Women at the Table

w@tt was thrilled to be asked to be on the OHCHR panel, bringing together key stakeholders to discuss the most efficient ways of upholding good governance to address the human rights impacts of the various digital divides. In particular on the Human right-based approach to data and indicators to bridging the Gender digital divide. 

Opening Remarks:

Mr. Volker Türk, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
H.E. Mr. Václav Bálek, President of the Human Rights Council
Ms. Adriana Quiñones, Head of Human Rights and Development, UN Women Geneva

Office Moderator: Mr. Nicolas Fasel, Chief Statistician, OHCHR


• Mr. Mark Cassayre, Permanent Observer to the UN and International Organizations in Geneva, International Development Law Organization.

• Mr. Dominik Rozkrut, President of Statistics Poland 

• Ms. Mariana Neves, Governance Statistics Specialist, Oslo Governance Centre, UNDP 

• Ms. Farida Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education 

• Ms. Caitlin Kraft-Buchman, CEO/Founder of Women at the Table and Co-founder/Leader of <A+> Alliance

Women At The Table and <A+> Alliance for Inclusive Algorithm Remarks:

Colleagues, your excellencies,

Velocity and scale of digitalisation are transforming every part of society in every part of the globe  and proactively addressing  the digital gender divide is urgent as the divide will only grow deeper and  be more difficult to dismantle– if we do not act now. 

Too often we think of the digital world only in terms of efficiency,  instead of how effective the technology should be to help bring equality. And as we rush to digitize  old models and methods  we embed old historic bias, inequity and discrimination into our newly digitised economic, governance, and social systems. And the gender roles slowly removed from the physical  world are rewired into our new digital world with old and stereotypical associations of gender, race, class and caste.

We do this in the name of speed and  efficiency instead of considering how these powerful technologies can be utilized to bridge digital divides and re-situate historically marginalized populations, particularly  women & girls who sit at the bottom of the pyramid,  We must create new models that mobilize the pro-social possibilities of the digital world deliver equality outcomes, with intentional design to create more inclusive and EFFECTIVE frameworks that benefit everyone.

There has been an assumption that digital tools and services use would increase with universal Internet access, and therefore the gender digital divide would automatically and slowly vanish on  its own. However gender social norms are at play in influencing whether and how women and girls can use digital tools and services.[1]

We must take an ecosystem approach that extends past connectivity to access to devices, affordable data, and digital literacy that help bridge the digital gender divide.

The distinction between connected and unconnected  is no longer a sufficient measurement of barriers to access to and use of digital technologies. When Internet is accessible, women across the globe are less likely to be meaningfully connected at a level that allows a safe, satisfying and productive online experiences at affordable cost.

Despite the exponential amount of data generated every year, there are few indicators that can be used to measure  digital transformation and ensure that no one is left behind

Many indices have been developed, some integrating gender indicators, but none systematically collecting data across countries with similar definitions, methodologies or sex-disaggregated data. This is a good governance gap

The Sustainable Development Goals include targets on access to appropriate new technology (target 1.4),  using ICT to promote the empowerment of women (target 5.b) and  ICT skills (target 4.4). Other tech related targets target 9.c (on universal access) or target 17.6 (on South-South cooperation) but do not provide sufficient metrics to adequately  capture the gendered or intersectional dimensions of technological change.[2]

The same is sadly true for women’s participation in digital policymaking, something which Women at the Table’s Gender Gap App Who Gets To Speak? Who Gets Heard? Addresses directly..

These data gaps limit our capacity to mainstream gender in new digital policies ; policies which should be designed at the core to create a more equal and connected world.

In fact, most national digital strategies do not provide any cohesive basis for gender-responsive policies, and miss the fundamental opportunity to design interventions that directly target groups left behind, the majority of which are of women.[3]

This gender digital divide also results in women producing less data, while the lack of disaggregated data leads to the overrepresentation or underrepresentation of certain groups in data sets. This influences machine learning systems, which subsequently use these imbalanced data sets to train smart appliances or artificial intelligence-enabled public and private service delivery.

Gender-biased technology affects individuals but also contributes to setbacks in gender equality and women’s empowerment.[4] This requires adopting regulations that mandate impact and audit requirements for the development and use of AI that provide high-quality data infrastructure and systems which should be continually improved or terminated if human rights violations or gendered bias are identified.

Gender-responsive procurement and gender-responsive digital public services are needed as they are profound levers of change and can be implemented at the local, the national and regional levels.

Bridging the gender digital divide demands shared responsibility and aligned efforts from diverse stakeholders. The Action Coalition on Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality, convened by UN Women, brings actors together to generate explicit and sustained commitments. Its leaders are currently working together to put gender at the heart of the Global Digital Compact, laid out in the UN Secretary-General’s Our Common Agenda to develop shared principles for an open, free and secure digital future.

The Global Digital Compact provides opportunities to further advance recommendations  promoting the regulation of new technologies based on human-rights and non-discrimination, the fair distribution of their benefits and their utilization for the common good.

All Member States present today can join the Technology and Innovation for Gender Equality Coalition’s collective effort to launch a Call for Action at UNGA-78 to foster collaborations, build capacity and knowledge, to shape a Global Digital Compact that breaks the cycle of digital inequality and identifies ambitious and concrete targets with evidence-based actions that could be catalytic in achieving gender equality and eliminating the digital gender gap.

[1] Since 2019, the gender parity score has improved; however, the absolute difference between the numbers of men and women online actually increased by 20 million. In 2022, 63 per cent of women across the globe were using the Internet, compared with 69 per cent of men.

[2] Simultaneous disaggregation by other dimensions, including income, age, race, ethnicity, migration status, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity and geographical location, is very limited, yet critical.

[3] In 2020, a study on affordability drivers across 72 low- and middle-income countries showed that gender consistently received the lowest average scores and that 40 per cent of the countries surveyed had no meaningful policies or programmes for improving women’s access to the Internet.

[4] A recent global analysis of 133 systems across industries from 1988 to the present day found that 44.2 per cent of them demonstrated gender bias, with 25.7 per cent exhibiting both gender and racial bias, resulting primarily in lower quality of service, unfair allocation of resources and reinforcement of existing, harmful stereotypes.

The Concept:

Session 1: Human rights-based approach to data and indicators as a means of measuring good governance and bridging the digital divides 

Many forms of the digital divides remain between and within countries, and between men and women, boys and girls, older and younger persons, and persons with disabilities. Those who find themselves on the “disadvantaged side” of the digital divides are being left behind, unable to access education and training, or news and information that can help protect their health, safety, and rights. As a result, digital inequality perpetuates existing social disparities and reinforces economic and political inequalities. Hence, while digital divide is an issue that needs to be unpacked and assessed, data and indicators remain a crucial tool to bridge the gaps and address the underlying inequalities causing the digital divides. In contrast, data plays a pivotal role for duty bearers to measure good governance and respond to the needs and aspirations of individuals and groups. It also empowers right holders by enabling them to know the process and action of their government, allowing them to hold authorities accountable when appropriate. A human rights-based approach to data offers an opportunity to ensure that no one is left behind through the data collection processes. This approach entails collecting disaggregated data, fostering meaningful participation from all individuals, ensuring transparent access to data for everyone, and holding duty bearers accountable. By applying the human right based approach to data, democratic institutions, services delivery, efforts to combat corruption and overall good governance can be strengthened and improved, guided by the human rights standards and principles and the rule of law. This session will begin by unpacking the digital divides, including digital literacy, from a human right lens. Subsequently, it will explore the role of data in identifying, analyzing, and addressing inequalities, with a specific emphasis on how data enables measuring good governance but also how do the digital divides manifest in the different forms of data protection legal regimes.

Background Documents:

Our Common Agenda Policy Brief 5 A Global Digital Compact — an Open, Free and Secure Digital Future for All, (2023). 

• Human Rights Council Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Panel discussion on good governance in the promotion and protection of human rights during and after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic (A/HRC/52/43) (2022). 

• Human Rights Council resolution 51/5 of 6 October 2022 on the role of good governance in the promotion and protection of human rights (A/HRC/RES/51/5)

• Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Report on the impact of the digitalization of education on the right to education (2022) (A/HRC/50/32) 

• Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, Report on possible impacts, opportunities and challenges of new and emerging digital technologies with regard to the promotion and protection of human rights (2021) (A/HRC/47/52) 

• UNDP, Report “New Technologies for Sustainable Development: Perspectives from integrity, trust and anti-corruption” (2021) 

• Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities, Report on Artificial Intelligence and the rights of persons with disabilities (2021) (A/HRC/49/52)

• Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Report on safe digital space for women’s equal enjoyment of freedom of opinion and expression (2021) (A/76/258) 

• Secretary-General, Report on the road map for digital cooperation: implementation of the recommendations of the High-level Panel on Digital Cooperation (2020) (A/74/821) 

• Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Report on digital technology, social protection and human rights (2019) (A/74/493) 

• OHCHR, Report on promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet: ways to bridge the gender digital divide from a human rights perspective (2017) (A/HRC/35/9)

Last modified: November 8, 2023