Making a Feminist Internet Research Network
Digital technologies like the internet are revolutionizing the world - providing new tools to augment entrepreneurship, improve political participation and make education accessible – and they are an integral part of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Yet women globally still have limited access to many of these technology tools, resulting in a digital gender divide that is widening, not narrowing in parts of the global South. In terms of internet access, research suggests that though the 12 percent gap between men and women appears to be narrowing worldwide, it is actually increasing in Africa. In sub Saharan Africa, the proportion of women using the internet is actually 25 percent lower than the proportion of men, and the divide appears to be deepening (ITU 2017; Aavriti and Spuy 2018: 28). Moreover, once online, many women and marginalized groups are subjected to harassment, prejudice and threats of violence. This means that some digital technology tools end up amplifying social, economic and political inequalities, and undermine progress on gender equality. Finding solutions to these challenges is difficult. A scoping study conducted in preparation for this network highlighted the limited number of organisations that integrate gender-related concerns into ICT research.
The objective of the research network is to gather evidence and inform policy and practice with the broader aim of fostering an internet that enables gender equality. The project will support a digital ecosystem that is created and governed by feminist principles, one that facilitates online spaces that are equitable, and free from harassment and violence. The network will undertake research to first build the field of feminism and technology, and second to drive change in policy, law and in discourse to ensure the needs of women, gender diverse and queer people are brought into and supported by internet policy discussions and decision-making.
Based on gaps in knowledge identified in a mapping exercise, the research network will focus on the themes of: a) access (skills and infrastructure); b) data; c) online violence; and d) labour in the digital economy. As a result of the project, we expect to see new thought leadership in the Global South as well as a strengthened field that includes new methodological approaches in these key research areas. Outputs will target policy advocates and policy makers, especially those influencing regulations, and provide insights and frameworks to advocate for community and national change where windows exist. It is envisioned that the network will also have influence in global policy fora that are tackling gender equality issues in human rights.
The network is being hosted by the Women’s Rights Program (WRP) of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), a South Africa based non-government organization, which helped shape the original Feminist Principles of the Internet. APC will facilitate the exchange of knowledge and capacity building among network members and the broader feminist internet movement, through a research hackathon, an annual convening of the network, participation in key events on internet rights and policy, webinars, the development of open and multidisciplinary curriculum on the feminist internet, policy briefs, guidelines, visuals, and other publications.