Human Rights in the Digital Age

Now that you are starting the module on Corporate Responsibility, I wanted to share with you some thoughts about that particular space where business and human rights (a good proxy for sustainability) meet. When I see you with your tablets on your desks, I can think about the wonders of technology, information access and sharing, social networks, etc. But I can also see the threats that the digital era brings about. For instance, and this is in the news, governments are quick to utilise personal information or those very same networks to exert censorship or spread misinformation. ICT companies have been subjected to those demands from rogue regimes for quite some time and yet it is a fine line between complying with legal requirements and breaching basic human rights. It is a tough call. Most telecom companies hold huge amounts of personal information and act as gatekeepers to internet services. Every human being has the right to privacy and freedom of expression as part of his or hers Human Rights. These two factors are closely “connected” in certain situations like the political upheaval we are witnessing. Furthermore new products, services, functionalities are increasingly enabling easier surveillance from law enforcement agencies.

The digital age through the flurry of new products and services challenges established legal frameworks that fail to keep apace, it adds to the jurisdictional complexities as information flows are truly global and in real time and the lines between private and public are increasingly blurred. But don´t let all this spoil the experience!

If you want to know more about this interesting topic have a look at


Gender and Culture

I hear that one of the topics that raised some questions during the Development Perspectives classes has been “gender and culture”. A fascinating and complex topic that lends itself to a good discussion especially in a multicultural environment such as our IMSD classroom. I am no expert in the topic but wanted to share with you some thoughts.

As you know, addressing gender and sexual discrimination issues has been on the cards for a very long time, first on the political scene in the early 20th century, mostly in Western societies and slowly making its way into public policy and reaching OECD countries development aid agendas. There has been a significant increase in efforts and resources allocated to education, economic empowerment, reproductive health, HIV AIDS and others. OECD Official Development Assistance (ODA) for gender equality has tripled in 2006 compared with 2002, going up from US$2.5 billion to US$7.2 billion. This has meant an increase in the proportion of total ODA from 6 to 8 percent. From a point of view of international law, the key international agreement on women’s human rights is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which is also described as the international bill of women’s rights.

And yet, despite all these efforts, across the globe, women still confront violations of their human rights — they cannot participate in the decisions that affect their lives or claim fair political representation, they face discrimination in employment, they are denied entitlement to land and property, or they suffer violence within their own home. Other obstacles to rights arise when women and girls are prevented from going to school or attaining health care, or are subject to harmful traditional practices. For example according to UNIFEM , 80 percent of women workers are considered to be in vulnerable employment in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Cultural attitudes and practices seem to be an obstacle almost insurmountable in most places. No matter how tough legislation or comprehensive international agreements are, how much money is poured into programmes, men and women still do not share the same opportunities. Society and customary laws perpetuate male and female roles. The attributes of power, sexuality, attractiveness and subordination are transferred to individuals, from home to the fields, from school to the office. And this is very difficult to change as it is ingrained in individuals psyche. But also from a far more practical point of view, because moving towards gender equality means for some (usually men) giving up some of their power and privileges while empowering women so they can claim their condition of equal. In any case justifying discrimination because “tradition dictates” does not and cannot hold. No human being should be discriminated against on the basis of their gender. And besides, it is also in communities´ interest to do so. Numerous studies demonstrate that reducing the cycle of poverty depends on an educated, healthy, and productive citizenry that is able to provide for the next generation. On average, girls with higher levels of education are more likely to participate in the labour force, engage in paid employment, earn more for their families over their lifetimes, and have healthier children who stay in school longer. Girls receive a higher economic return on investment in education than boys, and there are especially high wage gains from secondary education for girls. The more we strive towards equal societies the sooner will see healthier societies and economies develop.