Playbook for Gender Equality in the Digital Age

Table of contents

Purpose

Developed by the Digital Inclusion Lab at Global Affairs Canada, the purpose of the Playbook for Gender Equality in the Digital Age is to put forward a set of best practices to support gender equality in digital contexts.

It is intended for governments, legislators, policy makers, advocates, academics, human rights defenders, and anyone else who is thinking about the impact of technological development on gender equality and trying to find ways to address new challenges it poses for the international human rights regime as well as opportunities it promises for empowering women, girls, and gender non-conforming individuals.

Canada acknowledges that new technologies offer opportunities to empower individuals, advance gender equality, and promote and protect human rights, but have also enabled new emerging threats, such as technology facilitated sexual and gender based violence.

The Canadian-led Human Rights Council Resolution accelerating efforts to eliminate violence against women and girls: “Preventing and Responding to Violence Against Women and Girls in Digital Contexts”, was adopted by consensus, with 73 countries co-sponsoring, on July 5, 2018. The resolution is ground-breaking in putting technology-mediated violence at the centre of international deliberations. Along with Canadian leadership on the G7 Commitment to End Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, Abuse and Harassment in Digital Contexts, this resolution positions Canada as a leader on this important global issue. At the same time, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women, Dubravka Šimonović, shared her report on the same subject.

Canada has also welcomed United Nations resolutions that acknowledge and attempt to address this issue, especially the General Assembly resolution 68/181 aimed at protecting women human rights defenders, including online, Human Rights Council resolution 32/13 affirming that the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online, and more recently Canada-led resolution adopted at the 35th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) stating that violence against women and girls (VAWG) occurs in public or in private life, including digital and online spaces.

Canada believes that an Internet that is open, free and secure is crucial to addressing sexual and gender based violence in digital contexts effectively and fairly. Canada encourages development, adoption and use of technologies that includes the voices of women, girls and gender non-conforming individuals.

Methodology and Structure

The Playbook for Gender Equality in the Digital Age reflects discussions that took place during an event in Ottawa on Online Hate (February 2017) and a workshop at the Internet Governance Forum in Geneva (December, 2017).

It also takes into consideration the results of a global survey the Lab conducted in November 2017 of over 50 interlocutors from civil society, the private sector, and government. The current Playbook is based on these discussions, the survey results, and a round of online consultations that took place in April and May 2018.  It is structured around four broad areas of engagement for gender equality in the digital age and highlights the top ten actions within each.

  1. Access: ensuring equal access to technologies and inclusion in the development, adoption and use of digital technologies.
  2. Culture: overcoming sexist and patriarchal traditions and deconstructing social barriers.
  3. Education: improving education and skills.
  4. International framework: To build governance mechanisms that support gender equality in the digital age.

The Playbook

Access

To ensure equal access to inclusion in development, adoption and use of digital technologies we should collectively aim to support the following actions:

  1. Acknowledge that the capacity of women, girls, and gender non-conforming individuals to effectively use information acquired from digital technologies depends on factors such as literacy, education, geographical location, mobility, and social class. 
  2. Systematically consider the effects the use of digital technologies have on women, girls, and gender non-conforming individuals through taking into account intersecting factors such as age, ethnicity, race, religion and disability.
  3. Enable spaces for advocates and individuals from marginalized communities to organize, build networks, strengthen their voices, and be represented in leadership roles within technology sectors and in online environments.
  4. Equal access means that women and men should have the same access to digital technologies, sophisticated devices, and digital spaces.
  5. Promote personal ownership and control of devices, including computers, smartphones, and other mobile devices for women, girls and gender non-conforming individuals around the world, to make them more independent, safer, and able to access the benefits afforded by technology.
  6. Ensure the appropriate level of privacy and security of all types of data and devices belonging to women and girls, so that their use of digital technologies does not expose them to harassment or threats.
  7. Work with policymakers, community access networks, and stakeholders to develop an equitable digital technologies access rubric to help assess the baseline progress in terms of policies, incentives, and investments aimed at closing the gender digital divides.
  8. Invest in public infrastructure that facilitates access to digital technologies that is safe, affordable, accessible, and reliable for women, girls, and gender non-conforming individuals.
  9. Include the participation and representation of women, girls, and gender non-conforming individuals in the design, development, and adoption of digital technologies and identify diversity and gender gaps within technology sectors.
  10. Protect net neutrality, the free flow of information, access to the internet, and freedom of expression, so that women, girls, and gender non-conforming individuals can access information and exercise their rights.

Culture

To overcome sexist, patriarchal and discriminatory practices and deconstruct social and institutional barriers, we should collectively aim to support the following actions:

  1. Counter repressive, adverse, patriarchal and misogynistic social norms to end systemic and institutional discrimination against women, girls, and gender non-conforming individuals.
  2. Identify and overcome existing power dynamics that limit meaningful use of digital technologies by women, girls, and gender non-conforming individuals, including the idea that the development, adoption, and use of technology are primarily masculine endeavors.
  3. Recognize that technology is not neutral. Instead, it is context-specific and its development, adoption and impact may be different across geographic, social, cultural and political environments.
  4. Understand how technology can facilitate, exacerbate, complicate and amplify sexual and gender based violence in digital contexts.
  5. Expand the dialogue to bring more men and boys into the conversation, reducing the us versus them mentality and narrative. 
  6. Engage men and boys in ending systemic forms of discrimination and sexual and gender-based violence, including harassment in work environments for women working in STEAM’D (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Design) and digital technologies.
  7. Ensure more women, girls, and gender non-conforming individuals are in leadership positions within relevant organizations and institutions in the technology sector.
  8. Mainstream women in leadership positions within industries to achieve gender inclusion and put an end to gender stereotyping in digital spaces.
  9. Assure that algorithms and machine learning systems do not perpetuate historical patterns of gender-based discrimination and that the use of Artificial Intelligence to perpetrate sexual and gender based violence is adequately addressed.
  10. Mitigate unconscious bias through addressing machine learning bias.

Education

To improve education and training, we should collectively aim to support the following actions:

  1. Undertake empirical evidence-based research and analysis on the impact of digital technologies on women, girls, and gender non-conforming individuals across different sectors, including: industries, education, labor, politics, and environment.
  2. Support and sustain women, girls, and gender non-conforming individuals’ interest and education in STEAM’D.  Inform these efforts by evidence-based research that explores factors that prevent or incentivize women, girls, and gender non-conforming individuals to pursue educational and career opportunities in STEAM’D.
  3. Teach critical thinking from primary school onwards and ensure that primary and secondary school curricula include digital literacy and security basics.
  4. Work with civil society and community networks to develop teacher-centric digital training programs, to improve knowledge dissemination strategies for students.
  5. Explore non-formal educational programs to promote access and inclusion to technology.
  6. Educate women, girls, and gender non-conforming individuals on how to use technology in ways that are relevant to their daily lives.
  7. Bridge the knowledge gap across sectors, disciplines, and geographies.
  8. Bridge the generational gap and support adult-learning.
  9. Educate people of all genders, including men and boys, about gender equality to address harmful norms, behaviors and power dynamics that are reflected and exacerbated through the use of technologies and in digital contexts.
  10. Raise awareness and education about practices that could be harmful to women, girls, and gender non-conforming individuals in digitally mediated spaces, including violence and harassment.

International framework

To build governance mechanisms that support gender equality in the digital age, we should collectively aim to support the following actions:

  1. Develop and adopt international agreements to apply standards and ensure that gender perspectives are incorporated in all technological initiatives.
  2. Acknowledge socio-cultural, environmental, gender, and economic inequalities across all stages of the technological life cycle, from design to evaluation (e.g. conception, manufacturing, production, marketing, adoption, etc.)
  3. Consider legal and regulatory approaches to prevent the development or application of technology that harms women, girls, and gender non-conforming individuals.
  4. Formally recognize technology facilitated sexual and gender based violence as real and work toward its elimination.
  5. Develop effective prevention and response strategies to help end sexual and gender-based violence in the digital age.
  6. Ensure better training for law enforcement and prosecutors to better understand technology facilitated violence.
  7. Map legal wrongs involving technology to existing legal frameworks.
  8. Support local initiatives, including through government funding, and encourage the involvement of government, private sector, civil society, academic community, and others to enhance digital inclusion.
  9. Leverage existing national and international frameworks to reinforce commitments to gender equality.
  10. Balance freedom of expression and privacy considerations on one hand with human dignity and safety imperatives on the other.
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