Govt must close the digital gender divide, empower women

Letters to the Editor

IN celebrating International Women’s Day, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) calls on government to close the digital gender divide, empower women, and contribute to greater gender equality.

International Women’s Day offers an opportunity to reflect on the progress made, call for change and celebrate some acts of determination and courage exhibited by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in their communities and countries.

In 2023, International Women’s Day is commemorated under the theme DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality.

This year’s theme offers an opportunity to recognise and celebrate women and girls who are championing the advancement of transformative technology and digital education and curtailing the impact of the digital gender gap on widening social, economic, political and civil inequalities.

Commemoration of International Women’s Day comes at a time when the world has undergone a historical moment of change which saw people’s lives and societies going more digital than ever before.

The coronavirus pandemic exacerbated the digital gender divide and rolled back achievements attained in closing the inequality gap between men and women.

It must be appreciated that digital rights are human rights because the way people get to enjoy their right to education, privacy, political participation and work, is shaped by their access to the internet and skills to make the most out of it.

However, it is equally used to suppress, limit and violate rights through several acts such as online harassment, bullying, surveillance and censorship, and this disproportionately affects women leading to inequality and discrimination.

In Zimbabwe, fewer women have access to the internet than men, and yet our lives depend on strong technological integration, with women accounting for more than half of the country’s population.

This is detrimental in that if women are unable to access the internet and do not feel safe online, they will be unable to develop the necessary digital skills to engage in digital spaces, which diminishes their opportunities to pursue careers in critical fields such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

The exorbitant cost of data being levied by mobile telephone operators and internet service providers curtails access to information, which is a fundamental human right central to the exercise of free expression that empowers citizens to make informed choices and decisions on socio-economic, civil and political matters and that has a bearing on their lives.

ZLHR believes that the cost of mobile and internet data and products in Zimbabwe are prohibitive and discriminate and infringe on citizens’ right to access information as provided by the Constitution and the African Declaration on Internet Rights.

In addition, technology and the internet continue to shape critical aspects of our lives, hence access to the internet must be within one’s means.

Access to the internet facilitates and enables access to information, and there is a need to make the cost of data affordable to citizens.

As such, internet affordability is an urgent issue that government, service providers and other critical stakeholders must urgently address to give effect to the constitutional provisions that provide for the right to access information and freedom of expression, among other rights.

Moreover, ZLHR is perturbed that several ordinary women and women human rights defenders are being prosecuted and persecuted for allegedly committing offences online, which is an attack on the constitutional right to freedom of expression.

On this International Women’s Day and to close the digital divide, ZLHR calls upon government, the public, service providers, and other stakeholders to:

  • Eliminate all forms of disparity and inequality and help forge a gender-equal world;
  • Shun gender inequality, gender discrimination and biases against women;
  • Improve the welfare of all women and fulfil their constitutional obligation to ensure the full participation of women in all sectors of society, including in the forthcoming elections, on the basis of equality with men;
  • Stop online defamation and disinformation campaigns;
  • Identify and prevent human rights abuses against women online, as well as dismantle harmful gender stereotypes;
  • End impunity for perpetrators of online gender-based violence;

Close the digital divide by revisiting and revising downwards the mobile data and internet fees being charged by mobile telephone operators and internet service providers. ZLHR

Women participation key to development

ON the occasion of International Women’s Day 2023, there is much to celebrate and even more to be done still.

Running under the global campaign theme #EmbraceEquity, this year’s recognition underlines the need to separate equity and equality as the former considers that provision of equal opportunities (equality) is not enough as women are starting off from different places.

Equal employment opportunities today disregard the women who were left behind by the education system 10 years ago.

Following, if we genuinely want to address the fate of women comprehensively, gender equity is a must have!

The Zimbabwe coalition on debt and development (Zimcodd) is particularly concerned about the social, economic, cultural and political barriers to women’s equity which we believe the following actions will address.

Gender responsive public service delivery: Women disproportionally face the burden of poor services such as potable water.

They lose significant productive time lining up for water in unsafe environments, exposed to harassment as a result. The Local Government ministry must liaise with the Zimbabwe National Water Authority and ensure adequate dams are constructed for optimum water supply.

Education: The Primary and Secondary Education ministry must see to it that the “education for all” concept that has been the hallmark of the Zimbabwean education system is re-ignited and implemented.

An inclusive education system must be visible in rural and peri-urban areas with adequate teachers and infrastructure.

Healthcare: The Health ministry must increase its operations and management capacity to ensure viable servicing of existing equipment and infrastructure, offer competitive remuneration and establish primary healthcare services that are gender sensitive with functional maternal healthcare systems. The Finance ministry should also ensure that adequate resources are availed.

Civil amenities: Local authorities must prioritise servicing civic amenities such as public toilets, community halls, community grounds etc, as they enable women’s community-based groups to utilise them and help each other in their capacity building activities.

Employment: Zimbabwe has set groundwork for inclusive participation in digital employment and development for women through implementation of a science, technology, engineering and mathematics programme that has quickly gained traction. More resources should be availed to ensure the programme is able to capture as many young girls as possible.

Conducive political environment: There is need for safe spaces for women’s participation in politics as threats of violence, for example, cause apathy towards political processes. Political violence amounts to systemic and structural exclusion.

Guarantee and protect women's property rights: The Constitution already recognises and protects women’s rights. Respecting rule of law and adherence to constitutional provisions is a step towards social, economic and political emancipation of women, especially land rights. - Zimcodd

Towards an inclusive approach in supporting media freedom

IN the past five years, the number of intergovernmental initiatives supporting media freedom have increased significantly.

Major examples include the Media Freedom Coalition (MFC), the International Partnership for Information and Democracy and most recently, the United States-led Summit for Democracy.

This growing constellation of international initiatives is a welcome response to the increasing threats to media freedom around the world.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ (CPJ) annual census of jailed journalists, there were a record 363 journalists behind bars as of December 1, 2022.

But within this growing “diplomatic turn” towards supporting media freedom, it is important to ask: what kinds of media freedom are being promoted and whose priorities do they serve?

This is an important question because different interpretations of media freedom influence how media support funds are spent, how diplomatic energies are directed, and whose speech is protected — and from which threats.

An international research team has explored this question through an extensive analysis of the Media Freedom Coalition between 2019 and 2021 — involving 55 interviews with key stakeholders, observations, and document analysis.

This coalition describes itself as “a partnership of 51 countries ... working together proactively to advocate for media freedom at home and abroad.”

In an official response to the research, Unesco characterised the MFC as “unique and a first” and “a real shift in international relations in this area,” because it is the first “coalition of member States gathered around the specific topics of media freedom and the safety of journalists ... at the highest political level.”

The findings — which were recently published in full in the Journal of Communication — suggest that a more inclusive agenda for supporting media freedom is needed to tackle growing threats to journalists around the world.

The analysis demonstrated that, during its first two years, the MFC consistently focused on high-profile cases of the imprisonment and murder of Journalists in non-member States.

There’s an economic risk to media freedom. I came across that issue. But overall, basically, everyone knew that we are talking about countries where journalists are not free to write copy that criticises the government of the day.

This narrow interpretation of media freedom — concerned primarily with governments, “other” countries, and physical and legal threats — was helpful in strengthening the rhetoric of the MFC’s public statements. It also encouraged a relatively large number of States to join the MFC — by offering them a strategically valuable identity as “democracy defenders”.

Finally, it provided States without significant financial resources with a cost-effective way of taking action on media freedom. - Centre for International Media Assistance

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