The techno-social paradigm of the 21st century based on the digital and data revolution raises grave concerns for gender justice. It is built on and reinforces the intersecting axes of social power that have contributed to an unsustainable and unequal world economic order. To withstand its onslaught, we need a deep understanding of its workings.
We need to recover the digital paradigm and create the normative and institutional frameworks to harness the power of data and the internet for a different and just socio-economic order. Today, as the fallout from COVID-19 accelerates the advance of a paradigm-gone-wrong, we urgently need a feminist action framework on the digital economy that can create new visions and sustainable pathways.
Such a framework must challenge the status quo and recognising the injustices of digital capitalism as a global paradigm that is sustained through a neo-colonial ideology. With this framework we want to identify and address the extractivism, exploitation and exclusion characteristic of our time, as reflected in the intersections of gender, class, race, caste and other such markers of power and dominance.
New technologies, digitalisation, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) are rapidly transforming the present and future of work. The digital revolution is accompanied by the promise of the end of global poverty and economic growth.
But whether women across the world will have access to these technologies and to better economic opportunities and empowering work arrangements is an open question.
The structure of the digital economy is exacerbating inequality, deepening the feminisation of poverty. Today, large digital corporations have accumulated huge volumes of data. This gives them the ‘intelligence advantage’ to re-engineer global value chains using data-based insights and predictions. Aided by venture finance, they are able to gain monopolistic control in a particular sector as well as to entrench their stakes through horizontal and vertical integration, making the global economy more unequal.
The business model of transnational digital companies is characterised by data extractivism.
Bodies, intimate lifeworlds as well as all social and natural phenomena are now commodified by these companies as the raw material for capitalist exploitation and accumulation.
The governance of data and digital architectures should enable sustainable, democratic and gender-just societies. A feminist action framework on the digital economy proposes powerful new visions for creating and sustaining gender-just societies.
Its central elements include transformative ideas for a new multilateralism in the digital age, big tech accountability and feminist digital infrastructure policies.
Each of these elements must feed into a roadmap of actions that feminist advocates need to elaborate and pursue.
A global data constitutionalism that can form the basis of a democratic international order is urgently needed. All countries and peoples must be able to autonomously pursue data and AI strategies towards sustainable, equitable and gender-just development. A new multilateralism for development in the digital age calls for South-South cooperation, tax justice, equitable and fair trade, universal labour guarantees, and public investments in care infrastructure.
The platform economy needs a global governance framework, including an international, legally binding treaty on transnational corporations, to address corporate impunity and the assault on women’s human rights. The tech industry must adopt techno-design standards to dismantle algorithmic cultures that normalise patriarchy and sustain misogyny.
The potential of data and intelligence capital must be reclaimed to promote a social and solidarity-based economy that feminist economics has long acknowledged as the alternative to capitalist exploitation.
Women’s participation in the digital economy requires programmes for digital skills; public data, cloud and AI infrastructure for women’s enterprises; and ‘design for accountability’ in public digital systems.
The task of preparing for a new epoch is upon us, entailing the need to build conceptual frameworks, create awareness and make the connections for local to global mobilisation.
Now is the time to build cross-movement linkages between feminist organisations, labour rights activists, global trade justice advocates, and pro-democracy coalitions globally and regionally for women’s rights in the digital economy.
Crystal Dicks (Congress of South Africa Trade Unions)
Marianna Fernandes (World March of Women, Europe)
Anita Gurumurthy (ITforChange)
Marieke Koning (ITUC)
Gea Meijers (WIDE+)
Scheaffer Okore (Ukweli Party)
Sofia Scasserra (World Labor Institute UNTREF)
Anna Lee Tuvera (ITUC Asia Pacific)
Design: Ellery Studio
“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 project in particular analyses the effects of digitalization and the future of work. It identifies common concerns of feminist and labour movements to create space for new powerful alliances aiming at social change. 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.