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Envisioning a Digital Feminist Space: The Role of Gender Equality in Technology and Innovation

Envisioning a Digital Feminist Space_ The Role of Gender Equality in Technology and Innova

On Wednesday, December 7, 2022, UN Women and young leaders, in collaboration with girl leaders, Digital Grassroots, ILGA World, the Global Queer Youth Network, and BridgingTheGap Ventures, convened an experiential, action-oriented virtual workshop to explore the intersectionality of gender equality and digital inclusion in line with the theme for CSW67, “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”. The session drew 99 participants from across the globe, highlighting the topic’s relevance to young people and advancing gender equality. 

Ahead of the workshop, a survey was shared with all registrants to gauge perceptions on digital safety, accountability, and their level of engagement in digital spaces. Many of the respondents were women over 30 years and from West and Central Africa. Most respondents (42.9%) shared they first learnt about digital literacy in secondary school. Some respondents stated they felt insecure about digital participation and fear being misunderstood though most participants shared positive impacts concerning their online experience. 66% of participants shared they felt both safe and unsafe online while 7% remained neutral about their safety online.  

During the session, participants were asked to share their favorite digital platforms with the majority voting for Instagram, WhatsApp, and YouTube, respectively. Participants also used words like “overwhelming,” “insightful,” “enriching,” “unrestricted,” “addictive,” “endless,” "connective", and 'curated" to describe their digital experiences and to kickstart the interactive segment.

Session objectives 

The workshop, which explored themes of digital literacy, digital safety and digital accountability aimed to: 

  • Identify the role of young feminists as innovators in digital and technological spaces. 

  • Assess the impacts of digital technologies on the lives of young people and the advancement of gender equality.  

  • Develop recommendations to inform the CSW67 Global Youth and Adolescent Recommendations based on the priority theme of “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”. 

  • Identify linkages between digital technologies and gender equality agenda.

Interactive Segment 

Zephanii Smith Eisenstat moderated the session that focused on creating the narrative around digital technology and gender equality and the role of youth, young feminists, and innovators in the digital space. In addition, the speakers spoke about establishing linkages between digital literacy and advocacy while discussing its complexities and intersections.  


Digital literacy  

Oscar Noel Fitzpatrick of ILGA World & the Global Queer Youth Network noted that digital literacy can refer to “one’s comfort level with technology, innovation and the digital space.” He shared that digital freedom centers on an individual's right to access and use digital platforms. Further, with the advent of smart technology, there is the need for ongoing comprehensive knowledge building and resource sharing among all digital natives, young people, and activists to become informed, digital citizens. He stressed that without this knowledge sharing, end users have the potential to give stakeholders the power to utilize their data and digital citizenship rights. One example of the true cost of platform interaction can be seen in the words used to describe participant’s opinions of digital spaces, while their experiences can be“overwhelming” and “endless”, the alternative of disconnection will isolate users who are otherwise geographically cut off from communities.   


Digital safety 

Dilanaz Güler, an Adolescent Leader for UN Women, called for a human approach to digital safety, Dilanaz shed light on how to build safe digitized feminist intersectional spaces in line with advocacy. For advocacy to work, one needs a safe space to learn and relearn concepts and beliefs without fear of reprisal, while admitting a level of discomfort that allows relearning to take place. She shared that virtual interactions and digital experiences have material reasons and consequences that must be considered as vital elements for effective safeguarding. Dilanaz acknowledged the complexities of digital safety and called for a multi stakeholder dialogue around digital safety to develop a consolidated approach to protecting digital citizens.  


Digital accountability  

Esther Mwema, a Generation Equality Action Coalition Youth Lead, and founder of Digital Grassroots, addressed issues of digital accountability. Describing digital accountability as “the transparency and accountability of the systems and algorithms to protect the user against any harmful or unethical effects in the digital environment,” she noted that the internet is a multistakeholder space and that all stakeholders have a role to play in ensuring it is safe for all. Accountability is not the mandate of just the government or technology companies, Esther noted, sharing that accountability starts with all digital citizens. She also urged participants to take cognizance of the various stakeholders within the digital environment who come in with different interests and perspectives with implications for digital safety and accountability. Just because they have digital rights and power does not mean they can use them without any responsibility. Overall, she called on young people to make their voices heard, influence the discourse, and shape accountability in the digital sphere.  


Reflections on challenges and opportunities to transform digital spaces 

Attendees were provided an opportunity to reflect on contemporary challenges and gaps in technology and innovation by discussing their lived realities in small groups. From the breakout rooms, each group was encouraged to develop a set of recommendations to bridge gaps currently faced by young people both within their regions and globally. Some of the gaps and challenges identified by the groups included:   

  • The gender digital divide, recognizing that young women and girls using the internet are 57% compared to 62% of their male counterparts1 . 

  • Accessibility issues, all of which can be considered as elements in “the digital divide”, including: 

    • Connectivity, with 9 out of 10 young individuals without internet access living in Africa or Asia and the Pacific2. 

    • Lack of technological devices, recognizing that in low- and middle-income countries, women are 26% less likely than men to own mobile devices3. 

    • Rural-urban divide, noting that a 39% internet access rate in the rural areas as against 76% in the urban4. 

  • Financial constraints, recognizing that fixed broadband and mobile data basket prices at 4.4% of the Gross National Income (GNI) per capita in the developing world as against a 1.2% in the developed world5. 

  • Prioritization of company profit and personal interest versus the collective wellbeing of digital citizens.

Proposed recommendations:

Recognizing that an intergenerational and multistakeholder approach is needed to develop and ensure safer online feminist platforms, some of the recommendations put forward by attendees included: 

  • Creating formal and informal spaces to develop digital literacy skills. 

  • Including Information Communication and Technology (ICT) and digital literacy skills in educational curriculums across age and ability levels. 

  • Localizing digitized solutions through country, regional and global processes. 

  • Enhancing partnerships and collaborations between government, young people, and technology corporations to ensure inclusivity, equity, and accessibility for all. 

  • Developing clearly defined, and regularly reviewed, accountability measures for various stakeholders to ensure stakeholders take full responsibility for their actions and to safeguard the digital space for all users. 

  • Holding intergenerational dialogues to advance digital literacy and its intersections inclusive of the LGBTQI+ community, persons living with disabilities, young people, women and girls. 

  • Leveraging the benefits of technology to advance gender equality. 

  • Rethinking reliance on specific digital media spaces, and the possible monopolies they might have over “new public spheres” (i.e., civic conversations or feminist organizing).


Workshop participants agreed that digital safety is a responsibility that lies within all active digital citizens. However, many noted the importance of also urging governments, along with technology corporations and other stakeholders within the digital space to take more responsibility to enact feminist approaches to digital and privacy laws to ensure safeguarding and equal participation for all within the digital society - of particular concern among participants the rise of algorithmic and AI assisted tools which limit civil liberties. 

In conclusion, the speakers reiterated the need for young people to not only be heard but for their feedback and recommendations to be implemented. This can be done by actively engaging young people right from the conceptualization stage through to the development and implementation of decisions. The amplification and uplifting of young voices are vital to creating a safe online feminist intersectional space.

Looking forward 

Considering the session was the first youth consultation to be held in the lead-up to CSW67, the recommendations shared by attendees will directly feed into the Global Youth and Adolescent Recommendations which will be shared with Member States ahead of the negotiations on the Agreed Conclusions for CSW67. The recommendations will also be used as an advocacy tool by young people in their engagement before and during CSW at country and regional levels to ensure their voices are heard throughout different consultative and negotiation processes.

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