iFOKUS NR. 1 / 2020


Data and research shows that while more men than women are dying from COVID-19, women are playing an outsized role in responding to the crisis as frontline health and social workers, caregivers at home, and mobilizers in their communities — often at great risk to their health. Future of international advocacy - all on board the train crossing the digital divide?

I n the early days of the Internet, Donna Harraway in her “A Cyborg Manifesto” wrote that we need to make this new space feminist from the start, or it will be another avenue for patriarchy to reign over us. Now, some 35 years later we are reading article, after article, after article about how Artificial Intelligence is racially and gender biased. This shouldn’t be a surprise. We have seen it in other spaces such as law and health care; systems created on the basis of biased values, will entrench them. Now with the pandemic, the train to go online is rushing faster than ever and not everyone has the same chance to get onboard. While almost all people around the world live within range of a mobile-cellular network signal, less than half the world’s population, 3.2 billion people, use the internet. Worldwide, more men than women use the internet. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Target 9.C calls for a significant “increase access to information and communications technology... by 2020." For international advocacy, grassroots voices have always been scarce at UN meetings, and the digital divide is now providing another barrier to participation. Activists are excluded from discussions due to unstable internet or resulting in huge phone bills. Apart from those facing the connectivity barrier, who else is being left behind? People with disabilities, older persons, people who are time-zoned out, and those whose first language is not English. For womxn’s human rights defenders, the move to the online means an increase of risking data to end up in the hands of authoritarian regimes.

Recommendations So we didn’t listen to Donna Haraway, but is it too late for us? Is there still a chance to reshape this space? Well the feminist collective behind the “Feminist Principles of the Internet” are providing lots of tools in how we can reclaim the Internet. In addition, here are a few other things we can do to bridge the digital divide in global advocacy spaces: ■ If the UN and other international advocacy spaces are going virtual, then they also need to implement a plan alongside their meetings and consultations on how they plan to overcome the digital access divide. For example, map the connectivity needs and invite grassroots folks to country offices streaming the events with due time given to prepare. If needed, they should provide internet USB sticks or similar solutions, to civil society speakers. So far, the UN processes online have provided limited space for civil society to meaningfully talk with their decision-makers. We have to be careful to not let this become the precedence, as it would mean a further closing of civil society space. So any digitalisation of multilateral processes have to go hand-in-hand with SDG Target 9.C and for environmental processes they should follow the Almaty Guidelines. ■ We have to reshape what advocacy looks like when we move online. Now is the time to break old patterns of formality and rejuvenate advocacy. There are many unwritten codes of conduct around international advocacy; we should evaluate whether they work for the civil society or not and teach others about them.


About the author She was recently a co-organizing partner for Women’s Major Group in the UNECE region and con- tinues to be a creative mobiliser of civil society on issues around gender equality and Agenda 2030. Together with Mara Dolan from WEDO, she organized a set of teach-ins for the global feminist movement on hosting virtual meetings and is now laun- ching a toolkit on planning virtual meetings.

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