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The Invisibility Cloak: Gender, Data and the Internet

11:00 – 12:30 (Bangkok time, GMT+7), 3 June 2021

Click HERE to access the recordings of the RBHR Forum on YouTube

Organised by Gender at Work and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)



The internet has transformed the world we live in, changing the way we communicate with each other – connecting people from across the globe and opening new ways of thinking. It has not only made information more freely available but has changed the very way we understand knowledge and information. The internet and allied information and communication tools can be leveraged to drive economic growth and expand social opportunities. Increasingly, activists and social justice groups are using technologies and digital spaces to get informed, raise awareness about specific issues, advocate, organize protests and mass mobilizations, demand rights and report abuses. Moreover, due to COVID-19 and the global dependency on the virtual world, we have witnessed a proliferation of digital activism.

Session Description

While the internet was supposed to foster a process of democratisation, it has not held true to its potential. However, almost half the world is still offline — and the majority of those offline are women in developing countries, reinforcing gender inequalities. The ‘digital gender gap’ for instance - the proportion of women using the Internet on average across the world – is 12 % lower than the proportion of men using the Internet.1  Moreover ‘meaningful’ access that could support the actualization of human rights remains conditioned by multiple ‘digital divides’ that intersects with gender identities- developed-developing nations, urban-rural, educated-less educated, rich-poor. This unequal access excludes already disadvantaged groups from the social and economic opportunities that digital platforms can provide, reproducing and exacerbating existing inequalities. While the efficient use of big data in the digital world has almost unlimited potential to enhance business processes and improve people's lives, an increasing number of researchers are documenting how technology and internet-enabled data collection systems are designed with data gaps that make it impossible to understand and respond to issues affecting women, LGBTQIA+ people and other marginalized groups.2


Over the years, it has also become apparent that the online world reflects, not surprisingly, the power structures in the offline world.  As a result, the internet world is also plagued by misogyny and marginalization of women, especially those that face multiple vulnerabilities because of their race, caste, religion, or sexual orientation. Women, girls and LGBTQIA+ people face online sexual harassment and shaming. Citizen Lab has documented the use of online sexual threats against women activists in Mexico.3 At the same time, it is also remarkable to observe the many disruptive ways in which feminist and women movements are taking back the internet to accomplish social and political change. 


For example, the Feminist Internet Research Network led by the Association for Progressive Communication is undertaking data-driven research that provides substantial evidence to drive change in policy and law and discourse around internet rights.4  Similarly, the Feminist AI Research Network organized by Gender at Work and <A+> Alliance is developing a picture of how AI systems are biased against women, how the data collection and analysis are dominated by exclusionary ideologies.5

1 https://www.genderit.org/feminist-talk/transforming-structures-power-through-feminist-internet-research

2 https://ladysmithcollective.com/report-building-alliances-for-gender-equality/

3 https://citizenlab.ca/2017/06/reckless-exploit-mexico-nso/

4 https://www.apc.org/en/project/firn-feminist-internet-research-network 

5 https://aplusalliance.org/en

Session Objectives

The key objectives of this session are to:

  • Understand the opportunities for advancing gender equality through effective use of the internet, especially platform technologies;

  • Assess the gender biases in internet and data governance that still enable gender bias and reinforce inequality;

  • Identify ways to address gender bias in internet governance and technology platforms


Panellists will reflect on the following questions:

  • What forms of discrimination do women, gender diverse and queer people face because of the inherent biases of the internet governance, especially around big data?

  • What are the most significant gaps in technology governance that perpetuate and exacerbate gender bias and stereotypes?

  • What are some of the efforts that businesses can adopt/have adopted to altogether avoid the larger structural and systemic forms of bias and discrimination perpetuated by the current forms of internet and data governance?

For questions, please contact unrbhrforum@undp.org