Women and gender minorities face various risks and harms from the collection, use, and sharing of their data by different actors, such as governments, corporations, or hackers.
These may include identity theft, cyberstalking, online harassment, discrimination, or surveillance. Therefore, it is important for them to secure their privacy online and to be aware of their data rights and responsibilities.
This was disclosed during a webinar themed “Afro-feminist Perspectives on Data Governance” held on November 27, 2023, by KICTANet, CIPESA, and Internews.
The webinar aimed to help participants understand the gender biases that exist in data governance practices, the repercussions of data protection regimes that perpetuate misogyny and bias against women and gender minorities, and the concept of gender-responsive data protection and privacy.
The speakers, Ashnah Kalemera, Programme Manager at CIPESA, Cherie Oyier KICTANet’s Program Officer, Women’s Digital Rights and participants shared their experiences and insights on how to protect their online privacy and security, and what measures and policies are needed to ensure that their data rights are respected and protected.
Ms Oyier delivered a presentation on “Afro-Feminist Perspective on Data Governance”. She explained the importance of gender data governance and the need for disaggregating data based on gender and other factors, such as ethnicity, disability, or sexual orientation.
She argued that women and marginalized communities, such as LGBTQI+ people, face various forms of discrimination and oppression that are rooted in historical and cultural norms and practices, and that affect their access to and control over their data.
She gave examples of how privacy and financial data are affected by gender biases and stereotypes, and how this limits the opportunities and rights of women and other groups.
For instance, she said that women’s privacy is often attached to modesty and that women who share their data online may face body shaming, harassment, or blackmail. She also said that women’s financial data may reflect the stereotypes that women are subordinate to men and that women may face barriers to owning bank accounts or accessing credit.
She also pointed out the challenges of collecting and analyzing data in today’s world, where technology generates a lot of data but not necessarily in a disaggregated and inclusive way.
Limitations of data protection laws
On the limitations of data protection laws from a feminist perspective, Oyier identified some of the ways that data is collected and used by individuals, corporations, and governments, and how this can pose risks and challenges for privacy and security. She gave examples of how data protection laws exclude or ignore the personal or household activities of individuals, which can lead to abuse and harm to women and LGBTQI+ people in domestic settings or intimate relationships.
She said that data protection laws focus more on the commercial aspects of data and do not provide adequate remedies for breaches by individuals, such as body shaming, doxing, or blackmailing.
She further highlighted how the global trends and laws in other countries can affect the data rights and choices of women, such as the abortion laws in the US and how they can compel apps to provide data on women’s menstrual cycles. She said that this can infringe on women’s privacy and autonomy and that women should have the right to decide what data they want to share and with whom.
Data Justice in Africa
Ms. Kalemera in her presentation on “Advancing Data Justice in Africa” argued that data holds a lot of promise for enabling inclusive and sustainable development on the internet, but also poses a number of challenges, such as data protection and privacy concerns, poor quality and reliability of data, limited access and usability of data, data illiteracy, and limited capacity of society actors, innovators, academia, and other stakeholders to reuse and publish data.
She outlined the six pillars of data justice that CIPESA proposed in a collaborative project with the Alan Turing Institute and other partners. The six pillars are: Power, equity, access, participation, knowledge, and identity.
“Fairness in the way people are made visible and represented and treated in data is critical. Including at all the various levels or stages of the data lifecycle collection processing, storage, as well as decision making,” said Kalemera.
“Data justice puts forward the idea that there should be no discrimination or bias. In the data ecosystem no absence of redress mechanisms especially in cases of automated decision-making.”