Advocacy statements

Cultural barriers reinforce the gender digital divide

  • Date / 2020
  • Relevant Institution / Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe

Humanists International

Supplementary Human Dimension Meeting (SHDM) I on Media Freedom and Gender Equality

8 – 9 March 2021

Thank you to ODIHR, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media and the Swedish chairpersonship for organizing this conference and to all the panellists.

I want to use my intervention to talk a little about the gender digital divide and the problem of the negative feedback loop, whereby gender inequality can result in women’s unequal access to the Internet, and unequal access to the Internet in turn may deepen gender inequality.

One of the ways in which we have observed this in practice is through our humanists at risk casework programme, where we work to provide legal and practical assistance to persecuted humanists around the world whose lives or safety are endangered.

A mere 25% of the total requests for help that we receive are from women. We don’t assume this to mean that there are fewer women in need of our help, but rather that those who do need help, often do not have access to the necessary digital tools to find and contact us in the first place.

Often, the barriers they face to getting online are indicative of wider rights violations, such as being subjected to the male guardianship system or other non-institutionalized, but equally oppressive, forms of surveillance and abuse.

At the same time, access to the Internet can be a springboard towards greater freedoms, and a means of realizing gender equality. It has the potential to unlock a number of human rights, from freedom of expression and information, to access to education, the right to take part in cultural life and to enjoy the benefits of scientific progress, amongst others.

For humanists and anyone questioning their faith within a deeply conservative or religious society, the ability to connect with the wider non-religious movement online can be a way of safely exploring their beliefs and doubts, in an anonymised environment. Without equal access to the Internet, women are deprived of the ability to access information with the potential to radically change their lives.

Their digital isolation also means that their unique realities and perspectives remain marginalized and hidden from view, which is a loss for society at large.

Addressing the negative feedback loop will require governments and civil society to be ambitious, and have a multi-sector approach.

We recommend that policymakers work to overcome some of the socio-cultural barriers to Internet access, such as norms that give a low priority to women’s education, and impose conservative gender roles upon them.

Thank you.

Suggested academic reference

'Cultural barriers reinforce the gender digital divide', Humanists International

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