Gender Justice in the Digital Society
The feminist project of expanding women’s autonomy and overturning entrenched power hierarchies demands new strategies in these datafied times. Digital technologies have completely restructured society and its institutions. As data becomes the key artifact of power and control, feminism needs to stay ahead in its theory and practice. Our research, advocacy, and networking efforts at global and national levels are directed towards this imperative of promoting gender justice in the digital society.
Righting Gender Wrongs – A socio-legal enquiry on gender-based cyberviolence
In August 2019, in partnership with the Indian Police Foundation and support from UN Women, IT for Change (ITfC) convened a Strategy Meeting on a Systemic Response to Gender-based Cyberviolence to release the final research report from our project, Righting Gender Wrongs. This research project, supported by the Web Foundation, focused on a systematic mapping of young women’s experiences of gender-based cyberviolence in India, and the hurdles they face while seeking redress from prevailing legal-institutional response mechanisms. Towards this, we conducted a quantitative survey of over 800 college-going women between the age group of 19-23 years in six locations across Kerala, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu. The analysis of the survey data was supplemented with insights from key informant interviews and focus group discussions with young men.
The Strategy Meeting brought together government representatives, women lawyers, women’s rights organizations, groups working on masculinity and sexual rights, law enforcement officials, members of Internal Complaints Committees constituted under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, platform companies, and women in media. The meeting catalyzed a rich and vibrant dialogue – building on insights gained from the research report – about the knowledge gaps that need to be immediately addressed to effectively prevent cyberviolence and improve access to justice for women victims/survivors.
Our findings were received with considerable interest during the discussions. Particularly, findings pertaining to legal-institutional overhaul to address emerging typologies of technology-mediated violence and enhance platform accountability for women’s human rights violations. The participants of the Strategy Meeting also pointed to how the next frontier of knowledge building in this domain lies in an institutional and technical governance roadmap for challenging sexist hate speech on the internet. This has now emerged as a key area for research at ITfC.
Recognize, Resist, Remedy – Addressing gender-based hate speech in the online public sphere
In August 2019, with support from International Development Research (IDRC), Canada, ITfC and InternetLab initiated a research collaboration on sexist hate speech in the online public sphere, with a focus on hate against femininity. In both Brazil and India, women’s claims to full participation in the online public sphere have been met with rising patriarchal backlash in recent years. This is fueled by gaps in traditional legal frameworks pertaining to gender-based violence and hate speech, and the unaccountable content management practices of platform intermediaries.
Against this backdrop, the project seeks to undertake gendered readings of prevailing legal frameworks in India and Brazil over a two-year period. We aim to identify blind spots that result in a failure to recognize sexist hate speech as a violation of women’s rights. Additionally, we want to identify the inadequacies of the existing intermediary liability regimes with respect to ensuring the culpability of platform companies for viral misogyny through this project. A participatory action research component with youth from Samvada has also been planned for the coming year.
There are no statutory provisions that directly respond to sexist speech in India. Therefore, to assess how courts are responding to sexist hate speech, we initiated an empirical investigation of the case law database, Indian Kanoon. We have obtained API access to the database to comb through judgments using critical keyword searches and identify those relevant to our analysis.
We also intervened in critical debates on platform governance at the global level. In October 2019, in response to a call for inputs on gender perspectives on privacy by the United Nations Office of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Privacy, we submitted an input highlighting the gendered ramifications of the erosion of privacy in the platform-controlled online communicational arena, and the need for a fiduciary duty of care to be thrust on platform companies vis-à-vis the right to privacy. The Web Foundation held the first of a series of consultations between civil society and platform companies on the crisis of gender-based cyberviolence in March 2020. At this event, Bhavna Jha from our team participated and presented emerging insights from our research.
Centering Women in India’s Digitalising Economy
In January 2020, with support from the European Commission and in partnership with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), we initiated a five-year (2020-2024) research project on Centering Women in India’s Digitalising Economy. Through direct research by the ITfC team and a national gender fellowship program, the project seeks to generate a robust body of knowledge that supports evidence-based policy making on gender and digital economy at the national level. Additionally, the project will deploy a participatory action research methodology by partnering with two social enterprises – Vrutti and LabourNet. We will help strengthen their capacities to build an effective platform-based institutional ecosystem of services with their women worker constituencies. Finally, the project seeks to build a new policy discourse on a gender inclusive and equitable digital economy at the national and global level by forging an India-Asia-EU-Africa knowledge network of scholars and practitioners.
Digital Justice Project
We continued our research and advocacy collaboration with the Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era Network (DAWN), to further the feminist analysis of digital and data economy in critical global policy debates. In October 2019, we finalized our issue paper From Ill-Founded Delusions to Real Possibilities: An e–Commerce Agenda for Women’s Empowerment and circulated it widely in English, French, and Spanish at the World Trade Organization (WTO) Public Forum.
We were also called upon as resource persons by women’s groups and civil society organizations (CSOs) engaging with trade policy forums, to bring a critical feminist analysis of the political economy of digital trade negotiations. In September 2019, Nandini Chami was a panelist at a webinar organized by FES, in collaboration with the Gender Trade Coalition and WIDE+, on unpacking pink-washing in digital trade debates. In December 2019, Anita Gurumurthy was invited as an expert speaker by Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), Third World Network (TWN), and the Gender and Trade Coalition for a webinar that sought to unpack the ramifications of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade agreement on women’s rights in the Asia-Pacific region.
This year, we deepened our footprint in global debates at the intersections of governance of the digital paradigm, development justice, and gender equality. We also continued our advocacy efforts to foreground critical feminist analysis in digital trade policy debates.
Anita Gurumurthy was invited by UN Women to be a member of the global expert group on Beijing+25 and contributed an input paper on a feminist manifesto for digital equality, calling for a new global social contract for a gender-just digital economy and society.
In April 2019, we co-organized a session with DAWN at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) e–Commerce Week on how women’s enterprise development often becomes a red herring in digital trade policy dialogues, especially with the agenda of market liberalization in digital services coming to the fore.
At the WTO Public Forum in October 2019, Nandini Chami presented a feminist political economy analysis of global digital trade debates at two panels: a WIDE+ workshop on Trade, Digital Economy and Women’s Access to Decent Work, and UNISON Trade Justice Movement’s panel on Jobs for Millenials in a Digital World: e–Commerce and the Future of Work.
We continued our engagement with FES’ The Future is Feminist network. In October 2019, Anita Gurumurthy made an input on Gender, Politics and Global Justice in the New Era of Digital Capitalism at the international conference on Digital Capitalism and Real Utopias, co-organized by the Critical Sociological Association of Korea and FES, Korea office.
In June 2019, at the kick-off meeting of FES’ network on Women and the Future of Work in Asia, Nandini Chami presented a structural critique of the gender justice implications of the digital restructuring of economic process and labor markets.
In November 2019, at the second meeting of this network, Anita Gurumurthy spoke at a public panel on A Feminist Future for All – Shaping Digital Justice.
Anita Gurumurthy made an input at the IGF Best Practice Forum on Gender and Internet Governance on the importance of moving the debate from access and inclusion to structural analysis of why the digital economy is not working for women at the margins.
In December 2019, we made a solicited submission to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), on the proposed amendments to the Internet Intermediary Guidelines under the Information Technology Act, 2000. Our input brought in specific considerations about tackling online sexism and misogyny.
We also strengthened our linkages with UN Women, New Delhi, on the agenda of digital technologies and women’s rights.
In June 2019, Anita Gurumurthy was invited as an expert speaker at the seminar on Perpetration of Violence Against Women and Girls through Abuse of Technology: Current Challenges and Promising Practices on Prevention and Response, co-organized by UN Women and the Data Security Council of India.
- Anita was also invited to the Consultation on Business and Human Rights from a Women’s Rights Lens in March 2020, co-organized by the European Commission, WeEmpower Asia, and UN Women.
Our research and advocacy on feminist frameworks spans a wide thematic spectrum – from gender-based violence and the law, to gender dimensions of the emerging digital economy and implications for women’s rights in international development and financing frameworks. This depth of organizational expertise gives us a unique vantage to network, connect and catalyze action with trust and credibility in a range of forums – from national policy spaces, to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) mechanisms, the WTO, UNCTAD, and UN Women. Leading organizations like SEWA and LabourNet being partners in our research is also a testimony to this.
Our expertise on the legal-technological nuances of gender-based cyberviolence is recognized by peers in civil society and the bureaucracy, and in policy circles at the state, national, and global levels. We were among the two civil society groups invited by the Karnataka government to reflect on immediate strategies for policy intervention in the aftermath of the pandemic. MeitY’s request for an input from us to the proposed intermediary liability guidelines is another example of the recognition of our domain leadership.
Leading feminist networks such as APWLD, WIDE+ and the Gender and Trade Coalition consistently turn to us for inputs in their capacity building and strategic work on digital trade. Invitations from the South Asia, Asia-Pacific, and New York offices of UN Women to be part of the Beijing+25 review process reflect the legitimacy we have earned for representing critical feminist perspectives embedded in a Global South analysis of the digital paradigm.
Our work to create critical resources for feminist activists and scholars, with networks like DAWN, has enabled a ripple effect, building new feminist leadership across the Global South.
Plans for 2020-21
The Covid-19 context has strengthened the control of transnational platform corporations over data value chains, exacerbating gendered and racialized global labor hierarchies. The pandemic has also exposed the unrelenting nature of gender-based violence. The trenchant misogyny that the public domain presents a crisis like never-before. Yet, in the arena of digital rights, gender concerns are often integrated in superficial ways, lacking the political commitment and budgets for systemic change, and often becoming a dangerously depoliticized add-and-stir ingredient. Our work must rise up to meet this challenge.
We will continue our research and cutting-edge policy work on online sexism and misogyny, and gender and the digital economy, engaging new constituencies and learning from the ground. We will intensify our movement-building interventions on feminist digital justice through capacity-building spaces for feminist leaders.
The Covid-19 context has opened up several operational difficulties with respect to field research and convening meetings or workshops, and we will need to navigate the new scenario with adequate attention to this reality and the health and safety of our team members. Balancing flexibility and agility, necessity and prudence to achieve our mandate will be essential.