at Sonatel, noted that digital transformation presented new opportunities for economic and social development, transformation of professions and job offers in Africa.  It offered a potential to bring autonomy to millions of persons.  Women were key stakeholders in society and had an important role to play in digital transformation.  

In the ensuing discussion, delegations expressed concern over the increasing gender digital divide and agreed that addressing the gap, as well as its underlying and structural reasons, with comprehensive policies had to be a matter of national priority.  Barriers experienced by women when accessing information technologies were often intensified with their gender offline inequalities.  It was noted that the access of women to information and communication technologies was essential for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals as it would improve job opportunities for women.  Speakers asked for examples of good practices in countries that had enhanced women’s involvement in information and communication technologies.  

Speaking during the discussion were Australia on behalf of a group of countries, Chile on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Slovenia on behalf of a group of countries, Togo on behalf of the African Group, Estonia on behalf of a group of countries, Kuwait on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, Belgium on behalf of a group of countries, Central African Republic on behalf of the International Organization of Francophonie, Australia, Denmark, Canada, Viet Nam, Romania, Malaysia, Qatar, Pakistan, Czech Republic, United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Italy, Thailand, Russia, and Madagascar.

The following civil society organizations also spoke: Istituto Internazionale Maria Ausiliatrice delle Salesiane di Don Bosco; Association for Progressive Communications; Al-Haq, Law in the Service of Man; International Organization for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD); Plan International, Inc and Action Canada for Population and Development.

The Council will next hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, and with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons.

Opening Remarks by the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

KATE GILMORE, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said information and communication technologies, and their use, had a human dimension, and inevitably, a human rights dimension.  New technologies changed the way in which societies operated and cooperated and affected the enjoyment of human rights.  Technologies could work for or against rights and for or against women and girls and their enjoyment of human rights.  Under the right circumstances, technology could be a key enabler for the realization of women’s and girls’ human rights.
 
With the ability of digital devices to multiply learning methods, there was potential to increase educational opportunities for girls.  Information and communication technologies could offer viable educational opportunities to girls deprived of their rights.  Accessible technologies could facilitate the availability of health services and employment, paving the way for the social, political and economic inclusion of women and girls.  New technologies had the potential to increase women’s and girls’ access to health services, specifically with regards to the most intimate health matters.

The urgency with which solutions of this regard were needed must not be forgotten.  Every day, 20,000 girls under 18 years gave birth, while hundreds died due to complications during birth.  Information and communication technologies provided a huge potential that had not been fully realised.  There was a huge gender divide working against that potential in all countries.  The solution was clear, there was a need to provide women and girls with safe access to digital spaces.  Women and girls must have access to online health information that covered sexual and reproductive rights, and widespread harassment of women in the context of science and technology must be brought to an end.  

Keynote Statement by the Minister of Fisheries and Equal Opportunities and Minister for Nordic Cooperation of Denmark

EVA KJER HANSEN, Minister for Fisheries and Equal Opportunities and Minister for Nordic Cooperation of Denmark, reminded that during the past century, women’s rights to vote, to study and to work had taken root; they had grown and spread, and across the globe, men’s inalienable rights were becoming women’s inalienable rights too.  That was also true for women’s right to live their lives the way they wanted to, for their sexual and reproductive health rights.  

While women’s rights had evolved only slowly, the development in information and communication technology was moving faster than men could really fathom.  That development presented new opportunities, but also new dangers.  There were 200 million fewer women online than men, and the gap was widening.  Enhancing women’s and girls’ access to and use of information and communication technology could help close the digital gender gap and empower women to take leadership of their own life and claim their rights.  Governments and enterprises needed to be more proactive in increasing girls’ engagement in science, technology and mathematics.  Women and girls had enormous potential waiting to be unleashed for the benefit of themselves, their families and societies.  Thus, more women and girls in information and communication could become a pathway for progress on the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal No. 5 to achieve gender equality.  

The Danish Government had launched a new initiative focusing on the opportunities and challenges of the fourth industrial revolution, called TechPlomacy, in order to bridge the digital divide.  Denmark had launched the “African Girls Can Code Initiative” together with UN Women, the International Telecommunication Union, and the African Union.  The Danish Government was also working with the IT sector and with educational institutions to break down barriers.  The IT University in Copenhagen had tripled the number of female students in software development in two years simply be reshaping and rewording their advertising and information materials, which was a great example for others to follow.  Closing the gender gap in information and communication technology would lead to a better future for women worldwide, Ms. Hansen stressed.  

Statements by the Discussion Moderator and the Panellists

ANNA MORI, Discussion Moderator and Programme Officer and Partnerships Manager, International Trade Centre – SheTrades initiative, noted that Internet penetration was 10 per cent lower for females than males.  In developed countries this gap was narrowing but in least developed countries it was widening.  The SheTrades initiative focused on working with women in improving their skills online in order to increase their income.  She asked the next speaker what kinds of research and data collection would be needed to develop policies to prevent discrimination against women in the use of data-driven technologies in the economic sphere?  What were the existing challenges and patterns of discrimination for women in relation to their economic activities online?

CHENAI CHAIR, Researcher and Communications and Evaluations Manager, Research ICT Africa, said that women had been using information and communication technologies to benefit their business but they had worked with technologies which had not been designed with that use in mind and still existed within a context of biased social and cultural norms.  Emerging and new data driven solutions held promises to making life easier and improving decision making.  Artificial intelligence held promise of positive impact on education, financial services, and bettering government service delivery.  The question was whether the use of new data-driven technologies bore a risk to replicate existing patterns of discrimination against women in relation to their economic activities.  The answer was yes.  To ensure capturing of gains of artificial intelligence, all needed to understand what was happening through research and thus better inform policies.  Some of the areas of suggested research included: mapping of who was designing technology and transparency and what was taken into account; baseline study on the prevalence of artificial intelligence and the policies undertaken in those countries; tracking the impact of artificial intelligence on employment and work; research of social impact of artificial intelligence on different social groups; research into the necessary systems for accountability; and redress against bias.  

ANNA MORI, Discussion Moderator and Programme Officer and Partnerships Manager at International Trade Centre – SheTrades initiative, asked the next speaker how gender stereotypes online and offline affected the role of women and girls as users and creators of new technologies.  Ms. Mori also asked what roles States, private actors and civil society must play to improve women’s access to and participation in information and communication technologies.

BASHEERHAMAD SHADRACH, Coordinator for Asia, Alliance for Affordable Internet at World Wide Web Foundation, said that stereotypes witnessed in offline spaces also existed online, especially when women openly expressed their views.  In the economic sphere, women were unable to take full potential of online tools due to a lack of digital literacy.  Noting a widening digital gender gap, he said affordability was a main factor preventing women from participating in the online sphere.  

The Foundation developed a holistic framework to address the digital gender gap.  Through the framework, Governments must protect everyone’s rights online.  States must ensure online spaces were safe for women and legislation should uphold digital rights.  There was a need to provide information on economic opportunities, sexual and reproductive rights and legal rights online in all geographies.  Governments must set ambitious targets to meet the affordability of access to the Internet for women.  
ANNA MORI, Discussion Moderator and Programme Officer and Partnerships Manager at the International Trade Centre SheTrades initiative, asked the next panellist why information and communication technology companies should proactively promote women’s and girls’ access to and use of information and communication technologies, and how that would promote gender equality and women’s rights in the economic sphere.  What were the concrete efforts that their company had made to promote gender equality and women’s rights in their work and what were the challenges faced?  What would be good incentives for other companies to take action?

ROKHAYA SOLANGE NDIR, Head of Digital Ecosystem Relations at Sonatel, Senegal, noted that digital transformation presented new opportunities for economic and social development, transformation of professions and job offers in Africa.  It offered a potential to bring autonomy to millions of persons.  Women were key stakeholders in society and had an important role to play in digital transformation.  In Africa, companies in the private sector should have a policy of positive discrimination vis-à-vis women for several reasons: because women still did not feel concerned unless directly addressed, because they perceived that information technology required more higher education, because with a high rate of female workforce at 25.9 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa, women needed to acquire more information technology knowledge to enhance their performance, and because information technology was a fabulous communication tool.  

Speaking of concrete efforts that her company had carried out to promote gender equality and women’s rights, Ms. Ndir explained that they had signed the initiative HeforShe of UN Women, and had committed to achieve full parity by 2020.  In addition, the company’s board was composed of 40 per cent of women, whereas women made up 38 per cent of all workforce.  Information technology education was another pillar of the company’s work to help women achieve professional immersion, as well as the signing of a partnership with the Ministry of Telecom to launch awareness-raising campaigns for girls in information and communication technology.  

Discussion

Australia, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said that information and communication technologies could be powerful in providing women with access to information and services, which was particularly relevant for countries of the Pacific, where many women lived in rural and remote communities.  Chile, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, said that traditional roles had resulted in different kinds of income generation, access to education and representation as well as influence in decision making of women.  This was further reflected in the gender gap in ownership and access to information technologies.   European Union recalled that social media had made grassroots movements like #bringbackourgirls, #MeToo and #MyDressMyChoice more visible, audible and influential.  Unfortunately, the gender digital divide still persisted, resulting in the lower access of women and girls to information technologies, and addressing it had to be a matter of priority.

Slovenia, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, was concerned over estimations that there were approximately 250 million fewer women than men online worldwide.   Barriers experienced by women when accessing information and communication technologies were often intensified with their offline inequalities.   Togo, speaking on behalf of the African Group, said that the digital sphere was perpetually expanding in everyone’s lives.  Access for women and girls to information and communication technologies was essential for the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals as it would improve their job opportunities.  Estonia, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, stressed that the gender digital divide was both a consequence and cause of the violation of women’s rights.  Policies to improve Internet access for women and girls needed to address the underlying causes of gender inequality.

Kuwait, speaking on behalf of the Gulf Cooperation Council, considered women to be a priority within general efforts to promote and protect human rights.  Studies were being undertaken on how to bolster the inclusion of women in all aspects of life.  Reinforcing the role of women in the economy was crucial.  Belgium, speaking on behalf of a group of countries, was convinced of the potential of information and communication technologies to promote the rights of women and girls.  Access to digital technologies would provide health information that could promote bodily autonomy.  They asked how could companies in the sector help promote women’s rights.  Central African Republic, speaking on behalf of the International Organization of la Francophonie, noted the large gender divide in information and communication technologies.  The increased involvement of women in the sector would result in increased gross domestic products.  

Australia said information and communication technologies could facilitate women’s inclusion and education.  Empowering women and girls to put education and skills into practice and taking concrete steps to achieve gender equality were the only ways to ensure economic gains.  Denmark said unleashing the potential of girls and young women was a national priority.  Information and communication technologies could support youth development in a significant way.  Yet gender barriers prevented equal access to technologies.  Denmark asked how youth engagement could be ensured in addressing these issues.  Canada noted the role of information and communication technologies in promoting the economic involvement of women.  There was a need to facilitate the equal access of women and girls to digital technologies.  Canada asked for examples of good practices in countries that had enhanced women’s involvement in information and communication technologies.  

Istituto Internazionale Maria Ausiliatrice delle Salesiane di Don Bosco agreed that there was a critical window of opportunity for information and communication technologies to contribute to the advancement of human rights for all.  The role of education in preventing the digital gender divide was crucial.  Association for Progressive Communications, in a joint statement, underlined the role of the Internet for the realization of women’s economic, political and social rights, which required unrestricted access to the Internet.  It was also critical to examine ways in which Internet policies shaped the experience of women online.  Al-Haq, Law in the Service of Man drew attention to systematic online attacks against Palestinian women by Israel as a result of their political engagement.  The organization therefore called for the protection of female Palestinian human rights defenders.    

Viet Nam agreed with the panellists that information and communication technologies could provide excellent opportunities for advancing women’s and girls’ rights in the economic sphere.  Running online businesses was becoming more popular and accessible in Viet Nam, and the majority were run by young female entrepreneurs.  Romania recognized that the empowerment of all women and girls was crucial for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.  The active participation of women in the information society was not just a matter of equality, but it could also contribute to improving competitiveness and economic conditions in the society.  Malaysia said that women in Malaysia had equal access to information and communication technologies, and that many women thrived as share-holders and owners of big companies, and had created successful household brands.  How could States work with like-minded partners in making women more aware of online scams?

Qatar said steps were being undertaken to transform Qatar into an information society in line with its 2030 national vision.  The Telecommunications Ministry carried out programmes to ensure that women could enjoy benefits of the digital era, including training programmes to bridge the digital divide.  Pakistan stressed that access to information technology could contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by providing economic opportunities for women.  The underlying reason for the gender digital divide had to be tackled through international collaboration, technical and financial assistance, funding of girls’ education, scholarships, and investment in the digital industry.  Czech Republic stated that great modern technologies were confronted by small outdated attitudes.  It was the responsibility of States to close gender digital divides impeding participation.  

United Kingdom said that developing economies often struggled to realise the benefits of the digital economy because of limited Internet connectivity, lack of digital skills, and regulation of the Internet.  Women and girls could benefit substantially from digital access but were often left behind.  Bulgaria had identified “Women in the Digital World” as an important topic during the ongoing Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.  Bulgaria ranked first in the European Union by the share of women employed in the information and communication technologies with 27.7 per cent.  Italy affirmed that a real gender equality could only be achieved by removing barriers such as unequal access to education and financial resources.  What steps should be taken to speed up women’s empowerment in the digital age?

Thailand said it was cooperating in capacity building programmes to impart agricultural technology and digital skills to women in rural areas.  Thailand asked for examples of good practices in the use of information and communication technologies to promote the economic empowerment of women.  Russian Federation said women in the country had a high level of education and were major players in the economy.  Information and communication technologies contributed to advances and the Government was open to cooperate with the international community and share its best practices.  Madagascar stressed that all over the world women were using digital technologies to advance the cause of human rights.  Clear gaps still existed between women in developed countries and those in developing countries.  Information and communication technologies unfortunately remained a male dominant field across the world.  

International Organization for the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD) said women and girls were fighting for equality in online spaces.  Women must be equally able to access and enjoy information and communication technologies as men.  The Organization drew attention to women and girls who still lacked access to digital technologies.  Plan International, Inc noted that equipping girls with the knowledge to use information and communication technologies would empower them to adapt to changing labour trends.  It was time to close the gender gap and leave nobody behind.  There was a need to shift the perception of technology careers as a male domain.  Action Canada for Population and Development said young rights defenders were routinely subjected to online harassment.  Young women from minority groups were at increased risk of attacks.  Restrictions to information sharing online amounted to censorship.  The priority for all had to be empowering actors working to promote and protect human rights.

Concluding Remarks

BASHEERHAMAD SHADRACH, Coordinator for Asia, Alliance for Affordable Internet at the World Wide Web Foundation, pointed out to two examples from Bangladesh and India on providing access to information and communication technologies to rural women and girls.  EBay types of platforms allowed women in rural areas to market their products and to acquire digital skills.  Perhaps those examples could be replicated elsewhere.

CHENAI CHAIR, Researcher and Communications and Evaluations Manager at Research ICT Africa, said that women’s participation should be intentional in partnerships with Governments and private actors.  There were different aspects in which women could contribute to coding and information and communication technologies.  There was a need for community support for young people to engage in information and communication technologies, as well as for Government funding.  

ROKHAYA SOLANGE NDIR, Head of Digital Ecosystem Relations at Sonatel, underlined the role of digital literacy training for young people as a way to improve the participation of women and girls in the information society.  One of the initiatives that was addressing the gender digital divide was the Smart Africa initiative.

BASHEERHAMAD SHADRACH, Coordinator for Asia, Alliance for Affordable Internet at the World Wide Web Foundation, said that Internet scams could be addressed through legal provisions, awareness raising among online business owners, and through peer-to-peer learning exercises.  Women should not silently suffer from those problems, but should instead publicize them online.

ANNA MORI, Discussion Moderator and Programme Officer and Partnerships Manager, International Trade Centre – SheTrades initiative, reminded that as it had been projected that some 95 per cent of new jobs would have a digital component, women’s participation in the digital sphere should be increased.  Women and girls should not be only receivers of information and communication technologies, but also their creators.

 __________

For use of the information media; not an official record

Back

Back

No