To maximise the benefits of cyberspace and critical technology, and build inclusive, safe and more prosperous societies, it is crucial that all stakeholders are included and empowered. This includes: promoting greater diversity, gender equality and women's meaningful participation and leadership in cyberspace and critical technology policy-making, implementation and representation; the design and development of critical technology; and, the broader cyber and critical technology workforce. It also includes raising awareness of the impact cyberspace and critical technology can have on groups at risk of discrimination and exploitation, such as women and girls.
Our societies are fairer, safer and more prosperous when we remove barriers to inclusion and ensure all individuals – regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, socio-economic background, sexual orientation or ability – contribute to, and are considered across all aspects of cyberspace and critical technology.
Australia's international engagement on diversity and gender equality goes beyond our international human rights obligations, to consider how we can promote greater diversity and inclusiveness in cyberspace and critical technology to maximise the benefits across society.
We recognise the lack of diversity in those who design and develop technologies; those responsible for setting, implementing, regulating and representing policy; those who make decisions; and, those who have access to technologies.
We also recognise the different impacts this lack of diversity in cyber and critical technology has on end users, particularly those at risk of discrimination. For example, children, women, LGBTI+ persons, persons with disabilities, Indigenous people, and racial and ethnic minorities are under-represented and particularly vulnerable to discrimination. These groups of people, particularly those at the intersections of different forms of vulnerability, often experience greater online harms and negative experiences.
Australia, through our multilateral, bilateral and regional engagement, will advocate for greater diversity and inclusiveness in cyberspace and critical technology, and will work with industry and civil society partners to promote these objectives.
Gender equality and women's empowerment
Of particular concern and interest to Australia is the impact of cyberspace and critical technology on gender equality and women's empowerment.
Gender inequality undermines global prosperity, stability and security. It contributes to, and often exacerbates, a range of challenges, including poverty, weak governance, conflict and violent extremism. The value of gender equality and women's empowerment is indisputable. Women's participation in decision-making, leadership and peace building is important as it brings particular perspectives, priorities and strengths, which are often different from men's. Women's economic participation helps to drive growth at a national level and reduce poverty within communities and households such that societies that better leverage the skills, talents, perspectives and time of everyone will be more likely to prosper.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) estimates that only 48.4 per cent of the total global female population is using the Internet, compared to 58.2 per cent of all men – a digital gender gap of 9.8 per cent. While the world continues to enjoy the significant benefits of increased Internet accessibility, systemic economic and societal barriers mean that its dividends are less likely to flow to women. Moreover, women are less likely to have reliable access to mobile financial services than men, and face difficulties controlling their own digital identities and health records. Women are also significantly under-represented in international discussions on security and responsible state behaviour in cyberspace.
Recognising this, the Australian Government's Advancing Women in STEM Strategy, led by our Women in STEM Ambassador, is focused on providing leadership and driving efforts to: support the active inclusion of girls and women in STEM education (from early education to tertiary); promote workplaces that support the active recruitment and retention of women in STEM roles at all levels; and, ensure girls and women see STEM education and professions as viable and interesting career paths.
Australia's international engagement on cyberspace and critical technology issues aims to complement and further the work of our Ambassador for Gender Equality. It will ensure that gender equality, the empowerment of women and girls, our commitments under the Women, Peace and Security agenda and efforts under Sustainable Development Goal 5 are a central focus of our diplomatic, development and regional security efforts. Gender equality and women's empowerment is integrated throughout the Cyber and Critical Technology Cooperation Program, including at all stages of the project management cycle. The program sets aside five per cent of its total funding to ensure gender equality is adequately considered throughout implementation and to support stand alone gender equality initiatives.
We also continue to support mainstreaming gender equality and parity within the UN, including through the UN System-wide Action Plan (UN-SWAP) on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, and the ITU Gender Equality and Mainstreaming Policy.
Critical technology can perpetuate discrimination against women
Technology reflects the society in which it is designed, developed and used. Where gender inequality and discrimination against women and girls exists, so too will inequality exist in access and use of cyberspace and critical technologies.
Violence against women and girls, which is increasingly prevalent online, is a significant human rights violation that causes harm by limiting women's social, political and economic participation. This includes behaviours such as abusers using tracking apps, monitoring Internet search history, restricting access to passwords or account settings, or inflicting economic or emotional abuse.
Given the central role that critical technologies increasingly play in all facets of life, women's under-representation in the design, development and use of critical technologies is of considerable concern. Gender bias is likely where data sets used for training AI algorithms are not representative of women and girls. Meaningful participation, leadership and representation of women throughout these processes, and the technology sector more broadly, are therefore critical to ensuring the production of technologies that meet the needs of our society as a whole.
Through our international engagement, Australia will advocate to empower women and girls to stay safe online. We will continue to advocate for the creation and implementation of frameworks, standards and principles such as, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Recommendations on AI, the G20 AI Principles and eSafety's Safety by Design initiative, that meaningfully address critical technology gender issues, such as inclusivity and safety. We will also work with partners in the technology industry to advocate for gender equality at all stages of the technology lifecycle.
WOMEN IN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY AND CYBERSPACE FELLOWSHIP
Australia, together with Canada, The Netherlands, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, launched the Women in International Security and Cyberspace Fellowship in February 2020. The Fellowship provides early-to mid-career female diplomats from all over the world with training on multilateral negotiations, cyber policy and international law, and sponsors their attendance at UN meetings that consider responsible state behaviour in cyberspace.
CYBER SAFETY FOR PACIFIC WOMEN
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is supporting the Australia Pacific Security College, in partnership with UN Women, to develop a range of cyber safety training materials for women and girls. This aims to provide them with the necessary skills to realise the considerable opportunities, and mitigate the risks, presented by increased digital access.
UNITED NATIONS (UN) WOMEN: INNOVATION FOR GENDER EQUALITY
UN Women is the UN organisation dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. A global champion for women and girls, UN Women was established to accelerate progress on meeting their needs worldwide. Its 2019 report Innovation for Gender Equality noted that
...it is increasingly clear that technology and innovation can be rejected; that they can create new, unforeseen problems of their own; and that they do not benefit all equally. Not only are women under-represented across core innovation sectors, including science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), but new technology brings risks of bias and possibilities for misuse, creating new human rights challenges for the 21st century.
eSafety Women provides practical tools and information to equip all women to protect themselves and their families against all forms of technology-facilitated abuse, including image-based abuse.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, eSafety leveraged these resources to develop a COVID-19 Global online safety guide for frontline workers supporting women. This resource was distributed to over 60 multilateral organisations and disseminated globally in partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
eSafety will continue to make these resources available to women globally, with a focus on the Indo-Pacific region, as part of its work funded under the Cyber and Critical Technology Cooperation Program.