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Women and the Right of Access to Information

Access to information is a fundamental right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and critical for the exercise of basic socio-economic and political rights. More than 90 countries around the world claim a statutory right to information, yet in many of these countries, one-half of the population is limited in their full enjoyment of the right to information and the myriad benefits that it may provide. In the rare instances when requests for information are disaggregated by gender, statistics demonstrate that women do not access information at the same rate as men.

Often in our societies, it is the most vulnerable and marginalized populations who suffer the greatest due to limited access to information, and this is particularly true for women. As various tools are applied to address the web of adversities facing women — poverty, illiteracy, violence, and inadequate opportunities for quality participation — insufficient focus has been paid to the power that information can play in confronting these challenges. Though recent years have witnessed a plethora of research and programming related to voice, participation, and empowerment of women, access to information has been implied rather than explicitly identified as a core ingredient for success. Importantly, when focus is placed on women's ability to fully and effectively exercise their fundamental right to information, the considerable gender asymmetries become even more apparent. Continuing failure to engage in gender-sensitive policy making; entrenched traditional cultural mores; lack of engagement from women's civil society organizations; information-access and flows that actively exclude women; and long-standing obstacles such as illiteracy, overwhelming household responsibilities, and immobility all have played a role in creating gender asymmetries in the exercise of the right to information. Paradoxically, it is arguable that while women are the least likely to demand and receive access to information, they are perhaps the most in need of this potent tool.

Women often face the double burden of sustaining income generation while caring for their families. Increasingly, they are the key decision makers as the number of female-headed households has risen due to civil conflicts, and as men find work farther from home. As a result of limited economic and educational opportunities, women represent a disproportionate number of people living below the poverty line and two-thirds of the world's illiterate. With genuine access to information women can take advantage of opportunities to transform their lives, families, and communities.

In particular, access to information:

  • empowers women to make more effective decisions, for example with relation to education, crop production, land ownership, and health care;
  • enables women to understand and exercise their full range of rights;
  • helps women to participate more fully in public life;
  • is critical for holding government and service providers accountable;
  • bridges gender gaps and helps to shift power in decision-making processes; and
  • can link women with the needed resources for achieving economic empowerment.

The Carter Center's Global Access to Information (ATI) Program has developed programming to advance the effective exercise of the right of access to information for women in select countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and Asia, with the potential for including the Middle East and North Africa region.

The Global ATI Program's Women and the Right of Access to Information Project focuses on raising awareness of the value of access to information, identifying the main obstacles facing women in exercising their right through a multi-country research study, designing innovative solutions in collaboration with key stakeholders, supporting government in creatively assuring women's equitable access, and increasing women's capacity to use the right of access to information for the achievement of economic empowerment. Additionally, we will work with key international and regional organizations to raise awareness about gendered information asymmetries and the importance of explicitly including this right in international and regional agendas within the community of practice. Ultimately, through exercising their right to information, women will be able to more fully enjoy their socio-economic rights in meaningful and transformative ways.