Feminist reflection on internet policies

Changing the way you see ICT

Stripping the IGF bare: where are women´s rights?

Flavia Fascendini and Katerina Fialova
Flavia Fascendini and Katerina Fialova on 17 October, 2011 - 20:44
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Flavia Fascendini works as the GenderIT.org Spanish/Portuguese site editor. Katerina Fialova is chief editor of the GenderIT.org. Flavia lives in Argentina. Katerina is based in Czech Republic.
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Even though this Sixth Internet Governance Forum at Kenya gave greater emphasis to discussions around rights in certain spaces, APC WNSP members attending sustain that women's rights should be more visible in those discussions and, when possible, raised as a particular theme. This memorable interview by GenderIT.org team members, Flavia Fascendini and Katerina Fialova, with Chat García Ramilo, Dafne Sabanes Plou, Jac sm Kee, Jan Moolman, and Jennifer Radloff from the APC Women´s Programme, offers insights regarding gender balance and the presence of women's rights in the 2011 IGF agenda.

Flavia: Karen Banks wrote last year in a post IGF GenderIT.org editorial that “women's rights activists need to be involved in setting the agenda, not accepting it”. Have you seen any improvement on this direction in this Internet Governance Forum (IGF)? Has the debate around the role of the internet in defending and realising women’s rights won a different status compared to previous IGF?

Jac: I think that one thing that has been really cool about this year's IGF was the Women and Internet Governance Roundtable on the first day. It was organised by Kenya ICT Action Network (Kictanet) plus the Kenya ICT Board and they invited APC, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and Verizon.

It was a totally full room, full of people very engaged and really interested in raising the issue of gender inclusion at the IGF and internet governance gender related issues. There were a lot of good ideas, and it was one of the main IGF sessions that I have ever been to that really put women and internet governance at the center of the agenda. It really felt like everybody was interested in it and was talking about it honestly, so that was a really good experience.

But it was not really a workshop or a main session. The roundtable is a new format that I think the IGF is organising around and I don't know to what extent that roundtable fed into the main discussions at the IGF, I am not very sure. It definitely demonstrated there is interest, there is participation, there is commitment. But how far is that translatable within the IGF process itself and those spaces were agenda is being set and priorities being made, I don't know.

Chat: How to move forward in this debate during the IGF was actually discussed at that meeting. People said it is good to have this roundtable right before so you can have a sense of what the issues are and try to influence some of the discussions. I don't think that was done in a very organised way in the sense of the programme but maybe it is also because all the main sessions were planned long before but this roundtable was planned just a couple of weeks before the IGF. I think the question is also how to connect it with the work of the Gender Dynamic Coalition, that is something that can be taken as a strategy for the next IGF

Jennifer: Yes, I think in the next year there should be a much stronger link between the roundtable and the Gender Dynamic Coalition and the main sessions.

Jac: I think the roundtables are a really good space for people to talk about these big issues around gender and internet governance and, from there, feed into the main sessions.

Katerina: You have mentioned that there are quite interesting ideas raised during the roundtable, I suspect especially regarding increasing women's visibility and gender issues integration within the IGF. Do you recall some? And I am also interested to hear more about the participants.

Jan: I think what has most struck me was that not everyone there was a “traditional” kind of women's right activist. There was really a good mix of participants, but also of speakers and people actively engaging in the debate, many come from the private sector. This was quite significant. A few people mentioned that increasing the leadership and women's visibility within this kind of work has been key to making women's issues more visible.

Dorothy Atwood's, the Senior Vice President - Global Public Policy at the Walt Disney Company, comment around exploiting 'women' as a market opportunity was also interesting. She cited the GSMA mWomen report and was talking about a kind of sustainable model for putting technology in women's hands.

Katerina: What do you think about this approach, women as market opportunities? Especially in the context of the statement issued by the IGF Gender Dynamic Coalition during IGF 2011 that calls for discussion of women's issues from a rights-based approach in place of protectionist solutions.

Jac: I think that came out of discussion because there were a lot of women ICT entepreneurs from the private sector who are involved in policy, for example from AT&T, from Verizon, so then you get a really good discussion on how to promote more women to participate and to engage with technology as a sector and as an industry. And from there, you are able to have more women who can be leaders in the field, who are able to make decisions and think through the different dimensions. So those were interesting and important conversations we had in terms of how to promote more women in the IT industry and in the IT sector, the ifferent roles they can take on as people designing and developing technology. For example if you think of debates about designing privacy by designand if you have no women that would be designing privacy by design you might come up with quite a different picture.

So these are the conversations we have especially when you are looking at internet governance and development. So an emphasis on market and women is good but is not the only entry point for gender in internet governance debates for sure. It reminds me of this year's session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) focusing on women's access and participation in science and technology from the perspective of employment and education. You are going to have to look at women's participation in ICT from a much broader perspective, including if they are part of public participation and a new kind of governance.

Chat: Yes, this is something that we should start learning more about and having analysis around. Most of the work the APC Women's Programme has done is on women's and communication rights and one of the challenges is how to continue engaging the language of development. This is very important issue for the women's movement, in particular in regards to women's economic empowerment. I have also noticed at this roundtable that many people are interested in the economic part of development, training, education, etc. but not many really talk about rights. So this is something useful for us, to make sure our analysis around ICTs and womens rights connects with larger development issues.

Specificially we should look at “rights to” and a multi-faceted approach to internet access (1), which includes issues of development

Jennifer: Yes, I agree. There is something that makes me uncomfortable in my guts when we talk about women as a market opportunity. I think it is a shallow approach. Of course we need to understand its motivations.

Jac: Regarding what Jenny was saying, I think that what it needs to have is not an individualistic perspective, because if you look at it from the individuals point of view it is about economic empowerment for one person. But if you look at it from a more broader perspective in terms of economic empowerment, in terms of having more expert women able to get engaged in the field, having more women software and hardware designers and able to participate in dialogues in equal spaces such as the IGF, or to promote more women to take part at the ICANN, for example. I think these are all key strategies and it was very good to have that conversation framed that way within the internet governance debates.

Chat: It is critical to make sure that women are not reduced in these economic empowerment and development debates to mere consumers, but rather as citizens.

Jac: Women's rights advocates for example are more interested in looking at technology beyond use. There is a lot of capacity, a lot of knowledge and a lot of engagement that needs to be built in that sense.

Flavia: The gender disparity and imbalanced representation and participation at IGF has been a common denominator during all IGF editions and has been again addressed in the 2011 statement of the Gender Dynamic Coalition. Can you unpack a bit more if and to what extent gender was visible in this year’s IGF agenda?

Chat: Overall if you talk about the main sessions and the different workshops I think gender issues have not appeared as a specific issue, as a specific area. I don't think gender was integrated at all in a conscious way. Gender and women's participation have to be much more institutionalised in planning of the IGF. In the way the IGF secretariat and MAG (Multistakeholder Advisory Group) have been engaging with multistakeholder principles or built on much more successful integration of people with disability and their issues within this year's IGF. The main session on Access and Diversity has been all about disabilities, six out of five speakers were representing people with disabilities. So this is one recommendation we should make in regards to raising more issues related to women in the discussions, making them much more relevant and visible in the debates.

I think rights has become one of the big themes of the IGF this year. Everyone was talking about rights, which I think is a very good thing. It seems like everyone is concerned about them and there are probably different kind of reasons for those concerns. And maybe the question is: in those discussions was there a significant inclusion of women's rights?

Jac: In some previous years you could hardly hear the language of rights in most of the sessions. It was almost alien and exotic. It was bizzare, even when one talks about policy somehow the human rights framework is ignored. I think it has been an improvement but , of the sessions I have been to, I don't feel like women's rights has been even raised as a particular theme for discussion.

It really depends on who is contributing to the conversation. Unless you specificially invite women's rights advocates to speak about human and communication rights issues from women and sexual rights perspective this perspective is absent. Besides of the designed planning you can definitely say that there was no women's perspective. Other workshops that I've been around about freedom of expression, around privacy, around surveillance, didn't have this perspective, it was pretty invisible. Even if rights were talked about, how critical the internet is in the defense of democracy, public participation, or citizenship the speficity of people's needs was missing.

Jan: Just to echo what Jac is saying, it didn't feel like it was any different. Yes, that kind of focus on rights was a significant shift but within it there was actually nothing on women's or sexual rights. It didn't feel like anything was shifted at all. It felt like we are lone voices, same people raising same issues. For example, in the regional dialogue session, where all the regions spoke about the regional IGF's, the only region that mentioned gender and women's rights was Southern Africa, and that's just because two of us insisted they be a part of final language.

For me this shows that we need to be stronger at the national and regional IGFs so that there are more people from the regions and individual countries talking about what matters to us – because we have already been successful at convincing them of this.

Dafne: There are quite a few women attending IGF, some of them participate in panels in workshops, fewer as speakers in main sessions, but one can find women in government, corporate and non-governmental organisations representations. Most of them are young and quite expert in technical issues, though with little knowledge of gender issues. That's another matter we need to look at.

Women engineers, lawyers or computer science graduates don't usually have a clue about gender analysis at all. There's a lot to do and raising awareness on gender and internet governance issues is an important task for those of us who have clear ideas on this matter.

We also have to admit that six years after WSIS in Tunis it is still difficult to catch the women's movement's interest in internet governance issues. Maybe it is because women activists still don't see why it is important to get involved in this discussion. There are many other urgencies out there, where women's organisations call for action and internet governance sounds too technical, too ungraspable, too far away from real life.

If a human rights framework is built within the IGF debate, it will be easier to include internet governance issues in the women's movement's agenda. Women human rights defenders don't want to waste their time in matters that seem alien to their main efforts. Those in the women's movement who understand these issues need to put forward the main discussions at stake so as to call activists' attention. Women need to build their own agenda around internet governance issues, but they shouldn't do it in isolation. Raising awareness in civil society organisations is part of their task. Many women and men who are not gender experts are willing to embrace gender justice issues as part of their commitment to build a just society.

Katerina: In previous IGF, the workshops and other debates which incorporated a gender perspective have been mostly linked to main themes of privacy, freedom of expression and content regulation. Regarding the advocacy work carried out around sexual rights and violence against women, have you noticed any new gender issues in this year's debates or theme?

Jac: Viceversa, not having a workshop on sexual rights at this year's IGF (2) has really made sexual rights disappear. It is not that it hasn't raised interest, or that it doesn´t resonate with other people´s agendas. Quite the opposite, when you raise these issues many people go like, ya, that's right. It reminds us how critical it is to make visible these issues in many different areas and how important it is to engage critical mass with these issues.

Chat: The challenge for me relates to strategy: do we identify very specific women's or sexual rights issues or should we rather look at gender perspective within a more 'big' internet governance issue, such as the internet governace model itself. We have already identified the internet governance issues that we think are important from women's rights perspective such as sexual rights, violence against women, etc. But isn't it critical for women's rights organisations to also talk about and have positions on these broader issues? One thing that is coming out of this IGF is to look at these 'big' issues from a gender perspective, and link them to the specific issues we have identified as critical for women.

Jan: In the sessions that I went to there was much discussion about intermediate liability, more than I noticed in years before. Questions were around whose responsibility it is, what responsibility lies with who. This is another 'big' issue for us to look at from a gender perspective.

Dafne: It is relevant that during IGF 2011 there was a huge push to put human rights issues in the IGF agenda for its next meeting in 2012. It came from some governments and NGOs and the initiative was also supported by the Gender Dynamic Coalition. I believe that the human rights framework is the right framework to start discusions to include social, cultural and economic rights, also gender issues, in the IGF agenda. This emphasis will also be important in all preparatory meetings, be them national or regional.

Flavia: Do you think that this global IGF specifically benefited from national and regional IGF deliberations and decision-making in terms of gender and internet governance agenda setting?

Jan: I didn't really see the Southern African IGF having any effect over the global forum. In terms of participation, yes, because they supported people that were at the regional IGF. But there was no discussion about what issues to take forward, no discussion on what the strategy was going to be, so it was all very desperate. I do think however, that it is a good opportunity for us to involve more women's rights activists at both the regional and national IGFs.

Katerina: And vicerversa, do you think that regional IGF could be an easier entry point to women's and gender agenda?

Jan: No, I found it to be quite the same and exactly for the same reasons as at the global IGF, there is no awareness what the issues are, and there are the same people taking part at the debates as in the global fora.

Chat: In one of the main sessions I attended, I think it was the access and diversity one, people actually were speaking about how important the national and regional IGFs were , seeing them as an integral part of the whole process. That was part of the rethoric, and it is interesting to see the practise.

Jac: I would say that if it helps to get more people engaged in the IGF, is not a bad thing, especially in terms of entry points for more diverse consituencies. So it is more about how it is organised, who sets the agenda for regional and national IGFs, to make sure it isn't always the same group of people, and how national IGF feeds into regional and then global.

Flavia: Did this year's Gender Report Cards initiative work?

Chat: I think we should repeat this experience next year but much earlier, and in an organised and institutionalised way, so it can be included as a part of the established process of reporting on IGF workshops and main sessions.

Jac: I think it is a very good way to make gender visible and to measure to what extent there is equal gender participation. It is really useful to see the numbers and you can also track how the numbers are developing from year to year. We are not only talking about numbers but also of inclusion of perspective and framing. This year was a test year. We should try to do it again in 2012.

Footnotes

(1) Access is a multi-faceted concept. In developing countries, for example, technical, commercial and policyi obstacles prevent universal, affordable access to infrastructure and greater understanding is needed of how access to infrastructure and knowledge can foster economic transformation, assist to fight poverty and promote social and human development.

The question of equitable access to the interneti is central not only to development but to exercising human rightsi. Yet many governmentis are increasingly relying on restricting access as a means of quelling public dissent, and the last year has seen communications blackouts become commonplace during periods of unrest. These kinds of restrictions violate basic rights like freedom of expressioni and freedom of associationi.

Addressing access as a rights issue is an important counterbalance to the purely economic considerations, like intellectual propertyi rights, which often drive the debate in international policy circles.

(2) Between 2006 and 2010, APC WNSP organized five workshops during the annual IGFs that presented opinions from various stakeholders ion the competing rights and interests concerning the topic of sexual rightsi and openness. The workshops examined the values and ways different users negotiate with internet content and risks, and the impact and potential of regulatory mechanisms in the recognition and realisation of sexual rights and gender equalityi.

 

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