RFSD 2024: Peer learning table on SDG 17

Elif Topkaya Sevinc, Türkiye Flying Broom Women’s Organization

14 Mar 2024, Geneva

Dear distinguished delegates,

My name is Elif Topkaya Sevinc. from Türkiye Flying Broom Women’s Organization and I am speaking here today on behalf of the Regional Civil Society Engagement Mechanism for the UNECE region.

Inaccessibility, digital divide, lack of transparency regarding data and ownership profoundly hinder civil society's capacity to participate in sustainable development. The majority of unconnected individuals are women, girls and people from marginalised groups, such as older people, people with disabilities and people with language barriers.

As we have seen during this forum, we are lacking data for MANY targets. And the data we do have, is lacking intersectional data disaggregation. There is a pressing need to enhance funding for SDG monitoring and implementation within our member countries, coupled with concerted efforts to elevate digital literacy and refine e-governance structures.

Digitalization offers CSOs opportunities to expand their impact but also presents threats like digital misuse, surveillance, cyberattacks, and exclusion. Some member states are using the opportunity of digital regulation to impose laws that threaten the fundamental right of association and restrict CSOs' online freedom and activities. These actions can significantly restrict CSOs' effectiveness and freedom. They also threaten democracy.

In the digital age, cybersecurity and digital rights are not ancillary concerns but are foundational to the development and regulation of digitalization. Technological advancements, particularly AI, are moving at a warp speed. Stereotypes, discrimination, racism, and misogyny ARE being entrenched in technology and leaving women, girls and people from marginalised groups behind, especially in developing countries, with a notable underrepresentation in STEM fields and AI.

Civil society recommends the following:

  • Increase regional cooperation and national research for funding and promoting equitable technology transfers between countries in our region and to the global south.
  • Fortify partnerships between governments, local and international entities, civil society organisations and trade unions across all strata to pool resources and expertise in addressing inclusivity and digital literacy.
  • Academia and civil society should play a critical role in data scrutiny and collection, underpinning the reinforcement of social dialogue and data disaggregation.
  • Democratise financing for technology and knowledge transfer and establish clear guidelines and frameworks that prevent the monopolisation of funding by government-affiliated NGOs. We advocate for an equitable distribution of resources, prioritising initiatives that demonstrate tangible impacts on inclusivity and digital literacy.
  • Incorporate principles of human rights, gender equality, and intersectionality into the conception, design, development, and regulation of digital technologies. This commitment should be reflected in national digital strategies and international cooperation efforts. Regulations MUST be built on input from consultations with people from marginalised communities.
  • Promote decolonization of internet governance and work towards fostering multilateral decision-making processes that include women and individuals from marginalised groups. Establish a Digital Rights Charter to ensure that digital freedoms are upheld and respected. Furthermore, legislation related to technology and internet governance including digital misinformation, should centre on human rights obligations to prevent misuse that could lead to the silencing or censorship of civil society, media, and citizens.
  • Decision-makers should restrict AI development until we have a policy in place to ensure human control. The current implementation of legislative efforts to tackle AI, such as the EU AI Act which was adopted yesterday, must prioritise human rights and safeguard against potential risks associated with unchecked technological progress, such as digital misinformation campaigns by anti-gender actors, climate deniers, and big pharma.
  • To tackle disinformation and uphold information integrity, we need a strong, free and independent media engaged in verification initiatives. This includes local journalism and journalism serving underrepresented and marginalised communities. Civil society in our region is already engaged with training the media on how harmful narratives affect public participation and democracy.
  • Education and life-long learning is pivotal for not leaving anyone behind and for strengthening society’s resilience against misinformation and disinformation.

By embracing these recommendations, we champion a future where digital transformation upholds the rights, and potential of every individual. Let us commit to these actions, fostering a world where technology serves as a bridge to a more equal and sustainable future for all.

Thank you.