Women in internet

Visibility to secure recognition and rights

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Much has happened in technological development and uses of cyberspace since the women's movement began to take over the Internet and information technology and communication. Networking, which grew stronger in the 90s connecting organizations worldwide, and the strategic uses of technology to access information, develop content and struggle for women's rights, that took shape at the beginning of the new century, rapidly strengthened the global women's movement, giving it visibility and a voice in the public debate.


By adopting communication technologies, women connected their activism to women's rights work publicly acknowledging their opinions, articles and research. They could also get across the prevailing discourse in the media and conservative sectors of society using visible spaces, social networking and messaging on mobile phones to expose stereotypes and anchored in time prejudices and traditions overcome by practice while showing the achievements of women who have transformed their vision and practice of citizenship also on the Internet.


However, there are still several critical areas to which women are paying attention to achieve full participation in the information society with equal opportunities and equity in the ability to access the benefits resulting from these new developments.


What about women's rights on the Internet?


One of these critical areas has to do with access to quality connectivity and meaningful use of technology. There is still a gender digital divide that creates an important economic barrier to women's access to technology. Unless women have equal access to internet, they will lose job opportunities and higher earnings. They will also be hampered in producing and selling goods in the new emerging online markets, accessing information, making new contacts, improving their education and participating in decision-making processes that make their future. Women urgently need attention to be given to overcoming the barriers that are created due to the cost of Internet communications, lack of infrastructure to provide quality connectivity, and the few opportunities for training, among others.


The Internet has become an important forum for discussion and political participation, where the connection between different actors, movements and organizations, has allowed for wide-scale coordination among civil society and for building public opinion to influence political decisions, cultural thinking and the progress of the economy. Governments and businesses can no longer ignore its importance and they offer services of all kinds online and they often make decisions based on public reactions in social networks. It is essential that women participate in these public discussions and join efforts and organize themselves to work for their rights, exercising their freedom of speech and rejecting all discrimination and exclusion.


Communication rights and, in particular, women's freedom of expression and information have become a key element for women to achieve autonomy, both personal and financial, and participation in decision-making. On the Internet women find spaces to publicize their priorities, discuss their positions and articulate their own discourse, far from the perspective of the media who often continue treating them as objects, victims or as only able to play secondary roles in work and the economy. On many issues, women have ceased to be voiceless and, conversely, their contributions to public debate have helped the realization that everyone has the right to live in a society that respects diversity and aims to democratize social relationships in all areas.


The barriers that women must overcome in cyberspace deal with barriers that are also hard to eliminate in the real world. In recent years there has been an increase in violence against women on the Internet, not only as a continuation of daily violence and power games exercised by their partners or ex-partners, but also as attempts to censor, silence voices, suppress demands and cause the abandonment of women's rights activism.


In a survey conducted by APC in 2013 between sexual rights activists, mostly women, 99% of respondents recognized that the Internet is crucial for the advancement of their work for human rights. However, 51% admitted having received online threats because of this activism. One third mentioned bullying (34%), a similar number said they had suffered blocking or filtering of messages (33%) and a slightly lower percentage (29%) mentioned having been censored. Because of this, 27% of respondents admitted they had discontinued their online work.


Hacked accounts and websites, aggression by trolls on forums and social networks, surveillance, harassment and bullying are some of the violent behaviors that persecute Internet activists, and this goes on also in social networks and mobile phones. The destruction of information, the robbery of databases, on-line monitoring of the activities of militants for women's rights have become situations that are reported almost daily. Sometimes misogynistic trolls are men who want to disturb and destroy, sometimes surveillance and stalking come from para-governmental organizations or services that want to end all opposition or challenge the addressing of issues that are key to women, especially sexual and reproductive rights.


Many of these denouncements come from Latin America and the Caribbean where persecution and harassment of women's human rights defenders include all kinds of pressures to undermine their agency and make them leave their militancy. The survey mentioned indicates that 27% of activists discontinued their work online due to the assaults suffered. This is a valuable loss and curtailment of the political and social commitment of dozens of people. These facts should be condemned by the authorities and corporations that own media platforms, especially social networks, who must also provide solutions to repair and provide security for activists, so that they don't abandon their commitment and their work in digital spaces .


The exercise of communication rights, including on the Internet, is recognized as an enabler of other rights. For women who often are restricted to closed areas, such as home, family or a small community, the use of information and communication technology and the Internet opens many possibilities of accessing information, making decisions and acting autonomously, to achieve greater compliance with their rights. Support for the democratization of these spaces is crucial for women's advancement.


Dafne Sabanes Plou, LAC regional coordinator, Women's Rights Program, Association for Progressive Communications


Article published in: Latin America in Movement 503, ALAI, April 2015.  “Towards a people’s Internet” http://www.alainet.org/en/revistas/169787





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