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Community Updates

Intersectionality on the Internet: Advancing gender justice at RightsCon

Today, on International Women’s Day, we recognize the crucial impact and leadership of women, non-binary, and gender-diverse people within the RightsCon community, and the human rights and technology space, more broadly.

As the organizers of RightsCon, a summit that addresses global issues, we believe participants should embody the diverse range of experiences and perspectives present in the world. In shaping the agenda on human rights in the digital age, diverse participation, particularly with respect to gender, is critical for building a representative and rights-respecting future.

We recognize our responsibility to facilitate a convening space that is safe and representative of everybody. We ensure that diversity and inclusion form the guiding principles of our program development and planning. This is why we ensure that participants have the option to self-identify their gender, conduct a diversity audit of every session, and work with organizers to suggest voices they may be missing in their sessions.

The history of gender participation at RightsCon

Since 2016, we’ve seen near perfect gender parity among participants and session organizers. Judging by the numbers, RightsCon is definitely women-led – a fact that has shaped the development and impact of our convening for the better.

During RightsCon Manila in 2015, 49% of speakers identified as women. The year after, we started tracking and publicly reporting the demographics of our participants during RightsCon Silicon Valley in 2016, where 45% of participants were women. RightsCon Brussels in 2017 saw 45.4% women participation.

At RightsCon Toronto, we started to look at not just the demographics of participants but also of session organizers. What we found was exciting: 48.8% of participants were female identified, and of those, 52% were session organizers. This meant that women were (and are) leading the programmatic aspect of RightsCon. This trend continued at RightsCon Tunis, where 47% of participants identified as female, and of those, 53% were sesion organizers. This year, for RightsCon Costa Rica, a staggering 57% of session proposals were submitted by people identifying as female.

We also want to highlight that since 2017, recognizing that many in our community do not identify with the gender binary, we’ve encouraged conference participants to share with us their gender identity in their own words. In that year during RightsCon Brussels, 1.5% of particpants identified as non-binary. RightsCon Toronto the percentage of non-binary participants increased to 2.1% and at RightsCon Tunis the percentage jumped to 7%.

The evolution of gender related programming at RightsCon  

Throughout the various RightsCon summits, women have both paved the way across our program topics – from artificial intelligence to cybersecurity to freedom of the media to platform accountability – and raised important narratives relating to gender and technology. We’ve seen various trends emerge over the years that are both unifying and unique to the experiences of traditionally underrepresented genders online and with technology.

One such trend that emerged during RightsCon Tunis is technology-facilitated gender based violence. This refers to the broadened reach and power of perpetrators of gender-based violence and their abusive online behavior such as trolling, doxxing, cyberstalking and harassment, which women and LGBTQI people disproportionately face online. Bringing this to RightsCon led to the development of cross-cutting strategies to track online abuse of journalists, protect LGBTQI internet freedoms, and combat targeting of women’s rights activists in rural areas.

For RightsCon Costa Rica, we received 145 proposals focused explicitly on women’s rights and gender justice. The proposers of these sessions represent 42 countries, and most of them identify as women, non-binary, or genderqueer. Remarkably, one-third of proposals came from Latin America and the Caribbean, bringing together local and regional voices to speak on issues affecting women and gender-diverse people globally.

We continue to see conversations on gender-based violence evolve in relation to emerging content governance, media literacy, and digital security tactics. However, we also noticed a substantial uptick in sessions that involve harnessing feminist and queer theory to build more equitable digital systems, networks, and tools. From creating an inclusive internet, to “unbinarying” the future, to diversifying the technology, gaming, and media industries, the RightsCon community is advancing new approaches to defending and extending women’s rights in the digital age.

More work to be done 

Trends reflect realities, and in this case, the trends and conversations at RightsCon mirror what women and LGBTQI people experience online and want to rightfully see changed.  So while it is important to bring these issues to the forefront and elevate these voices, it shows that there is much work left to be done. A 2018 US study found that women experienced harassment disproportionately, with gender identity-based harassment affecting 24% of female-identified respondents, compared to 15% of male-identified. This type of identity-based harassment is even higher among LGBTQI individuals, with 63% of LGBTQI respondents experiencing harassment because of their sexual orientation.

This is why representation and diversity matter. In fact, studies show that a lack of gender diversity carries with it a major opportunity cost for private companies and the tech sector as a whole. And, yes, tech companies are recently hiring more women overall, but few of these women are holding leadership positions and many still face a lot of day-to-day sexism and discrimination. Furthermore, tech companies’ recent public struggles on gender-related issues means there is much left to be done as a whole.

In a sector that has struggled with a wide gender gap, the importance of creating inclusive and diverse spaces while championing and elevating marginalized voices is immense. Equity is not the same as equality, and that fact guides our operations and organization around RightsCon, pushing us to think beyond statistics.

We continue to adapt and learn from an incredible community of human rights defenders, policy experts, lawyers, and technologists in this space. We are committed to our role in creating a more inclusive and well represented digital future.

We are also aware that there is always room for improvement and invite members of our community to share their experiences, feedback, and ideas with us at [email protected].