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Feminist Open Government

Published onDec 28, 2019
Feminist Open Government
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Highlights

  • Merely opening up data does not ensure inclusivity or accountability without addressing who the data represents and who has access to the data as well as who participates in data collection and design.

  • Feminist lens is essential as it engages with the politics of knowledge production, it examines power asymmetries and intersectional inequities embedded within open data initiatives.

  • Gender disaggregated data is important to advance Feminist Open Government.

  • It is important to increase participation by women and gender non-binary groups at every stage of data collection and use.


Introduction

Established in 2011, the Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a multilateral partnership that enables co-creation between different stakeholders to promote accountability and transparency to bring about stronger governance and citizen empowerment.1 Currently, the OGP initiative is comprised of representatives from 99 countries and several local governments2. By strengthening the democratic process and responding to citizen demands, OGP aims to improve the ability of citizens and governments to collaboratively improve the quality of public services3. With existing initiatives designed to open data and ensuring public availability, stakeholders and individual actors began to question the assumption that opening data guarantees inclusivity and opportunities to advance equality.

Recognising disparities among different groups when it comes to representation in data and access to data, OGP began to ask, “open government for whom4?” The OGP has revealed that as of September 2019, only 89 commitments by the members - which is as little as 2 percent - include focus on gender or women. Commitments focusing on sexual orientation and identity are even fewer.5

The OGP itself has also been critiqued for failing to bring women into its design and processes. A study by Open Data Labs Jakarta in Asia and West Africa reveals that the participation of women in the OGP process has been incidental, with there existing several barriers to greater participation.6 One of the key barriers has been the nature of the OGP process, which does not overtly support inclusion.7 The OGP has been particularly critiqued for failing to integrate an intersectional perspective across its planning with partners, including on gender-focus initiatives.8 There has thus been a push to tackle intersectional inequality along the axes of age, ethnicity, race, and religion, and co-design policies with them.9

To streamline efforts towards a gender focus, The Feminist Open Government Initiative (FOGO) emerged in 2017-2018. FOGO addresses the need for open data initiatives to be “responsive to the diverse and gendered needs of all citizens, and that implementation of such initiatives is gender sensitive.”10 It recognises that gender cuts across governance, as well as processes of implementation and change.11 Stemming from the OGP coalition, FOGO is supported by the International Development Research Centre, Results for Development, and the Canadian government12. FOGO’s work goes beyond merely ensuring the presence of gender commitments in National Action Plans for open data; it advocates for and applies a feminist lens to Open Government. In addition to addressing structural gender-based challenges in open data, a feminist framework allows FOGO to examine widespread power asymmetries and intersectional inequities embedded within open data initiatives13.

Opening up government data processes to include all citizens is the primary role of feminist open government. In their book Data Feminism, Catherine D'Ignazio and Lauren Klein argue that, critical discussions on open data could be greatly enriched by feminist approaches to research. Feminist scholars have a long history of engagement with the politics of knowledge production.14 In the case of open government data, participation and advocacy by diverse leaders can broaden the priorities and potential of open government policies to address issues that are experienced differently based on gender. Moreover, feminist policy appraoches can boost economic productivity, advance development goals, and hold governments accountable to a larger portion of their citizens15. In order to comply with feminist forms of knowledge creation, diverse actors must be included in data collection, dissemination, and reuse processes.

Gendered Representations of Data: Gender-Disaggregated Data

FOGO identifies gender-disaggregated data, among others, as a priority to advance a feminist open government agenda.16 Gender-disaggregated data can visibilise gendered realities and identify approaches to minimize inequities. Additionally, the mechanisms involved in collecting and disseminating data should be reflective of a process that takes gender data and gendered experiences into account.17 With these changes, policies and interventions can be better geared towards outcomes that advance gender equality efforts.18

However, merely having data on women and gender non-binary groups without their participation is amiss the goal of feminist open governance. It is imperative that women and gender non-binary groups have presence and influence in decision-making spaces. The OGP recognises this and suggest in their report that efforts should be made to address and rectify challenges that discourage women and gender non-binary groups from actively participating in determining open data governance structures.19 This involves learning about the structural challenges that women face and thereafter attempting to craft policies to ensure meaningful participation. The Women Deliver Global Conference 2019 is an example of a space that opened dialogue and learning opportunities in regards to health rights and well-being of girls and women.20 The conference brought together more than 8,000 activists, researchers, and policymakers from over 165 countries to fuel global and country-level action on the issue of gender equality.21 This conference was supported by Open Heroines at the 2019 OGP Summit, by providing travel grants for women attending for the first time, and organising sessions to amplify the voices of women from the different contexts and the global south.22

Efforts and Initiatives

The OGP itself has developed some initiatives that have a gender focus. It launched the ‘Break the Roles’ campaign to move beyond traditional roles held by women in societies, and bring more women into open government.23

In Afghanistan, the OGP is working with the government and civil society to expand the coverage of courts focusing on cases of violence against women - taking the coverage of such courts to 80 percent.24

In a report by the FOGO and Open Data for Development Network (OD4D), a variety of feminist open government case studies from the global south were examined25.

The case studies examined in Asia feature initiatives from Indonesia and the Philippines - 2 of the 8 original country members of the OGP. On the surface, both countries have taken steps towards encouraging women to participate. Indonesia and the Philippines rank 10th and 84th, respectively, in how successfully they are closing the gender gap in terms of education and political empowerment26. Despite this disparity, efforts by both Indonesia and the Phillipines amount to lacklustre feminist initaitives. While legal provisions that require participation by women exist in both countries, representatives or advocates for women’s issues are not included in any steering or governing bodies27. Furthermore, the limited number of women’s organizations consulted by government bodies were not made aware of OGP processes, nor were the issues they raised entirely addressed by national action plans - women’s organizations were treated tokenistically28.

Based on the fact that women constitute half of the world's population, are more likely to use public services, and comprise a large portion of public sector employees, the Hewlett Foundation supports organizations that invest in understanding, representing, and creating policies that addresses and amplifies the particularities of women and girls29.

In a separate report by the World Wide Web Foundation on open feminist data in Sub-Saharan African countries, Open Data Barometer statistics show that 373 out of 375 datasets are closed.30 However, 79 countries globally, including ten countries from Africa, are Open Government Partnership members.31 This presents promising opportunities to diminish the lack of openness in governments. The commitments made by the 10 African countries in their National Action Plans rarely take gender into account. Contrary to this trend, Cote d’Ivoire has committed to advancing participatory budgeting. Under this commitment, participatory budgeting involves ensuring local authorities can implement gender planning in their open budget efforts32.

Evidently, conceptual commitments to feminist open government are not actualising in practice. To counteract this, FOGO and OD4D recommend providing guidance and resources to women’s organization to fully engage and participate in the process, encourage participation from all minority groups, and ensure that the benefits of participating in open government processes are materialised33.

Barriers to Implementing Open Data

Increased participation by women’s groups is a widely accepted solution to move feminist open government forward.

While international discussions on feminist open government tend to feature women’s voices and gendered considerations, several projects continue to rely solely on toolkits, separate gender commitments, and remain severely underfunded34. Often, toolkits are built on the premise that if open data exists, citizens will be inclined to use it; gendered differences are not incorporated into the design process. Moreover, focusing on separate gender initiatives decontextualises the significance of feminist approaches and reduces feminist issues to meeting certain targets or metrics. Lastly, of the few gender initiatives that do exist, many struggle with implementation because advocacy groups rely on limited resources and governments are usually unwilling to provide support.

The Hewlett Foundation proposes that these challenges can be mitigated by ensuring that women and marginalized communities are co-creators at all stages of the open data process. Furthermore, they argue that donors have a responsibility to seek out and support organizations that adopt a feminist lens to advance this goal35

Challenges Faced by Women and Non-Binary Persons in Open Data

The presence of openness in governance does not guarantee its inclusiveness, potential to empower, or to provide equal opportunity.36 The extent of one’s participation in open government varies greatly based on gender. The barriers experienced by women significantly limit their participation, leading them to benefit less than men from open government processes and spaces.37

Highlighting the challenges faced by women and non-binary folks who work and operate in the open government space, Open Heroines, a platform for the voices of women in open data and technology, wrote an article presenting diverse anecdotes and experiences38. Many stories drew attention to the pay gap between men and women, the lack of credibility they are afforded, and that their qualifications and opinions are underestimated in comparison to the “expertise” of their male colleagues39.

In addition to spaces being limited, women are often excluded from opportunities that would equip them with a variety of technical skills necessary to engage with and use open data. Moreover, those involved in data collection processes are unaware of contextual factors that play a big role in identifying data patterns and trends. 40 If contextual data is collected, it needs to also be readily accessible by women who need it and can use this information to their benefit.41

Conclusion

This entry aims to convey the significance of feminist open government and the ways in which it can and should be integrated into all open government initiatives. A feminist lens allows for the visibilisation of groups that are commonly excluded in data representation and policy design. Gender and intersectional diversity bring different approaches, views, and methods on the table which can positively impact how open government processes are implemented and who benefits from them.

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