First look at the RightsCon 2021 agenda: results from the Call for Proposals

➔ Overview

➔ Categories and themes in action

➔ New voices in our network

➔ A sustained community of contributors

➔ What’s next in the program process

The RightsCon program is the foundation of the summit experience. Sourced through an open Call for Proposals, the public program is built by and for our community, and reflects the fluid and expanding landscape of human rights in the digital age. 

The Call for Proposals evolves from one cycle to the next, leaving room for both continuity and change, while surfacing issues that are relevant to world events and unique to our host country. This year is no different. With the 10th edition of RightsCon set to take place online from June 7 to 11, the Call for Proposals presented both challenges and opportunities for our team. We wondered: would our community continue to see the value in an online summit? Would reduced travel and financial barriers lead to new ideas and different perspectives? Could we build on the momentum from RightsCon Online, even in the midst of global upheaval and pandemic fatigue?

The answer is a resounding yes.

This year, for the second time, we received more than a thousand proposals – 1052, to be exact, from 105 countries. The results of the Call for Proposals tell a story of adaptation and transformation, as our community learns from and interacts with the movements for health equity, racial justice, climate action, and LGBTQ+ and women’s rights.

RightsCon 2021 will support 400+ public sessions, in both live and asynchronous formats, with content available at all hours. Whether you’re a veteran or a newcomer, a morning person or a night owl, there’s a space and session for you to contribute to the most urgent conversations at the intersection of technology and human rights.


Categories and themes in action

A decade in, and RightsCon has become a respected and recognized platform for civil society, technologists, policymakers, activists, journalists, and creatives from around the world to convene. Our collective work cuts across almost every aspect of our lives, as the integration of technology leads to infringements on our rights to privacy and freedom of expression, and our access to healthcare, education, and the economy. The RightsCon program captures and is informed by these intersectional approaches to creating a just and sustainable digital future.

Not only the quantity, but also the quality of proposals surpassed our expectations, with a clear and critical focus on inclusion, accessibility, and participatory session design. The proportion of women who submitted a proposal increased to 60 percent, the highest percentage in our summit’s history. Representation from Asia and the Pacific ticked up, and nearly one-third (34 percent) of proposals came from people who had never engaged with RightsCon before.

In 2021, session designers could choose to assign a proposal to both a program category and an intersecting theme. Themes cut across one or more categories, and encapsulate a specific lens or framework, such as migration or children’s rights, that can be applied to a range of issues.

Gender justice emerged as a key theme, with 130+ proposals on women’s rights, sexual and reproductive health and rights, and LGBTQ+ rights. Sessions explored the gendered dimensions of the digital divide and internet shutdowns, online harassment of women journalists and politicians, digital security for LGBTQ+ communities, the impact of content moderation policies on sex workers’ rights, telemedicine and access to abortion care, data collection on intimate partner and gender-based violence, and much more.

We received double the number of proposals on disability rights compared to RightsCon Online. Topics included inclusive product design and user research, display of web, educational, and social media content, and internet connectivity and accessibility barriers for people with disabilities and elderly people. These proposals represent perspectives from around the world, from Argentina to Botswana to India, indicating the universal need to incorporate and elevate the demands of the disability rights movement into the development of our technologies.

New voices in our network

As RightsCon’s 10th anniversary approaches, our team is interested to learn more about the people and organizations who are part of our network. Who comes to RightsCon, and why? What makes participants or session organizers return, year after year? We’re always in search of the answers to these questions, and the Call for Proposals has offered a peek into the diverse priorities and identities of our community, and demonstrated how the shift to an online setting has opened the door to a more accessible summit.

For session designers who were new to our community, we asked what drew them to RightsCon and why they decided to submit a proposal. The responses surprised and encouraged us. Many people emphasized RightsCon’s importance as a forum to collaborate and connect with different stakeholders. Some talked about shared values around diversity and inclusion. Others said that they had watched RightsCon from afar for years, but never had the ability or resources to participate at an in-person event. We also heard that peers, colleagues, and friends succeeded in convincing many newcomers that RightsCon was the place to advance their work.

A sustained community of contributors

For session designers who identified as returning members of our community, we wanted to understand the level of continuity from one summit to the next. The majority (691 or 65.7 percent) of proposals came from people who had participated in RightsCon at least once. However, we broke down the numbers a little more and found that:

  • Half of those 691 proposals came from people who had only participated in one RightsCon;
  • One-quarter (25.5 percent) came from people who had participated in two RightsCons;
  • One-tenth (10.5 percent) came from people who had participated in three RightsCons;
  • And the rest (14 percent) came from people who had participated in four or more RightsCons.

In the proposal form, we also introduced an optional question for session designers to share any personal, social, cultural, and/or political identities they use. Those who chose to answer – 210 people – identified variously as:

  • LGBTQ+ (53);
  • an immigrant, migrant, or refugee (33); 
  • Latinx and/or Latin American (27);
  • feminist (24); 
  • Black, African, and/or African-American (24);
  • Asian and/or Asian diaspora (13);
  • White (12);
  • Jewish (9);
  • cis-gendered (8);
  • a person with disabilities (10);
  • a cultural or religious minority (7);
  • Muslim (5).

What’s next in the program process?

If you submitted a proposal, you can expect to hear about the final status of your session in the first week of April. The RightsCon Program Committee – a team of 70+ individuals and organizations from around the world – has finished reviewing all proposals based on our evaluation criteria. Based on these expert recommendations, our team will conduct a final, holistic review, and advance sessions that are relevant, original, participatory, actionable, and diverse in perspective and experience.

We know hosting a session online requires different tools and tactics than its in-person counterpart. If your proposal is accepted into the public program, we’ll work with you to develop session excellence. Session excellence embodies our commitment to providing training, resources, and opportunities to connect with other session organizers, all in the service of producing a cutting-edge, outcomes-oriented program.

There’s much more to come for RightsCon 2021, including information about the public program, and new spaces for networking and socializing on our online platform. As a reminder, registration is now open, with early bird tickets extended until Wednesday, April 7. You also have a little more time to apply for our Connectivity Fund – the deadline to submit is now April 7.

Stay tuned!

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