Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are the constitutive technologies of our times – they have transformed, enriched, and become an integral part of almost everything we do The intertwining of ICTs in all spheres of daily life has changed the way we live, love, play and work – creating a digitally re-constituted life-world with a new sociological syntax and demanding a new ethics. The past few years have thus seen intense deliberation towards the refurbishment of existing legal and juridical frameworks at global, regional and national levels.

Developing effective guarantees for human rights and freedoms in an Internet-mediated world is one critical area of concern. For example, Frank La Rue, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, in his May 2011 report, strongly urged nation-states to take policy action to make the Internet, an indispensable tool for accelerating human development and progress, “widely available, accessible, and affordable” to their citizenry. In July 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution affirming that “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online”. The Sakhalin Declaration (2013) emerging from the Conference on Internet and Socio-cultural Transformations, convened by UNESCO’s Information for All Inter-governmental Programme, highlighted the need for major re-appraisal of existing copyright laws, to enable individuals across linguistic, cultural and social groups, to effectively participate in the emerging digitalised networks of information and knowledge.

More recently, in June 2014, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights highlighted the threats to individuals’ fundamental freedoms, posed by the emergent surveillance regimes of the digital age, which sanction the collection and storage of communications meta-data by telephone companies and ISPs, in ways that appear “neither necessary nor proportionate”. These pronouncements are not references to small changes; they signify a paradigm shift that implicate gender justice in foundational ways.

The movement towards developing appropriate legislative frameworks elucidating the interconnections between social justice, equity, human rights and technology is gathering force at the national level as well. For instance, Finland made access to broadband a legal right in 2009; Brazil passed the famed Marco Civil de Internet, a piece of legislation guaranteeing civil liberties with respect to use of the Internet, in April 2014. A few countries like Chile and Netherlands have passed net neutrality legislations. More recently, the French Digital Council has argued forcefully the need for a platform-neutral internet. The right to privacy has been re-articulated in recent debates in Europe, Argentina, and the United States in discussions on the ‘right to be forgotten’.

In these global and national level debates, feminist groups have slowly but steadily seen points of intersecting relevance. However, much of the ‘gendering’ of issues in the digital domain has not gone past an assertion of women’s disadvantage, and a lot remains to be done on unpacking specific assumptions guiding current policy and programming approaches.

This policy brief attempts to outline an agenda for gender justice that takes a critical feminist approach to the current digital ecosystem, building on feminist development wisdom, and situating it in relation to contemporary issues.

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