Digital Rights are Human Rights

The Digital Freedom Fund counted down to Human Rights Day 2020 with a series of short posts. Each post was written by a guest author and illustrates how the Universal Declaration of Human Rights applies in the digital age. The full series can be viewed here.

The right to freely participate in cultural life

UDHR Article 27

There are over 7000 spoken languages in the world. Every one of them is foundational to the cultural heritage we offer each other every day.

Our languages are a system of being, of doing, of communicating – and, most importantly, of knowing and imagining what we have passed on through generations. It is also a system of knowledge in itself: it is one of the critical ways through which we make sense of our world, how we act in it, and how we explain it to others.

Yet the internet we have today is not multilingual enough to reflect the full depth and breadth of humanity. At best, 7% of the world’s languages are captured in published material, and an even smaller fraction of these languages are available online.

We must change this reality through the leadership of our communities who have been historically or currently marginalised by structures of power and privilege – women, people of colour, LGBT*QIA, indigenous communities, and the majority of the global south (Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean and Pacific Islands).

We often cannot add or access knowledge in our own languages on the internet. Most online knowledge today is created and accessible only through colonial languages from Europe, and mostly, that language is English.

This reinforces and deepens inequalities and invisibilities that already exist offline, and denies all of us the richness and textures of the multiple knowledges and cultures of the world.

This is why it is imperative to use Article 27 of the UDHR to recognise and work towards a multilingual internet, as an essential facet of cultural life.

By Adele Vrana and Anasuya Sengupta, Co-Directors and Co-Founders of Whose Knowledge?