As part of our Women’s Rights Online research, this series of guest blogs features on-the-ground perspectives from each of our research partners around the world. In this post, Amalia Toledo, Researcher and Project Coordinator at Fundación Karisma in Colombia, describes the challenges faced by Colombian women in realising their rights online, with a particular focus on gender-based violence.
Fundación Karisma is an advocacy organisation working on issues at the intersection between human rights and technology. This community in Colombia, as in many countries, is male-dominated, but when we first began our work we didn’t really think much about that. However, over time we began to notice that among our peers, our vision and way of approaching the issues was somehow different.
That is when we realised what made us different: we are a technology policy organisation that happens to be led by women. This has had an impact both on the nature of our views on human rights and technology issues, but also on how we are perceived by the broader technology community in Colombia. Because of this, we decided to include more research and policy angles on gender into our work.
It is an interesting time to work in the information and communications technology (ICT) space in Colombia: in 2013, the Wall Street Journal named Medellin the world’s most innovative city, major tech companies like Microsoft, Google and Facebook have opened offices in the capital and global media have labelled Colombia as South America’s emerging tech star. The Colombian government has a digital agenda as its vanguard policy to show off the bright future that awaits our country in the digital era.
However, upon closer inspection, we see evidence that this digital revolution is not happening for every Colombian. And the government’s digital agenda fails to address this reality, for example in the way it does not acknowledge differences in access to and use of the Internet between men and women. This is a missed opportunity for the government, who could use the digital agenda to ensure the Internet is an engine for women’s empowerment, boosting employment and the economy.
The new Women’s Rights Online research, coordinated by the Web Foundation and to be launched in October, has offered us a new way to look at technology in Colombia and evaluate the gender gap in ICTs. We want to encourage women to participate online and realise their rights as citizens, content creators, consumers and agents of change, and to do so on equal terms. We want women to be part of the decision-making process around Internet policies. We wanted to know: are women being silenced or excluded from participation on the Internet, and if so, how?
At the beginning of this project, we identified two major challenges women face in accessing and using technology on an equal footing with their male counterparts:
- Although official statistics show an explosion in the growth of mobile use and the adoption of social media, women are not using these technologies enough to empower themselves and take full advantage of democratic capacity of the Internet to help them organise and advocate for their rights. This is a missed opportunity.
- With growing use of smart phones and social media, gender based violence against women has moved into the digital space. But many women are still not aware of their digital rights or how to protect their online privacy and security effectively. This is one of the reasons why women are subjected to online attacks in the form of aggressive, sexual or misogynistic messages. And we have seen that this violence occurs particularly among women who actively express their opinions online (e.g. journalists, activists, human rights defenders, politicians).
Government policy should recognise the power of the Internet as a tool for citizen participation and inclusion for all Colombians. In addition, policy should acknowledge that the Internet-related risks faced by women, children and youth are often different to those faced by men.
In parallel, women and girls need to be educated on their rights and how to respond to gender based violence online. We need to ensure that authorities including the police and judiciary have the necessary training and knowledge required to address online gender-based violence complaints. Our hope is that through raising awareness of the issue, we will increase understanding among the general public, who see the value and importance of a plurality of idea and debates.
Our long term vision is an Internet where women can be safe from violent threats, where women can voice their opinions without fear. The ideal Internet is one where women can innovate, exchange ideas, express our sexuality, run our businesses and participate in society on equal terms with our male counterparts.
If you enjoyed this blog, take a look at submissions from our other country partners from around the world and sign up to our newsletter for updates on the research.