Women actively join internet governance discussions

4 November 2015

It’s good news to know that more women are actively joining internet governance discussions and that they are starting to take steps so that women’s rights activists and their movement include internet governance issues in their agenda.

Little by little, the number of women participating in the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) has increased significantly, and their presence in panels and workshops and as participants has brought new insights into the discussion of the different matters that are key in IGF debates. In 2012 the IGF Gender Coalition with the contribution of the APC Women’s Rights Programme implemented the use of an IGF gender report card to gather consistent information about women’s real participation in IGFs. According to a previous report by Diplo Foundation (2011), women’s participation in IGFs had grown significantly since the first meeting in 2006, from 21.98% to 30.85% in 2011. Since then, the gender report cards have helped to gather information that shows a moderate improvement in gender inclusion and parity.

In 2014, of the 89 workshops, 60 (67%) had a male moderator, 28 (31%) had a female moderator, and one had both male and female moderators. In total there were 248 women and 367 men panellists. This means that men accounted for 60% of the total of 615 panellists. There’s still a lot to do to achieve equity.

Progress has been made in these 10 years of the IGF’s life, but the question still remains: what can be done to achieve more women’s participation in the debate about internet governance? Is it enough to have more women in IGF panels, or is there a need to discuss more about the relevance of internet and ICT policies with a gender perspective, listening to what the women’s movement has to say about all this? No doubt women needed a space to debate all this, and not just an online space, but the possibility to talk face to face and spend a good amount of time considering the issues at stake, their relation to the advancement of women’s rights, and how they should be included in the women’s movement agenda.

Opening doors for meaningful participation

Sensing the need to open spaces to listen to each other, learn and plan initiatives, three meetings were held just a few weeks ago as regional IGF pre-events, inviting women’s participation. The Gender and Internet Governance Exchanges (gigX) resulted in an excellent opportunity to gather activists interested in seeing women’s rights considered when discussing internet governance matters.

In each of the regions – Asia, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean – women came together for two days to talk about internet access and infrastructure, zero-rating services, freedom of expression online, the right to be forgotten, privacy, surveillance and anonymity, technology-related violence against women, and women’s rights activism on the internet and social networks, among other matters. There were also sessions to share information and insights on previous IGF discussions and how this forum has evolved to become a key multistakeholder discussion space that can influence ICT and internet policy decisions at different levels. The exchanges were well rated by participants and the discussion lists are still active for sharing and more debate.

Women were also able to take a look at their own practices and considerations, both personal and in their organisations, regarding ICT and internet tools and policies. Their appraisal helped them to see that there are challenges women need to face themselves, and that there is a need to work for further understanding of these matters within the women’s movement.

But the exchanges were not only spaces open to discussions. One of their main objectives was to encourage meaningful engagement by the participants in regional IGFs. Did this work?

All gigX participants were invited to attend regional IGFs, so a good number of women activists had the chance to contribute to workshops and main sessions with their insights, questions and challenges. This year, in addition, gender report cards were implemented in each of the regional IGFs mentioned above. Participants from Asia, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean were invited to rate women’s participation in each event. Results show that in 19 out of 46 sessions, women accounted for half or more than half of the audience. In 10 of the workshops, gender equality was raised by one or more speakers as an important aspect of the theme. For those who had participated in gigX it was easy to spot gigX participants taking the floor and speaking up.

Still there’s a lot to achieve at regional IGFs. Women’s participation as panel moderators or panellists is still low. Gender bias in favour of men persists. But the experience of having women activists taking the floor encourages gigX organisers and participants to aim for more. As one participant pointed out in her gigX evaluation, women need to keep on bringing up the issue of power disparities in all fields.

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