SUPERRR Lab at the UN

This is a shortened version of SUPERRR Lab’s contribution to the expert panel at the Commission of the Status of Women (CSW) 67. The CSW is a commission of the Economic and Social Council of the UN and has been taking place annually since 1946. This year’s priority theme was “Innovation and technological change, and education in the digital age for achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls”, making this the first ever CSW to be dedicated to digital topics. Apart from nation states representatives, civil society organisations from around the globe flock to the UN headquarters in New York to weigh in on the discussion.

The CSW does usually not create binding policy but publishes agreed conclusions that outline intended steps and recommendations for the member states to put into action. In light of a global conservative backlash, the main focus understandably lay on defending agreed language and trying to push for adoption of intersectional approaches. The technical debate therefore was not very detailed overall.

SUPERRR Lab had the honour to take part in the only interactive expert panel that was part of the official programme, speaking to the question of how we can foster gender-responsive technology design, development and deployment. We tried to address topics that we believe were not receiving enough attention during the debates at CSW67. This is our slightly edited written statement; a recording of the oral statement can be found here.

Our contribution to CSW67: Gender-responsive technology design, development and deployment

When talking about technology and the equality of all genders, it is a common trend to focus on the issues that arise where human users and digital applications meet: on the big platforms or when using digital applications and services, where disinformation and hate speech take place and where discrimination through tech becomes visible. However, fundamental decisions about the fairness, accessibility, and feasibility of these applications are already decided on other levels of the technical stack, in the development process of technology, and when regulating it. If we want gender-responsive technology, we need to address the inner workings of digital technology and what needs to change in creating, deploying, and assessing it.

Digital education in coding, digital design, data science, and other IT-related fields of work should be accessible and suitable for all genders equally. But professional education can only be a starting point for affirmative action, and it needs change in other fields to fulfil its potential. If we want gender-responsive technology, we need a gendered view on every step that leads to technology being created, deployed, and regulated.

Bridging the gap between online and offline when addressing gender inequality

Women and gender non-conforming people are disproportionately affected by censorship and online gender-based violence. People with intersecting marginalized identities are especially at risk of facing attacks. [1] They are also more often subject to disinformation campaigns online, [2] attacking their reputation and, as a result, deterring them from being active in the public sphere.

When challenges like these arise through digital technologies, the first mitigating responses often focus on deploying technical solutions. However, these problems are rooted outside the digital sphere. While digital technology acts as an accelerator and multiplier, its cause lies offline in social inequalities. Technical solutions to complex social problems can only address the symptoms but won’t eradicate the cause of hate, disinformation, discrimination, or abuse. [3]

Just as online hate can turn into offline violence, we need to develop and strengthen structures of support that span both the offline and the online world and understand how to act in both realms. Women-led civil society organizations [4] worldwide have developed powerful, trauma-informed, survivor-centred strategies to combat tech-facilitated gender-based violence in its various forms. These strategies comprise legal aid, psychological support, and technical consultation, bridging the gap between online and offline.

The call for technical solutions to social problems does not only fail to provide the help that survivors need, and to eradicate the root causes for gender-based violence online. It also opens the door for function creep when technical solutions that serve a specific purpose are later used in other contexts, without proper assessment, approval, and oversight. [5] Calling for more data retention, online surveillance, tracking, and undermining anonymity online will weaken the safety and security of all people. In a world where women, gender non-conforming people, and especially people with intersecting marginalized identities are already at risk, they will also be the first to be harmed by these consequences. Function creep has recently been addressed by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who urgently calls for a public debate on the boundaries of these kinds of tech-facilitated surveillance. [6]

Because function creep has become a severe problem, civil society organizations have called on governments to refrain from requiring these technical, high-impact interventions when regulating online content and online participation. [7]

If we want to design and deploy the right, proportionate and feasible responses to tech-facilitated gender-based violence, our focus should lie on understanding and addressing its root causes while avoiding techno-solutionism. Only tailored responses bridging the online and offline gap will provide meaningful change.

Understanding diverse needs: Gendered assessment on the impact of digital technology

Worldwide data provide substantial evidence that the impact of digital technology in different contexts is highly gendered. [8] [9]

Many assessments of this gendered impact remain descriptive. While data shows that women and gender-nonconforming people lack access [10] and education and face more surveillance and intimidation online, the factors contributing to these disadvantages are more detailed and complex to be analysed only by gender. Class, race, disability, age, geographic location, and gender identity all result in particular needs that women and gender-nonconforming people have and that digital technology has to fulfill to be usable for all. Even less progress is made when it comes to not only assessing the digital gap but implementing the necessary gender-responsive policies. [11]

Digital technology that fails to serve all genders equally contributes to the ongoing underserving of women and gender-nonconforming people. This impact is even more dramatic if it is present in digital public digital services meant to provide essential support for citizens. To better understand this complex challenge, there is a need for more granular research to lay open the factors that contribute to these contributing factors in specific contexts and to understand their effects in all dimensions. [12]

Gender-disaggregated data (or Sex, Age, and Disability Disaggregated Data, SADDD) can serve as one way to shed light on this complex problem, as it already does in other fields, such as disaster response, [13] gender budgeting (as recommended by [14]), and more. However, collecting high-resolution, gendered datasets is also a potential risk when these data can be used to further discriminate or de-anonymise individuals at risk. The OECD toolkit for mainstreaming and implementing gender equality [15] provides starting points on how to work responsibly with gender-disaggregated data. In addition, gender-disaggregated data should only be collected with the highest data protection standards and never without consultation of the concerned groups.

Only with these data IT services, whether run by companies or public administration, can develop digital solutions tailored to specific contexts and diverse needs. There is a need for more research on how to collect and assess gender-disaggregated data and for capacity-building in gender expertise across all sectors if gender-responsive design of technology and digital policy is to become the norm.

Building the infrastructure we need

Fundamental decisions about digital technology safety and security occur at the infrastructure level. These are discussed at standards organizations and governance groups such as the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), and others. In recent years, these bodies started to pay more attention to who participates and who does not. Overall, women (and gender-nonconforming people, as far as this data is collected) are underrepresented in these bodies: Attendance of the IETF, while being theoretically open for participation for all, is at 9.45 %, [16] which is low even if compared to the globally low number of women in IT professions. At ICANN, women make up 27% of the attendants. [17] Despite the high and widespread impact of decisions made in these organizations, gender rights and gender topics are not present.

This starkly contrasts with the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), which with 43% has by far the highest quota of women attending. [18] Unsurprisingly, gender equality and gender topics arise regularly at IGF. [19] However, the IGF is mainly a place for discussion; it does not create binding policy. Support structures for experts on gender equality as well as for young women computer scientists and engineers are needed if their expertise is to be heard more frequently in these bodies, especially in those that create binding policy. Initiatives such as the Human Rights Protocol Considerations Research Group work on assessing whether technical standards and protocols enable, strengthen, or threaten human rights. Their work can serve as a blueprint for how we might mainstream impact assessments into the standard writing process.

These steps are a prerequisite if we want to enable women and girls to not just create applications on top of a technical stack that does not preserve their fundamental rights but to become architects of the systems they need, want, and deserve.


While there are many underlying challenges we face when striving to make technology more adequate to all genders, there are few core misconceptions about technology and gender. When striving to improve the digital world for women and gender-nonconforming people, they need to be taken into account:

  • Technical solutions to social and gender-based challenges, while popular, often fail to deliver.
  • The diverse needs of people with intersecting identities are not well understood or considered.
  • Decisions on whether technology enables, strengthens or weakens fundamental rights also need to be addressed on a deeper technical layer.


[1] United Nations, General Assembly, Promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression: Note by the Secretary-General, A/76/258 (30 July 2021), available from

[2] United Nations, Human Rights Council, Disinformation and freedom of opinion and expression: Report of the Special Rapporteur, A/HRC/47/25 (13 April 2021), available from

[3] SUPERRR Lab, Concept for a Feminist Digital Policy (2022). Available from

[4] e.g. Chayn or End Cyber Abuse

[5] Privacy International’s submission to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ report on the practical application of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights to the activities of technology companies (23 February 2022), available from

[6] United Nations, Human Rights Council, The right to privacy in the digital age: Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, A/HRC/51/17 (4 August 2022), available from

[7] e.g. Protect the Stack, available from

[8] Alina Sorgner, The impact of new digital technologies on gender equality in developing countries. Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development Working Paper Series WP 20/2019, available from here.

[9] As of 2020, men globally were 21% more likely to be online: OECD, Bridging the Digital Gender Divide (2018). Available from

[10] Carlos Iglesias, Web Foundation, The gender gap in internet access: using a women-centred method (10 March 2020). Available from

[11] Web Foundation, REACT with Gender-Responsive ICT Policy (2017). Available from

[12] e.g. on the context of online abuse: Anri van der Spuy and Namita, Mapping gaps in research in gender and information society (10 September 2017). Available from

[13] UN Women WRD Knowledge Hub, Six-step guide to gender and age inequality informed data: Missing Voices (August 2021). Available from

[14] Ronnie Downes, Lisa von Trapp and Scherie Nicol, Gender budgeting in OECD countries. OECD Journal on Budgeting Volume 2016/3, available from

[15] OECD, Toolkit for Mainstreaming and Implementing Gender Equality, Gender-disaggregated data and information is available and used to inform gender analysis. Available from

[16]  IETF Administration LLC, IETF Community Survey (13 August 2021). Available from

[17] ICANN, ICANN64 By the Numbers. Available from [here](

[18] IGF 2022 Participation and Programme Statistics. Available from

[19] Sachini Perera, White paper on feminist internet research. (2022) Available from