Working in the open is important to me as an Open Government Advisor for the Government of Canada. Beyond my work to share Open Science progress, I also want to share with Canadians my experience on a theme that that is all about sharing: women lack access to information.
Canada’s Open Government cares about women
On a daily basis, my work shows me the value of information. I get why Canadians want government material – whether data, information, or dialogue. But the fact is, that women, both here and in other countries, get their hands on less information than men. This means the Open Government team has an opportunity to change this. And this reality is why I was keen to participate in a conference organized by the Carter Center last month called ‘Women and the Right to Access Information’.
Before sharing what I learned, Canadians should know that women are at the heart of Canada’s actions in the Open Government Partnership (OGP), the leading multilateral initiative that frames what we do. As Canada moves into the role of OGP government co-chair, we are trying to create better results for women.
The conference: from words to action at the Carter Center
The Carter Center conference was outstanding, and brought together professionals in gender, access to information in both the public sector and civil society. Speakers included the first woman president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Chair of the Women Political Leaders Global Forum Executive Board, Hanna Birna Kristjánsdóttir, Laura Neuman, Director of the Global Access to Information Program at the Carter Center, and former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter.
The first woman Prime Minister of Senegal, Dr. Aminata Touré offered a gem of wisdom when she encouraged us to focus on ensuring women have access to the information that can help us achieve gender equality. As she spoke, I thought of how different types of information could impact women. Knowing the location of the nearest market is one thing. Knowing the types, prices and quantities of plants your closest community members tend to purchase at the local market offers even greater possibilities.
With this example alone, I immediately saw how this second type of information could improve how a woman manages her garden. Or help provide food for her family. Or help the community at large. It could even help her earn a better living when she sells in-demand foods at the best price and scale. It’s possible to think of many other ways that having information could drastically change her life.
The focus on information for gender equality also set the stage for the working group I co-facilitated on Information and Community Technologies (ICTs), research and data with Nathaniel Heller, Canada’s civil society co-chair of the OGP in 2018-19. We drew on the diversity and devotion of participants to look at the obstacles women face in accessing information: poor technology, heavy workloads, fear of reprisal, and more. From there, we set to building solutions. One of our recommendations was to establish local gathering places where women could benefit from people to help them use information, which would be presented in artistic ways that worked with the local culture. Our group also saw the need for more research in areas where we still lack a clear picture of what stands between women and information.
There’s more to come
In the final plenary, I noticed that even though the groups brought a wide variety of observations, everybody agreed that making sure women can reach, use, and benefit from information is a pressing issue for the world. Not only do women stand to gain equality, but positive outcomes will be felt by others, too.
In response to presentations from the working group facilitators, President Carter encouraged conference participants to stay on site after he left so that we could transform our recommendations into a draft declaration. And we did.
This declaration we drafted to help women will be signed by President Carter and shared with heads of state, as well as participant networks. So you’ll be able to read it soon.
Back in Canada, over 65 participants gathered on International Women’s Day for a frank talk about how Open Government can better serve women. During this engagement session on Feminist Open Government, we touched on many topics, including women’s access to information. This valuable input will help shape Canada’s 4th Action Plan on Open Government and will inform follow-up to the Carter Center declaration.
Celebrating the future role of women in open information
I would love to hear comments on this blog about how Open Government can link women with high-quality information. You can also visit this webpage to find ways to share your thoughts about how Canada’s next Action Plan on Open Government can improve women’s access to valuable information, and more.
Portia Taylor is an Advisor in Open Government with the Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada. Her focus areas include: Open Science, national research data management for Open Data, and feminist Open Government for diverse participation.
Portia’s professional background has centered on health, international development, foreign affairs, and environment. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in sociology and environmental studies from Mcgill University (1998) and a Master of Environmental Studies from York University (2000).