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Inform Women, Transform Lives

Access to information is a transformative human right.

Enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, access to information is foundational not just for the exercise of other rights, but also for economic empowerment and meaningful participation in public life.

And yet, a large portion of the world’s population is unable to enjoy this right. Carter Center studies have found that women are not able to access government information as easily as men, leaving them disadvantaged and disempowered.

Laura Neuman, director of the Carter Center’s Global Access to Information Program, speaks at the Center’s recent International Conference on Women and Access to Information.

Laura Neuman, director of the Carter Center’s Global Access to Information Program, speaks at the Center’s recent International Conference on Women and Access to Information. (Photo: The Carter Center)

Today, as we celebrate International Women’s Day and consider the progress that women have made, it is worth taking a closer look at this important issue.

Information denial is a potent form of abuse. Without information, women miss out on educational and business opportunities that are available to them and their children. They are excluded from decisions that affect their everyday lives. And they are unaware of their rights to land ownership, to be free from violence, and to refuse to pay phantom fees and corrupt fines.

In our studies, we learned that there are myriad reasons why women do not get the information they need. Many are afraid to ask or do not know how to exercise their right. Others don’t have the time or money necessary to travel to government offices to seek information. In many cultures, it is considered inappropriate for women to engage with public officials to obtain information.

And sometimes, government officials simply won’t provide information to a woman.

Several years ago, President Carter dedicated himself to combatting what he called the No. 1 human rights abuse in the world: the mistreatment of women. The Carter Center’s Global Access to Information Program has contributed to efforts to support women’s rights through projects in Liberia, Guatemala, and Bangladesh to help connect women with the information they need to transform their lives.

What we are doing is threefold: working with partners to create a more conducive legal and social environment for women to exercise the right to information, training government officials to be more gender-sensitive and to make more information available to women; and working with civil society partners and within communities to help women file – and follow up on – requests.

Last month, we did something that had never been done before: We brought together experts from around the world to discuss ways to advance the right of access to information for women globally.

Together, we produced the Atlanta Declaration to Advance the Right of Access to Information for Women, which calls on international and regional bodies to be more explicit about women’s right to information, for governments to ensure that national access to information laws and policies are equitable, and for all stakeholders to develop strategies to mitigate risks faced by women exercising their right to information.

The gender and information experts that gathered for the first International Conference on Women and Access to Information produced the Atlanta Declaration to Advance the Right of Access to Information for Women, which includes concrete recommendations for how to make it easier for women to get the information they need.

The gender and information experts that gathered for the first International Conference on Women and Access to Information produced the Atlanta Declaration to Advance the Right of Access to Information for Women, which includes concrete recommendations for how to make it easier for women to get the information they need. (Photo: The Carter Center)

Importantly, the declaration calls for the creation of a coalition to advance women’s right of access to transformative information.

We know information makes a difference for women. We have seen it.

In Guatemala, women filed an information request that led to every family in their village getting two laying hens to help feed their families and generate income.

In Liberia, a woman made an official inquiry about the lack of staffing at a local hospital notorious for untreated cases, which eventually resulted in more doctors and better healthcare for the entire community.

And in Bangladesh, women who attended courtyard meetings conducted by local partners later exercised their right to information to find out how to enroll in vocational training programs and access government benefits for their children.

We are more convinced than ever that now is the time for all of us to dedicate our efforts to guarantee an equitable right of access to information for all people. Together, we can help inform women and transform lives.

Laura Neuman is director of the Carter Center’s Global Access to Information Program.

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Posted in Bangladesh, Countries, Global Access to Information, Guatemala, Jimmy Carter, Liberia, Peace

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