UN investigator: Gender equality in free speech is a long way off

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An independent U_N_ investigator warns that despite the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to brave Filipino journalist Maria Ressa, “gender equality in free speech remains a distant goal.”

UNITED NATIONS – An independent UN investigator warned on Monday that despite the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to brave Filipino journalist Maria Ressa, “gender equality in free speech remains a distant goal” .

Irene Khan, Special Investigator on the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Opinion and Expression, said that “women’s voices are stifled by laws, state policies as well as social customs, traditions and traditions. , the interpretation of religion and the growing fundamentalism in the world. it actually spurred the growth of misogyny and sexism as well.

Ressa, co-founder of the Rappler news site known for her critical reporting on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody drug crackdown, was convicted of computer defamation and faces other criminal charges. The Nobel committee also said Ressa and Rappler have “documented how social media is used to spread fake news, harass opponents and manipulate public discourse.”

Khan, the former head of Amnesty International and the first woman to hold the post in its 27-year history, said in a statement to the United Nations General Assembly’s human rights committee and briefing to journalists that governments must tackle the issue of gender stereotypes. more seriously.

“Women are doing wonderful things, but the pressure on the other side is very high,” she said.

She said gender censorship “is pervasive, online and offline”, with sexism and misogyny being the dominant factors that have been intensified “by the rise of populist, authoritarian and fundamentalist forces around the world.”

In a number of countries, Khan said, the online social behavior of young women and “gender non-conforming people” is closely monitored, censored and criminalized by governments “under the guise of protecting” public morals. “

“Such action is paternalistic at best, misogynistic at worst,” she said.

Khan also said that sexual and gender-based violence, hate speech and disinformation “are widely used online and offline to chill or kill women’s expression.” Women journalists, politicians, human rights defenders and feminist activists are often targeted, she said, in an attempt to drive them off platforms and public life.

“The effect is to undermine human rights and roll back media diversity and inclusive democracy,” she said.

Khan called for redoubled efforts to bridge the digital divide, saying nearly half of the world’s women do not have access to the internet.

“The same digital technology that leads to online violence against women is also the technology that allows them to organize, meet, chat on digital platforms in ways that their own societies – especially in traditional societies – don’t allow them to be done, ”she said. “So women must be empowered, and the path to empowerment is to respect freedom of expression. “

Khan called for making the digital space safe for women and urged countries to pass strong laws to ban gender-based violence online and investigate and prosecute cases.

But she said efforts to eradicate online gender-based violence, hate speech and disinformation “should not be used as a pretext by governments to restrict freedom of expression beyond what is permitted by international law “. She has strongly opposed the prohibition or criminalization of disinformation, saying it is often “counterproductive and misused to silence critics.”

There is now an online crisis, Khan said, “due to the failure of social media platforms to actually manage their business model with a human rights approach.”

She called on social media companies to review their business model, which she says encourages misinformation and disinformation, and embrace much greater transparency, including on the algorithms they use.

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