A resource guide supporting feminist and women's rights organization to get involved in digital rights movements.
Image of a woman in box braids and colorful ankara coat working on her laptop and taking noted. Image Credits: Neema Iyer
We can define digital rights as (human) rights exercised in digital spaces or environments. This would imply the direct application and transfer of human rights as defined under resolutions such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights  (UDHR) in order to uphold the dignity and equality of people everywhere, including online spaces.
Digital or online spaces themselves do not refer only to internet spaces such as social media platforms and forums like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or online marketplaces, blogs and personal websites, but also to environments that facilitate interactions between people and technology. This could include applications such as smart fridges, fitbits, surveillance cameras and biometrics software.
Digital or online spaces themselves do not refer only to internet spaces such as social media platforms and forums like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram or online marketplaces, blogs and personal websites, but also to environments that facilitate interactions between people and technology.
While the term “technology” itself is often used interchangeably with “digital”, it’s important to note that digital technologies are also a type of the many forms of technology in use today. So, while the term “digital” might be misleading, a more useful way of looking at the kind of rights we are referring to is to think about all the types of human rights activated or made relevant as a result of our known and unknown interactions with digital technology.
Today, some of the biggest challenges to digital rights include censorship by governments as well as internet platforms. For instance, in 2019, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) reported  that from 2016 to 2019, over twenty (20) African countries had ordered network disruptions preventing people from those countries from accessing popular social media sites and in some cases, preventing SMS as well as mobile money functionalities. Similarly, all over Africa, there have been various attempts, some successful and others not, to pass bills directly limiting free speech in online spaces either by forcing social media users and platform owners to register or criminalising dissent by recharacterizing it as a threat to national security. Social media platforms themselves in a bid to discourage the spread of hate speech and misinformation, have begun to rely more on automated filtering tools. However, these tools have been described as exceptionally prone to false positives. This means that automated tools incorrectly tag content as violence or misinformation when it may not be. Thus, automated content moderation developed by technology companies may not be very proficient, thereby unfairly restricting free speech.
Another challenge to digital rights today is an increase in the use of facial recognition and other mass surveillance systems to monitor people. This constitutes a breach of privacy as well as dignity. Facial recognition systems themselves have been observed to often inaccurately identify black people leading to wrongful incarceration and arrests. These systems create a chilling environment for democratic freedoms and prevent people from exercising their digital rights online and often criminalising these very rights.
The inability of many people today to access the internet via mobile devices or computers also constitutes a deterrent to the full realization of digital rights. This issue is contributed to by infrastructural, economical as well as cultural factors.
Image of woman in orange tshirt, kitenge wrapper and purple hijab smiling while looking at something on her smart phone. She is at the market. Image Credits: Neema Iyer
For many women, the advent of technology such as the internet is a new avenue and opportunity to engage in discourse and to advocate for their needs. Technological advances offer huge platforms without (m)any of the socio-cultural restrictions constructed against women as well as numerous opportunities to challenge them. As the rise of digital activism reveals, the internet makes consciousness-raising for important issues that particularly impact women easier to accomplish. Women use these spaces to express their individuality and creativity, to grow their careers and businesses as well as keep in touch and form new connections.
Technology innovations offer various solutions to women and assist them in carrying out day-to-day tasks. The application of technology to many sectors and industries has created many helpful portmanteaus such as fintech, healthtech, retailtech, edtech, agritech solutions which help many women around the world today accomplish tasks more efficiently.