AI to advance gender equality: Challenges and opportunities


This statement was delivered by Karla Velasco Ramos, the APC Women’s Rights Programme policy advocacy coordinator, at the interactive dialogue on the emerging issue of “artificial intelligence to advance gender equality” during the 68th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW68).

I represent the Association for Progressive Communications, a network of members from the global South who work at the intersection of human rights and digital rights. We were there, 30 years ago in Beijing, when the Platform of Action was launched, and where women from our network designed the technical infrastructure that was able to connect over 30,000 people that participated in the Conference. Back then, we dreamt together about how the internet could shape our lives in the future that was yet to come.

Today, almost 30 years later, we’re here speaking about AI, which has been recently advertised as the solution to many problems, including gender equality. In reality, women and girls keep facing the same structural and contextual problems they were facing 30 years ago. No matter how many technologies emerge, there’s a structural and systemic problem that needs to be addressed.

AI replicates and exacerbates the inequalities and oppressions of our world. Algorithms reflect the capitalist, patriarchal and colonial power dynamics. They are being designed by biased people using biased data sets that fail to represent the diversity of contexts and people, leading to sustaining discrimination and to silencing and invisibility of structurally oppressed groups.

Datafication, automation and algorithmic responses have a differentiated impact on women, girls and people of diverse genders and sexualities that is turning into online gender-based violence in the forms of hate speech and gendered disinformation, among others. AI impacts our privacy, security and freedom of expression. It has harmful implications for judicial systems, education, labour and public health. If it’s designed for surveillance and control purposes, it threatens the existence and work of feminist activists and women human rights defenders (WHRDs).

Mere mitigation or responsive measures are not enough. We need rights-based guarantees to prevent harm and ensure equity. We need a binding global code of ethics that prevents the deployment of AI systems for purposes that contravene international law and human rights obligations.

We need public consultations and risk assessments. Equality-by-design principles should be incorporated into the design, development, application and review of AI systems. Most importantly, women and girls, in all their diversity, must be involved in the creation, development, implementation and governance of AI systems and technology. Social, economic and gender justice must be placed at the centre when thinking of their design and development.

Accountability and transparency must be demanded from technology corporations who are building and selling AI to ensure that their development and deployment are rooted in existing international human rights frameworks and do not erode democracy, rights and labour standards.

We need the adoption of individual and collective bias mitigation tools, redress mechanisms and controls. AI and machine learning should be trained on thick data and not big data for diagnostics and analysis, rather than for prediction models and drawing deterministic correlations.

Finally, let’s imagine how to place AI systems in the commons, and to build, together and with shared governance, a digital realm for the well-being of people and the planet, based on the shared goals of a feminist internet where AI projects and tools can be assessed through values such as justice, dignity, intersectionality, agency, accountability, autonomy, non-binary identities, cooperation, decentralisation, consent, diversity, decoloniality, empathy and solidarity.

A decisive commitment by governments to developing gender-responsive digital policies at all levels and ensuring public financing is needed for AI to contribute to gender justice. We call on you to make it happen.

Thank you.

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