Thinking about human rights and technology in the light of CEDAW.

celeste
Posted October 29, 2020 from Honduras

With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, the discussion about the presence of technologies in our lives finally ceased to be a privileged space for experts in the field, since it became evident that nowadays it is unthinkable that there is no correlation between access to the Internet and the exercise of human rights. The technological advance of communication through the internet and mobile devices has allowed us as humans to overcome the effects of the pandemic and guarantee as far as possible that people are informed and safe from infection. Of course, on technology and human rights there are many things still unresolved, questions that we must reflect on: How in some contexts the lack of access and informed use of technology deepens inequalities, to what extent are States and businesses responsible for the welfare of people in cyberspace, how to ensure that the Internet is also a safe space for women?

On 29 June 2012, the Human Rights Council, in resolution A/HRC/20/L.13 (1), recognized that access to the Internet is a human right and that, as such, it is a space that is closely related to the exercise of the freedoms enshrined in international legal instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The work of the various treaty committees, special rapporteurs, thematic reports, general recommendations, and numerous observations made to States have made it possible not only to provide a basis for this resolution, but also to broaden the framework of analysis of human rights in relation to the use of technology, and to facilitate a discussion that is oriented towards the protection and guarantee of rights.

In particular, the CEDAW Committee has interpreted the right to access the Internet and the use of technology in different ways in relation to women's human rights through the Convention. References to this issue are scattered throughout various documents issued by the committee, such as its general recommendations and concluding observations. The various reporting mechanisms and special procedures allow United Nations bodies and organs to anticipate the evolution of human rights, opening up the possibility of addressing dilemmas that did not exist or were not foreseen at the time of their creation and thus expanding and increasing the framework for protecting the human rights of all people.

Two of its most recent contributions are it's General Recommendation 35 (2), in which the CEDAW Committee recognizes that technological factors can aggravate gender-based violence, and that, in a globalized and contemporary environment, where violence against women encounters high levels of impunity, the technological sphere is another environment in which women are exposed to experiencing violence and discrimination; and the call for joint action in times of pandemic COVID-19 (3):

"Since the duration, scope and impact of the constraints caused by the pandemic cannot yet be predicted, the CEDAW Committee first calls for the use of new technologies in a more effective, accessible, inclusive and gender-sensitive manner”.  Further noting that it is an opportunity to "...adopt transformative strategies that are based on the empowerment and leadership of women, especially in the fields of digital technologies and artificial intelligence".

Although there is no specific convention or a general recommendation on the use of technology and women's human rights, it is important to remember that the convention itself is a powerful framework of analysis applicable in many ways to the right to access the Internet at its intersection with other human rights.

Article 1, which conceptualizes the term discrimination against women, can be applied to the analysis of forms of discrimination that occur as a result of technological development, such as technological gaps, algorithms that deepen discrimination, racially-biased search engines, or the censorship of non-hegemonic bodies that protest online, which are only some of the ways in which technologies can deepen inequalities. Similarly, articles 2 and 3 relate to the obligations of States to eliminate inequalities in access to and use of technologies, through the creation of laws and public policy that guarantee, for example, accessibility, neutrality, data protection, security, and access to justice when violence is reproduced in the digital space, whether by private or public actors. Likewise, in line with Articles 5 and 10 of the Convention, States should be able to take an appropriate approach to eliminate discrimination based on stereotypes in the integration of women and girls into technical career training programs such as computer science, which persist in educational systems and culture. (4)

With regard to political participation, which is addressed by the CEDAW through Article 7, it is important to note that States have an obligation to address the high levels of gender-based political violence that women face in cyberspace. And, in relation to Article 8 of the CEDAW, it is important for States to guarantee the participation of women on an equal representation in high-level spaces where the main discussions on the Internet take place, such as the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) conducted by UN, space where female and diverse representation is usually lower than male representation (5). In the same spirit, article 14, could apply to the situation of rural women who did not have access to minimum conditions of Internet access and were victims of multiple human rights violations because of the mandatory isolation, whereas access to rights such as education and health depended entirely on the conditions of technological access. All of the articles contained in the CEDAW also offer other parameters of analysis for specific problems that most affect women and girls, where effects have been increased by the conditions in which cyberspace currently operates, such as trafficking, sexual exploitation, and child pornography.

While the development of human rights in relation to the use of technology is still a long way off, the CEDAW, its Committee and other treaty bodies theoretical contributions provides an opportunity to conduct comprehensive analyses from a human rights perspective aimed at eliminating the barriers that prevent women from enjoying their rights in cyberspace; and this is only possible thanks to the vision and spirit of the convention as a “living document”, in which any woman in any country can find a framework of protection to defend her rights in different contexts and against any form of exclusion and discrimination, no matter how new or unexplored.

 

References

1. https://ap.ohchr.org/documents/S/HRC/d_res_dec/A_HRC_20_L13.pdf

2. CEDAW/C/GC/35

3. https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/CEDAW/Statements/CEDAW_statement_COVID-19_final_SP.doc

4. An example of this is the analysis made in the UN Women's report "Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics in Latin America and the Caribbean" published in May 2020, which mentions that: only 35% of students in STEM programs and careers are women. Report available at: https://www2.unwomen.org/-/media/field%20office%20americas/documentos/publicaciones/2020/09/mujeres%20en%20stem%20onu%20mujeres%20unesco%20sp32922.pdf?la=es&vs=4703

5. In 2019, women represented 42% of the people who participated in the IGF on a face-to-face basis, mostly from Western European countries. More information at: https://www.intgovforum.org/multilingual/content/igf-2019-participation-and-programme-statistics

 

Comments 10

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Jill Langhus
Oct 30, 2020
Oct 30, 2020

Hi Celeste,

Welcome to World Pulse! Thanks for sharing your informative post. I'm looking forward to hearing why you're so passionate about internet rights and freedom, and human rights, too. I'm also looking forward to seeing more posts from you to learn more about your mission, work, and goals.

Hope you and your family are safe and well.

Nini Mappo
Oct 30, 2020
Oct 30, 2020

Hello Celeste,
Congratulations on your first post of a detailed workings between CEDAW, women's rights, and technology. Indeed Covid-19 highlighted the need for technology and internet in promoting women's rights and empowerment, and online safety as women use technology continues to grow as a field in need of innovative solutions. I hope the rights outlined in it continue to be reinforced and applied to support women in various development aspects.

Karen Quiñones-Axalan
Oct 30, 2020
Oct 30, 2020

Hello, Celeste,

Welcome to World Pulse! Wow, you're from Honduras. We're glad that you found us and is a new voice rising up!

Thank you for giving us information about CEDAW. We are happy with this progress although we know there will be challenges ahead. I love this, "thanks to the vision and spirit of the convention as a “living document”, in which any woman in any country can find a framework of protection to defend her rights in different contexts and against any form of exclusion and discrimination, no matter how new or unexplored."

We hope to read more from you and to connect with you. I'm curious, how did you learn about World Pulse?

Welcome again to our growing sisterhood!

maeann
Oct 30, 2020
Oct 30, 2020

Welcome to World Pulse Celeste :) Your story is your power.

I like what you posted and is a very timely topic. The question, is the Internet a safe space for women? How we will make sure that we have a safe space for women? Do women know their rights and do they know if they are safe on the internet? Do other countries have laws about safe space? These are the questions that came to my thoughts.

Thank you for sharing.

Fanka
Oct 31, 2020
Oct 31, 2020

Hello Celeste,
Welcome to world Pulse and thank you for sharing your story on internet right. Covid 19 has force many to digital.

Andrace
Oct 31, 2020
Oct 31, 2020

Hi Celeste,
Thank you for writing about CEDAW and the update about women's rights and technology. I applaud you for raising your voice on this issue and pray that CEDAW would not just lip serve, but actually act such that the public can feel the effect on the society as a plan that actually works! We must continue to raise our voices like you have just done by sharing your first post on World Pulse. Together, we can!

I join my lovely World Pulse sisters to say congratulations and a warm welcome to the sisterhood! 'Nice to have you join us.

Keep writing and shining.

Love and hugs,
E. J.

Paulina Nayra
Nov 01, 2020
Nov 01, 2020

Great article Celeste. Thank you for letting us know about existing women’s human rights legal framework as it is applied to digital rights. This makes me think about the UNCRC, too on the right to education, where, because of CoVID, hundreds of children are deprived access to quality education to lack of access to ICT tools, gadgets and stable internet connection.
Will look forward to your next story.
Welcome to World Pulse.
Hugggs.

MUKABA ZAWADI
Nov 02, 2020
Nov 02, 2020

Bienvenus dans world Pulse et merci pour le partage sur la technologie des Femmes c'est vraiment intéressant. Courage et continuer à éléver votre voie sur W.P

Tamarack Verrall
Nov 07, 2020
Nov 07, 2020

Hello Celeste,

Welcome to World Pulse, and thank you for laying out the current workings of CEDAW, keeping issues they continue to make known and highlighted available to us all. So important that the focus continues to be on what women are experiencing and what needs to be put in place, as we raise our voices together. New forms of violence against women and girls being considered at all acceptable online is outrageous. No industry can claim innocence of not knowing the harm.
So good too, to read of the work being done to eliminate the barriers. Free education for all, including all girls in school with online access and training is a basic human right. Thank you for the references, too.

MUVUNYI FABIENNE
Nov 08, 2020
Nov 08, 2020

I hope you will share more. Thanks