The gender digital divide is not just an access gap; it is a democratic deficit that thwarts meaningful participation of women and girls in all their diversity in the emerging digital paradigm. As welfare delivery and emergency cash transfer programmes went “digital by default” with the onset of the COVID pandemic, the world’s poorest women and girls fell through critical social security nets. Technology-mediated violence also intensified in the post-pandemic period, disproportionately affecting women human rights defenders, women in politics, women in media, LGBTIQ+ women, women from ethnic minorities and indigenous communities, and women living with disabilities, undermining their socio-economic well-being and public participation. Against this backdrop, it is imperative to place the gender equality agenda at the heart of the proposed Global Digital Compact, a shared agreement for the basic norms of an open, free and secure digital future being currently debated at the UN.
In 2022, IT for Change and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung convened a series of consultations across the Global South to co-develop feminist visions of our shared digital future. These consultations involved active participation on the part of almost 100 feminist academics, scholars/practitioners, activists, civil society representatives and trade unionists, who debated the normative directions and action agenda for a feminist approach to digital transformation. Insights from the dialogues have been crystallised into a charter of feminist demands from the Global South concerning the UN Global Digital Compact.
The UN Global Digital Compact must be infused with a feminist perspective to ensure that the ongoing digital transformation of our economies and societies can usher in a gender-just world that is affirming of all individuals and their path to self-actualisation.
A truly open Internet is one which promotes empowering self-expression, serendipitous solidarity and the formation of trans-local publics. This social fluidity of the Internet can be reclaimed only by breaking free from the instrumentalist openness that fuels the pseudo-diversity tactics of social media platforms, elitism of open communities and the chains of social surveillance.
Freedom in digital society is about guaranteeing an expansion of possibilities and an enrichment of life choices for all women and girls. This demands attention to autonomy of work and life, universal social security, and social and solidarity enterprise models in the digital paradigm, and not just the elimination of precarity.
A secure digital future guarantees the right of all peoples to development as human flourishing. The structural violence of pervasive data extractivism on people and the planet must be immediately eschewed to build a new egalitarian digital order.
Grounded in foundational feminist principles, the charter demands action along three critical areas, outlined below:
The UN Global Digital Compact must tackle systemic and structural injustices stemming from unbridled market power of transnational platform businesses. We need a binding global governance framework with concrete commitments for actions by state parties to advance a gender-just digital economy and society, including effective enforcement of women’s human rights obligations of digital corporations.
The UN Global Digital Compact must steer a shift away from the neoliberal policy choices at the heart of data extractivist development models. It must provide direction for transforming and harmonising multilateral policies, including on digital trade, taxation, IP regimes, and labour rights in digital value chains, to promote political and economic sovereignty for all nations and peoples. Global digital cooperation needs a well-resourced strategy for public digital infrastructure and policy development towards gender-inclusive, livelihoods-oriented, and ecologically respectful digital economy pathways, especially in the Global South.
The UN Global Digital Compact should reject the dominant multistakeholder model of digital policymaking that has enabled transnational corporations to enclose the Internet and data commons. It must enable the creation of a new democratic framework for Internet governance that reclaims the generative, peer-networking affordances of the horizontal web of hyperlinks from the strangle-hold of surveillance capitalism.
In addition, it must call for a new approach to the governance of data resources, recognizing aggregate data as a social knowledge commons, ensuring communities who produce such data can steward its use, and safeguarding the equal right of women members to determine the use of such data and share in its gains.
Join this effort to center feminist perspectives in the UN Global Digital Compact by endorsing the charter of feminist demands and signing up for updates about this initiative.
“The Future is Feminist” is a global project of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, working worldwide with feminists to develop positive visions for a better future that focus on economic policy issues and critical economic perspectives. The Charter in particular outlines normative directions and an action agenda for a feminist approach to digital transformation. It is based on wide-ranging consultations with nearly 100 participants from the Global South. The Charter calls for key principles of digital governance – openness, freedom, and security – to serve as a guide in attaining constructive pluralism, equitable and just societies, and flourishing futures across our planet. It collects demands for the UN Global Digital Compact in order to ensure a socially just digital transition while maintaining women’s human rights. The project is a continuation of the work of feminist networks in the Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and Northern Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa regions. It offers activists the opportunity to exchange ideas on burning issues, regional experiences and political strategies while serving as a space to experiment with new ideas. The charter builds on our previous work: "The Deal We Always Wanted".