It is imperative to place the gender equality agenda at the heart of the proposed Global Digital Compact, as the Generation Equality Forum’s Action Coalition on Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality has also urged. The Beijing Declaration (1995) provides a comprehensive normative starting point for such a Compact at the global level, underscoring the need for an explicit commitment to harnessing the ongoing digital transition in order to advance “the goals of equality, development, and peace for all women everywhere in the interests of all humanity” (Para 3, Beijing Declaration).
In 2022, IT for Change and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung convened a series of consultations across the Global South to co-develop feminist visions of our shared digital future. We partnered with the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development in the Asia-Pacific region; in the Middle East and North Africa, with Access to Knowledge for Development Center – The American University in Cairo; in Sub-Saharan Africa, with Research ICT Africa; and in Latin America and the Caribbean, with FES’ Regional Trade Union Project. These consultations involved active participation on the part of almost 100 feminist academics, scholar-practitioners, activists, civil society representatives, and trade unionists, who debated the normative directions and action agenda for a feminist approach to digital transformation.
Insights from the dialogues have been crystallized into this charter of feminist demands from the Global South concerning the UN Global Digital Compact, which is planned to be launched at the UN CSW 2023. This piece summarizes the key principles that the charter is grounded in, and proceeds to outline its key demands.
Guaranteeing freedom in the digital society is not only about eliminating precarity and inequality, but also entails creating conditions that promote autonomy of work and life, universal social security, economies based on social and solidarity models, and central participation of women and girls to shape the digital paradigm.
Core Principles for a Feminist Global Digital Compact
The UN Global Digital Compact seeks to outline shared principles for an open, free, and secure digital future for all. These core principles of openness, freedom, and security must be infused with a feminist perspective to ensure that the ongoing digital transformation of our economies and societies can usher in a gender-just world that is affirming of all individuals and their path to self-actualization.
Principle 1. Openness for constructive pluralism
The affordances of internet-mediated agoras for open communication and diverse communities must be channeled towards gender-transformative knowledge societies that are ready to embrace ever-evolving identities and assertions in digitality’s fluid spaces. The principle of openness for constructive pluralism will lead to feminist emancipation, empowering self-expression, serendipitous solidarity, and trans-local publics.
Principle 2. Freedom for equitable and just societies
The principle of freedom in digitality implies the ability of each and every individual to benefit from the digital paradigm and from the expansion of strategic life choices for women and girls. Guaranteeing freedom in the digital society is not only about eliminating precarity and inequality, but also entails creating conditions that promote autonomy of work and life, universal social security, economies based on social and solidarity models, and central participation of women and girls to shape the digital paradigm. Freedom in digitality must lead to the maximization of the internet’s public value along with data-enabled intelligence for vibrant, flourishing, and democratic societies and economies that privilege the role of women as socio-political and economic agents.
Principle 3. Security for flourishing futures
A secure digital future is one that guarantees the right of all peoples to development as human flourishing. There can be no just digital transition without respect for planetary boundaries, a global public sphere free from gender-based violence, and an enduring peace without the weaponization of cyberspace and the militarization of artificial intelligence (AI). The digital paradigm must be rescued from the destructive impetuses apparent in its current trajectory and refashioned towards an egalitarian international order based on mutuality and co-implication.
What Feminists Seek from the Global Digital Compact: Key Demands
A Global Digital Compact rooted in the feminist principles discussed above needs to adopt a range of gender-transformative action agendas and intervention strategies elaborated below in three concrete demands.
There can be no just digital transition without respect for planetary boundaries, a global public sphere free from gender-based violence, and an enduring peace without the weaponization of cyberspace and the militarization of artificial intelligence (AI).
1. State and corporate accountability for protecting women’s human rights in the digital age
The Global Digital Compact must tackle systemic and structural injustices stemming from unbridled market power of transnational platform businesses. We need a binding global governance framework with concrete commitments for actions by state parties to advance a gender-just digital economy and society, including effective enforcement of women’s human rights obligations of digital corporations.
2. A new global social contract for a socially-just digital transition
The Global Digital Compact must steer a shift away from the neoliberal policy choices at the heart of data extractivist development models. It must provide direction for transforming and harmonizing multilateral policies, including on digital trade, taxation, intellectual property (IP) regimes, and labor rights in digital value chains, to promote political and economic sovereignty for all nations and peoples.
Global digital cooperation needs a well-resourced strategy for public digital infrastructure and policy development towards gender-inclusive, livelihoods-oriented, and ecologically respectful digital economy pathways.
3. Commoning the internet and data resources
The Global Digital Compact should seize the opportunity to forge a digital future that catalyzes possibilities for post-national/trans-local solidarities and commonsification of productive resources. The global internet must be reclaimed and governed as a global knowledge and communication commons. Its generative, peer-networking affordances as the horizontal web of hyperlinks must be liberated from the stranglehold of surveillance capitalism and its platform enclosures.
A new global digital constitutionalism that recognizes: a) aggregate data as knowledge commons; b) the a priori claims that ‘source communities’ – communities from whose interactions and territories data is aggregated – have over such commons; and c) the equal right of women in stewarding the use of community data and obtaining an equitable share in its benefits, is urgently needed. Such an international data order based on sovereign equality of all nations and peoples must be designed for the realization of human rights in the digital age, including the right to development.