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As we prepare to celebrate the International Day of Universal Access to Information on 28 September, we are reminded that there remain many in our world that are excluded from the benefits that information provides. This is a particular problem for women.
Photo Courtesy of Soyia Ellingson, The Carter Center
In April 2022, I had the opportunity to meet this amazing young woman in Guatemala City: she told me that after a lifetime of violence and abuse, she had stopped speaking. She did not know where to turn for help and was feeling depressed and desperate. One day, however, she received information about the city-run women’s centres and the services they provide. She visited one nearby and received free psychiatric care and legal services; these were public benefits that she had no idea existed. With the support from these municipal services, she now speaks eloquently about her past abuse and about her hopes to one day become a lawyer.
Access to information is a fundamental human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is critical for both governments and the people they serve.
The information that she and many other women received was part of the Carter Center’s Inform Women, Transform Lives campaign. Including 24 global cities across 5 continents, it aims to catalyze local governments to provide women with information on essential municipal services. Access to information is a fundamental human right enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is critical for both governments and the people they serve. A free flow of public information can increase public confidence and trust in government; make public administration more efficient and effective; improve decision-making; increase participation; and help people benefit from the many public services that their local governments provide.
Read more: The Headwinds and Tailwinds of Women’s Advancement by Laura Liswood, Secretary General, Council of Women World Leaders
The Inform Women, Transform Lives campaign emanated from the recognition that while women may be the most in need of information, they often are excluded from its benefits. The double burden of caring for the household and generating income (leaving little time or space to seek information), illiteracy, cultural norms that inhibit women from asking, and fear are all obstacles that leave women unable to harness the power that information provides. To shift this paradigm, women must be aware of their right to information and its value—and, arguably, there is nowhere more important to advance women’s right of access to information than in cities. Cities are where most of the world’s population now lives, and where localized information is the most relevant.
By being intentional about assuring women receive information about critical services, municipalities are seeing real and transformative changes.
As part of the campaign, the cities implement creative programming and communications to assure that women are more aware of their right to information, and so are better served by the municipality. Each one selects the service that it will target, focusing particularly on underutilized services for which information is a bridge, and highlights entry points for services such as a website, hotline, or mobile app. They serve as a one-stop shop for women to find information on a myriad of programs, such as access to health services, counseling, economic empowerment, support for survivors of gender-based violence etc.
By being intentional about assuring women receive information about critical services, the municipalities are seeing real and transformative changes. For example, in Sao Paulo, Brazil the city focused on raising awareness about violence against women and informing women about the city’s five Women’s Citizenship Centers, which provide services for survivors of gender-based violence. The city utilized a variety of communications methods, such as graffiti art, massive video projections, social media posts, traditional media, workshops, and free online courses to highlight the services. Based on the city’s estimates, there was an 86% increase in the number of women coming to their Center’s for assistance, compared to the same period before the campaign.
Photo Courtesy of Youth Network for Positive Change
While working on the supply side of information is critical, demand must also play a role. For that reason, the city efforts are complemented by local organizations, many of which are youth-led. For example, in Monrovia, Liberia the city corporation focused its campaign on increasing women’s understanding and use of waste management services. In parallel, the Monrovia-based Youth Network for Positive Change received a small grant to support women in three of the most disadvantaged communities to understand how to properly dispose of waste, the services that the city provides and how to make a complaint. Their youth members met with women in the marketplaces to share information and the opportunities it provides, resulting in market-women starting their own community-based enterprise to collect trash in their communities, resulting in a better and healthier environment and increased economic empowerment. Over the course of two weekends, more than 1,000 community members participated in clean-up exercises, leading to more than five tons of waste being collected.
In a world in which mis- and disinformation thrives, it is essential that access to accurate and timely public information is promoted.
Engaging young people has proven a valuable ingredient to success. As women continue to experience low digital literacy or limited access to internet and social media, we have seen youth within the communities serve as their channel for information. Moreover, young people—with their energy and commitment to reforming society for the better—can be a catalyst for cultural change, creating a more enabling environment for women’s right to information. And when women need support to seek information and services, we have seen youth organizations and individuals accompany them on their path towards knowledge.
In a world in which mis- and disinformation thrives, it is essential that access to accurate and timely public information is promoted. As we celebrate International Day for Universal Access to Information, we must dedicate ourselves to assuring that this right is in fact “universal.” For the right to information to become a reality for the nearly 50% of the world’s population currently unable to exercise it, I urge us all to serve as champions, to continue to raise awareness about women’s rights to information, and to help systematically remove the barriers that women face.
Visit the Carter Center's Inform Women, Transform Lives page for more information about the campaign and to sign a pledge to help create a world in which all people have a right to information.