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As we navigate the evolving digital landscape around the world, it is ever more crucial to ensure that the rights and choices of all people, particularly women in all their diversity, are protected, expanded, and updated. The United Nation’s Global Digital Compact (GDC) and Pact for the Future represent a critical moment in time at which a shared vision for a safe, non-discriminatory and non-biased digital world can be created. It is essential that women’s voices be at the centre of the discussions and decision-making to ensure that the final GDC reflects women’s diverse needs and ideas, and increases their economic potential. APC participated in this year’s meeting of the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women (CSW68) with the objective of promoting this vision.

Along with the United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA), UN Women, the Alliance for Universal Digital Rights (AUDRi), Equality Now, Pollicy, Derechos Digitales, Digital Rights Foundation (DRF), Women at the Table, and the World Wide Web Foundation, APC co-organised the event, “Women’s Rights and Choices In A Digital World: Why We Need A Feminist Global Digital Compact”, to provide a space for dialogue, collaboration, and advocacy on the pressing issues surrounding women’s rights in the digital sphere, specifically on the impact that the GDC will have on the rights and lives of women in all their diversity.

The importance of this event lies in how it offered a space to effectively advance action by discussing how to integrate strategies to include women’s and girls’ voices directly into the GDC and into states’ agendas. By mobilising collective action, stakeholders aim to drive meaningful change and ensure that gender equality remains at the forefront of digital policymaking.

Held in person in New York on 15 March 2024, the event consisted of two sessions, one for civil society organisations (CSOs) and the other for member states’ representatives. The CSO session, held in the morning, fostered dynamic discussions on embedding feminist principles into the GDC. The government representatives’ session, held in the afternoon, took place as a moderated conversation to discuss states’ commitments to gender-inclusive digital policies. As the discussions concluded, participants expressed their commitment to continued collaboration and advocacy, emphasising the common thread in both sessions: collaboration and commitment are, and will continue to be, the key to a successful digital global governance that serves as a force for gender equality and social justice.

What did we learn?

There is a general alignment regarding the priorities for gender in the GDC, and absolute agreement on urgency as an imperative to work around these issues, as well as on the importance of that work being carried out continuously and collaboratively.

On the one hand, the CSO session participants, comprising representatives from women’s rights organisations, digital rights advocates and other experts brainstormed concerns and experiences that raise the priority of ensuring that the GDC reflects the diverse needs and perspectives of women worldwide. Focal points for advocacy efforts and for policy design included intersectional feminism, combating technology-facilitated, gender-based violence (TFGBV), the critical role of women in shaping the digital agenda, and the need to foster women’s economic empowerment.

On the other hand, yet similarly, interventions from participants in the government representatives’ session emphasised the urgency of addressing issues such as algorithmic bias and data privacy concerns. Participants in both sessions underscored the importance of mainstreaming gender equality in the GDC and ensuring its effective implementation at the national level, as well as the need for inclusive and equitable digital governance frameworks.

The “Women’s Rights and Choices In A Digital World” event was a clear display of how cross-sector dialogue and multilevel strategies are promising catalysts to advance gender-inclusive digital policies and practices. Despite the potential of technologies to bridge gaps, social inequalities are replicated in the digital realm for groups and individuals that have been historically and structurally marginalised and which now face compounded vulnerabilities.

At both sessions of the event, it became increasingly evident that we need to think ahead and work together to uphold the rights and choices of women, ensuring that they are both active participants and full beneficiaries of technological advancements. Participants’ interventions pointed recurrently to the same conclusion: that failure to actively address gender issues and commit to their solution will lead to perpetuating and aggravating gender gaps and harmful impacts on women, girls, and people of diverse genders and sexualities.

In the aftermath of this event, plans are underway to develop an advocacy plan and to host work sessions to further the insights garnered from the event, including meetings in April 2024 to provide feedback to the recently launched GDC Zero Draft.

We wish to acknowledge and thank the collaboration of our co-organisers and participants in making this a productive and successful event.