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IWD 2023: Digital inclusion, gender, and intersectionality

In yesterday’s blog, we spoke about the relationship between gender and privacy in the digital age and why gender is a key analytic in assessing privacy risks. In this blog post, we zoom in on the issue of digital inclusion and the use of an intersectionality-informed gender analysis. Research has found that, despite unprecedented advances in digital technologies, women and girls across the world continue to face unique barriers that prevent them from fully benefiting from digital inclusion.

The systemic obstacles in the form of digital exclusion that women, girls, and other disadvantaged groups of people face can be seen as constituting a type of privacy-related risk and harm. In many ways, they are akin to the privacy risks and harms that exist in relation to gender and privacy. For reasons like this, personal information about sex or sexual orientation is considered to be “sensitive personal information” in the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA). Perhaps ironically, data collection and use may be a key part of the solution to such problems.

In the age of digital innovation and inclusion, we see that the internet, digital platforms, smart phones, and other electronic devices, social media, online learning platforms, and digital financial services are widely used. These technologies provide unique opportunities for the economic empowerment and political participation of women, girls, and other excluded, under-served, and vulnerable groups. These technologies also have the potential to contribute to achieving gender equity and equality, including by “giving women the possibility to earn additional income, increase their employment opportunities, and access knowledge and general information.” (OECD)

However, members of these groups often do not benefit from digital technologies and digital inclusion fully, since many of them do not have safe and equal access to them. The costs of accessing digital platforms and purchasing digital devices are often prohibitive. Yet, to realise their full potential, they need equality of opportunities and outcomes in terms of accessing digital opportunities. We should think about issues of digital inclusion in the context of gender and intersectionality.

What is digital inclusion?

The United Nations defines digital inclusion as “equitable, meaningful, and safe access to use, lead, and design of digital technologies, services, and associated opportunities for everyone, everywhere”. Digital inclusion ensures the promotion, protection, enjoyment of, and respect for individuals online and offline. The spirit of inclusion means that the specific needs of individuals must be taken into consideration in both the ‘real’ and digital worlds. Such inclusion will ensure that everyone has the same opportunities, and we do not leave anyone behind. Human rights-based, intersectional approaches, policies, and actions that take into account the various barriers individuals face when accessing and experiencing digital technologies enable equitable digital inclusion, the aim of which is to dismantle existing structural social inequalities and enhance well-being for all.

A key aspect of digital inclusion involves redressing gender inequalities in resources and capabilities to access and effectively use information and communication technology (ICTs). To close these gaps, we as a community should ensure we create inclusive tools and processes – which means practicing better data collection and analysis of metrics about gender issues.

What is an intersectionality-informed gender analysis and how does it foster digital inclusion?

According to UN Women, gender analysis as a methodology describes existing gender relations in a particular environment, by collecting and analysing data disaggregated by gender and other qualitative and quantitative data. This type of analysis organises and interprets, in a systematic way, information about gender relations to make clear the importance of understanding gendered differences, inequalities, and power dynamics.

It is not only women but other marginalised, vulnerable, and disadvantaged groups of people – such as lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and intersex (LGBTI), gender-diverse and non-conforming persons, children and young people, seniors, people of colour, indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, and others – who are disproportionately affected by digital divides that reflect and amplify existing socio-cultural, economic, and political inequalities. And that is exactly where intersectionality is very relevant and comes in most handy.

Intersectionality, or intersectional analysis – a term coined by the African American legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 – is the notion that identity categories (such as gender and sexual identity, race, ethnicity, nationality, age, disability, etc.), along with systemic, structural inequalities (such as racist and ethnic discrimination, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, etc.), interact like an intersection. This interaction creates very specific effects for those individuals possessing those identities. For example, back in the late 1980s and 1990s, in her legal analysis, Crenshaw focused on the unique position of African American women within the labour market in terms of the systemic and structural obstacles they were facing that were different from white women and African American men.

Intersectionality means approaching people and their multiple, intersecting identities in their entirety (and diversity), not by a singular identity. This includes people with diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, gender expressions, and sex characteristics. When undertaking an intersectionality-informed gender analysis, it is important to take into account how gender – and its intersection with other identity categories such as race, ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, age, disability, class, and others – may impact digital inclusion in the given context so that their specific challenges, and opportunities, can be recognised.

An intersectionality-informed gender analysis seeks to answer some of the following questions:

i/ What are the key gender issues in a sector? How are people differently affected in a particular sector due to differences in their respective roles, needs, priorities, and status? This includes – but is not limited to – investigating policy, legal, and other frameworks, the gendered nature of the labour market and division of labour, access to and control over resources, and decision-making powers.

ii/ What are the different ways in which the intended measure or intervention, including those related to privacy, will affect different people differently? By identifying the likely impacts on different groups of people, we can highlight the opportunities (as well as constraints) for developing gender-sensitive measures and interventions, thus helping us to mitigate and/or avoid gender inequalities and contributing to achieving gender equality outcomes.

PIPA, gender, and intersectionality

As the name of Bermuda’s 2016 legislation suggests, the Personal Information Protection Act (PIPA) is preoccupied with protecting the personal information and privacy of individuals in Bermuda. Under Sections 5, 13, 24, 44, and 47, PIPA makes specific references to privacy-related risk and harm caused to individuals by the use of their personal information. Considerations about risk and harm will concern, for example, the security safeguards that organisations are obliged to take in order to prevent privacy-related harm stemming from the loss of, unauthorised access to, destruction, use, modification, disclosure, or any other misuse of the personal information (Section 13). In addition, the question of whether an organization must notify PrivCom and affected individuals in case of a breach of security will depend on an analysis of whether the breach adversely affects an individual or is likely to cause significant harm to individuals.

Just as an intersectional gender analysis is contextual, so too will a privacy-related harm analysis depend on the context. Therefore, organisations need to be able to take into account the specific context of women and other groups of people with respect to gender.

When organisations – and societies in general – are digitally inclusive, it means that they ensure that the benefits of the internet and digital technologies and innovation are available to everyone who wants to be connected, without disproportionately higher risks and harms posed to their privacy as a result of their sensitive personal information, such as gender, being disclosed or shared.

Digitally inclusive societies should ensure the availability and accessibility of the internet, digital devices, services, platforms, and relevant content, including affordable access to them and to critical digital and other skills, education, and tools. Such forward-thinking societies will also ensure equitable and effective participation in safe, discrimination-free online spaces, with the opportunity to create and share content, thoughts, and perspectives. To build such societies we must ensure we consider and involve different groups in the design, development, testing, and assessments of digital devices, services, platforms, and policies.


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