With its digital strategy for 2022, the German government aims to address perspectives and approaches to feminist digital politics. Senior Expert Dr. Ellen Ehmke explains why this new approach is important and what steps need to be taken now.
Dr. Ellen Ehmke: In today’s world, digital politics should always also be societal politics. Because it deals with central, inevitable questions of social coexistence: for example, who receives what kind of access to public administrative services. Feminist politics – such as in foreign, developmental, or digital policy – focuses on previously disadvantaged groups and develops political concepts that take their interests into account. In doing so, it also takes on a perspective that is critical of power, because it recognizes that “the person” around whom – according to the government – digitalization is centered does not exist. This is evident from the fact that digitalization currently does not benefit all people equally. Some people do not have access to fast Internet connections – or they can’t even afford an Internet connection. Others struggle with software solutions that are not designed to be accessible to the disabled.
Hate speech and other forms of digital violence affect certain people or groups of people more often than others. Thus, for example, a person who lives in a rural area and also has a disability is automatically subject to multiple disadvantages. That’s why it is so important to ask which digital services have been developed in whose interests, who is excluded from these services, and for whom they are even harmful. It is these very questions that feminist digital politics asks.
Together with other researchers, practitioners, and activists, our partners at Superrr Lab have done some preliminary work and developed the Feminist Tech Principles. Now these need to be tried out in practice. One of the principles is “sustain, maintain and share.” It stipulates that the environmental cost of technology should already be taken into account at the development stage. As a society, do we really need this development? Or do the costs outweigh the benefits over the long term? Who profits from this technology, and who foots the bill? Another principle is “accessibility, equitable participation and representation.” This states that policies for disadvantaged groups need to be designed with these groups, not just for them.
“The goal is a good one, but the question of how it will be implemented remains open in this strategy. “
Here, in particular, there are large gaps in the digital strategy. Because even though the document calls for the inclusion of disadvantaged groups, participation and inclusion are not the standards by which the government itself wants to be measured. In the government strategy, “feminist digital politics” is not actually linked to any special measures; nor, therefore, is it linked to any indicators of success. The government simply wants to address “new perspectives and approaches such as feminist digital politics.” The goal is a good one, but the question of how it will be implemented remains open in this strategy.
It is essential that in every area of digital policy, we pose questions that are critical of power structures. And there is still a wide range of fields in which this has not happened yet. When I look through my “inequality glasses,” this applies, for example, to the proposed law against digital violence. On the Internet, it is primarily women and members of other vulnerable groups who are affected by this. For us and our partners CHAYN and End Cyber Abuse, digital violence also includes the gigantic dark area of digital surveillance and violence in the private sphere. This also includes cyberstalking: for example, when a man spies on a woman via her cell phone and stalks her. But this form of digital violence is not mentioned once in the digital strategy.
In accordance with feminist digital politics, the German government would need to let itself be judged on whether it also takes cyberstalking into account in its planned legislation and on whether it does justice to the principle of self-representation – “nothing about us, without us.” Accordingly, it needs to involve civil society – and especially groups that are subject to discrimination or violence through technological developments – in the legislative process. And don’t forget: feminist politics is not politics for fringe groups. It is an approach that benefits society as a whole, because feminist politics is not oriented toward the strongest members; rather, it truly creates conditions in which everyone is able to flourish.