ON International Women’s Day, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) calls upon the 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, they are 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 would 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 (STEM).
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 (WHRDs) 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 the 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 dismantling 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.