Participants at International Conference Issue Declaration to Advance Women’s Right of Access to Information

Mary Ann Peters, CEO, Carter Center
Mary Ann Peters, CEO, Carter Center

Participants at The Carter Center international conference on women and the right of access to information; held under the theme “Inform Women, Transform Lives” on February 14 and 15, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia, in the United States have formally issued a Declaration to advance women’s right of access to information around the world.

100 participants from 30 countries including representatives from governments, multi-stakeholder initiatives, information commissions and independent oversight bodies, gender, transparency, accountability and access to information civil society organizations, international institutions, donor agencies and foundations, private sector companies, media, scholars and practitioners were at the conference.

The participants met in plenary, where leading voices from the gender, human rights, transparency, and access to information communities, had in-depth discussions and engaged in five working groups which included International conventions and instruments: opportunities for integrating access to information for women; Intergovernmental and international non-governmental organizations: promoting transparency and access to information for women; National laws and institutional framework: possibilities for inclusion, revision, and reform; National enabling environment: considering cultural influences and leveraging partnerships; and Opportunities for demonstrative values and engaging new frontiers: research, data and ICTs.

The participants deliberated on different international instruments that supported the inclusion of women’s right to access to information, which include Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 19 of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, Article 13 of the American Convention on Human Rights, and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights which provides for a right for all persons to “seek, receive and impart information,” and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights that establishes a similar right to “receive and impart information”.

In addition, the participants also acknowledged that although there have been great advances in the right of access to information over the past two decades, significant challenges have to be overcome to ensure a meaningful right to information by all people, particularly women and marginalized populations.

They also noted that women are often excluded from the flow of information, both essential and strategic information, and are unable to exercise the fundamental right of access to information with the same frequency, ease, and rate of success as men, thus limiting their ability to enjoy the benefits that the right of access to information may provide.

Considering all the justifications above, the participants concluded among other things, that the right of women to access information is essential to their economic empowerment, participation in public life, and the promotion and protection of their human rights; women need a wide scope of transformative information that can further women’s equality; women’s right to a full scope of public information should be made explicit in existing human rights instruments, such as the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and in the strategic planning and work of intergovernmental agencies and platforms; the Sustainable Development Goals provide an opportunity to demonstrate the value of access to information for women, and correspondingly, without information reaching women, the goals will not be achieved; the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a voluntary compact among 75 countries, offers an opening to advance women’s engagement and the right of access to information. The OGP should strive for increased women’s participation in the co-creation, implementation, and validation of national commitments. National Action Plans should include commitments that are gender-transformative.

The following recommendations were given by the participants at the end of the conference to correct the inequities facing women in the exercise of the right to information and the advancement of women worldwide.

• Creation of a coalition to articulate strategies and coordinate efforts to elevate access to information as a transformational right to advance gender equality, economic empowerment, and the promotion and protection of women’s rights. The coalition, which would be led by a high level advisory council, should include government leaders and public officials, groups from the women’s movement, the right to information and open government advocates, human rights activists, regional networks, National Human Rights Commissions, Information Commissioners, youth-led movements, media, telecommunication companies, the private sector, and others.

• Making the right of access to information for women explicit within international and regional human rights instruments and mechanisms, including: Drafting a specific General Recommendation on Women’s Right of Access to Information by the CEDAW Committee; developing or amending and promoting regional declarations and protocols for women’s right of access to information; compiling country and shadow reports on Women’s Right of Access to Information as part of periodic reporting to human rights bodies; preparing annual and special reports on women’s right of access to information by UN and Regional Special Rapporteurs, Working Groups, and Independent Experts.
• Engaging United Nation agencies, including UN Women, regional bodies, and existing platforms, such as the Sustainable Development Goals and Open Government Partnership, to ensure that women can access critical information to allow for meaningful participation in their processes and to focus on outcomes and commitments that empower women.
• Ensuring that access to information legal frameworks are gender-sensitive and implemented in ways that support women’s ability to fully exercise the right, including: Drafting or reviewing legal frameworks through a gender-sensitive lens; developing, identifying, and proactively disclosing information and data sets meaningful for women; placing information in spaces accessible to all women and through modes and means (language, formats, presentation, simplified language) that allow women to access and use the information, particularly marginalized women; employing solutions to overcome structural obstacles that hinder women’s exercise of the right; disaggregating information related to requesters by sex; engaging oversight bodies to promote women’s right of access to information and report on progress.

• Changing the dominant culture within institutions to make them gender responsive and within society to promote women’s right of access to information, including: Engaging elected, appointed, community, traditional, and religious leaders to be vocal champions of women’s right to information; training government officials to be gender sensitive and responsive; decentralizing information, using media, libraries, community members, and other accessible mediums; making people aware of women’s right to information; developing curriculum and using centers of education to teach about women’s right of access to information and to enhance women and girl’s confidence in requesting information.
• Commissioning research and culturally-rooted pilot projects on women’s information needs, structural obstacles that hinder access, the role that information plays in women’s increased political participation and leadership, best use of information and communication technologies to reach women with meaningful information, and the levers of change.
• Mitigating risks and backlash faced by women who exercise the right of access to information.
• Mobilizing resources to support programmatic initiatives to secure women’s right of access to information.