This International Women’s Day, the Cyber and Critical Tech Cooperation Program (CCTCP) celebrates the important work our delivery partners are doing to create a more inclusive and equitable cyber environment for all, recognising the significant opportunities and risks that the internet poses for gender equality. The CCTCP currently funds ten projects targeting gender equality in the Indo-Pacific region and supports 30+ partners to mainstream gender, disability, and social inclusion across their cyber and critical tech development projects to achieve a more secure, stable, equitable and inclusive internet environment necessary to achieve sustainable development in the region.
The expansion of mobile networks and adoption of new technologies in the Indo-Pacific presents exciting opportunities for economic and human development, and for marginalised groups’ organising and activism in the region. However, women and girls – particularly those facing multiple disadvantages due to poverty, disability, sexuality, ethnicity, or other factors – are at risk of being left behind in the race to adopt technology and get online.
Around the world, women are less likely to have meaningful online access, be cyber literate, and consequently work in the sector. They are less likely to be taught ICT in schools than boys and can be dissuaded from pursuing related careers due to masculine stereotypes of tech jobs, unfriendly workplace cultures and the lack of visibility and advancement of women in the sector. Take for example, the experience of a CCTCP project participant that said, “The nature of my job at a computer system centre means that the majority of the employees are men. Clients frequently believe that women working in computer systems and networks cannot perform as well as men”. The limited representation of women is not limited to technical jobs in the sector, it can also be seen in cyber-related legal and governance roles, with implications for inclusion in standards and policy settings.
A higher risk of online harm also means women are less likely to meaningfully engage online and benefit from emerging services, tools, information, education, economic opportunities and networks. Levels of cyber harassment, stalking, doxing, revenge porn, discrimination and physical threats can be up to 3 times higher for women than men. CCTCP partner, ABC International Development, who worked in Tonga and Vanuatu to promote online safety for young girls and women through their project ‘Girls Online (GO!): Participating meaningfully and safely in cyberspace', shared a quote from a workshop participant, showing how existing bias and discrimination can amplify misogyny online; “There was a social media post about a girl who had jumped out from a bus trying to escape at 10.00pm from a cruel driver and a guy was commenting negatively on this. He said, ‘you are a girl, you should stay quiet at home. You should make the right choice’".
According to CCTCP partner Deakin University, technology-based forms of domestic violence are increasing, which infringes on women’s cyber security, physical safety, and their digital participation. The university is working with Pacific partners in Fiji, Tonga and Vanuatu to document the prevalence and impact of this phenomenon. Human rights and women’s rights agencies and women human rights defenders are also targeted in online attacks that involve disinformation, misinformation and hate speech aimed at undermining their influence, voice and online participation. One of CCTCP’s partners, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) is co-designing training with local partners to support these individuals’ and agencies’ ability to protect, defend and advocate against targeted abuse of this type. Cybercrime legislation, policing, support services and online behaviour change are necessary to reduce these risks and achieve greater cyber security for women and enable equitable and sustainable development.
If women from diverse backgrounds are not involved in the design, development, use and oversight of cyber and critical tech on an equitable basis with men, it is unlikely that products, services, and digital solutions can meet diverse needs and priorities or safeguard the population. Marginalised groups will continue to lag in their access and engagement, which risks further excluding them from economic, social, and cultural life.
The CCTCP will continue to work with partners and networks in the region to progress gender equality, disability and social inclusion in cyber and critical tech through targeted investments, advice and support.