Feminist reflection on internet policies

Changing the way you see ICT

Critically absent: Women in internet governance. A policy advocacy toolkit

Toolkit coordinator: Dafne Sabanes Plou
Toolkit coordinator: Dafne Sabanes Plou on 3 April, 2012 - 13:09
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Authors: Anja Kovacs, Avri Doria, Bruno Zilli, Margarita Salas, Women’s Legal Bureau
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Personal and social communication have changed substantially with the use of ICTs, social networks and text messages. ICTs create new scenarios, new ways for people to live and these reflect real-life problems. Issues of security, privacy, and surveillance are now part of the debate around ICT development. Women should assert their rights here too, with determination and without delay. Women may not have been an active part of ICT development when the conversation started, but the rapid pace of change online, means they need to participate now to ensure that the future of the internet is shaped taking into account women’s rights concerns.

Women know that their core aim should be to support democracy in the political, social and economic fields and, of course, in the field of communications, including the internet. Taking action around internet policies today means dealing with other issues and the rights associated with them that also affect people who are not connected. For example, if surveillance and internet censorship violate human rights in the virtual world, these rights are at risk in the real world too.

In this policy advocacy toolkit, several relevant issues area addressed regarding women’s participation in shaping the internet as a democratic space, where women’s freedom of speech is respected and valued and where they can access and develop crucial information.

In her article, Avri Doria points that “improving women’s access to technologies, information and technical assistance can provide an avenue for them to become entrepreneurs and leaders of their communities. The internet is one important means by which women gain the knowledge to purify water, produce crops, and gain access to knowledge of reproductive rights and infant well-being”. But these internet governance issues won’t be addressed without the participation and perseverance of gender advocates. Among other recommendatins, Doria considers that women with a gender oriented agenda need to get involved with the internet governance institution of their choice and need to look towards leadership in these organisations.

In “Women’s freedom of expression in the internet”, by Margarita Salas, women journalists who don’t stick to the expected roles when writing risk being harrassed by internet readers, because of their gender. When thinking about how to avoid or stop this, Salas says “it is important to remind ourselves that this is a form of violence, which means that it is the result of patriarchy, a social system that discriminates against women, and not the result of our actions: in short, not our fault.” The article includes steps women should take against online harassment.

Bruno Zilli challenges us with his article on “Internet, women and porn”, where he discusses “preconceptions and misconceptions that take women for granted when it comes to their likes and dislikes.” He focuses his article in the fact that online porn has seen a growing niche of “female friendly movies” and considers that a balance between the need to use the internet safely and freedom of expression has to be achieved, leaving aside moralizing discourses. The author considers that “the phenomenon observed about women openly commenting on and sharing porn that they enjoy can enrich a dialogue with feminist theory about the consequences and effects of a solely victimization perspective, since meaningful feminine agency on the internet can be perceived in the examples given.” No doubt, an article to reflect about and deepen discussions on issues around how women express their sexuality in the internet.

“The lack of involvement of feminists in debates on content control is problematic on many levels”, affirms Anja Kovacs in her article “Internet, democracy and the feminist movement”. To Kovacs, this fact does not only leave uncontested implicit and explicit definitions of content that is ‘harmful’ to women, but also allows for the uncontested emergence of a culture of online surveillance and control that ultimately will do little to empower women and may do them much harm. In her call to feminists to get involved in the debate, Kovacs says that “if technology is effectively rewiring many of the structures and practices we hold dear, it is essential that we try to direct these changes”.

The Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau in the Philippines dedicates its article on “Women, privacy and anonimity: more than data protection” to pay serious attention to the incidence of technology-related violence against women (VAW). They argue that harms and violations against women perpetrated through and within ICTs has been, for the most part, seen as trivial – lacking adequate and appropriate response from the different actors – the state, the private sector, the civil society and even women themselves. WLB considers that Internet and mobile providers have a responsibility in ensuring the privacy and safety of women using their services. “It is imperative that they adequately inform users of available safety features such as privacy mechanisms. There should also be an effective redress mechanism that allows users to report violations they experience in social networks and that women should be involved in developing such a mechanism”. They stress that policy formulation should have a strong gender perspective with understanding of the continuum of VAW and women’s agency and empowerment.

There’s a lot to think about and discuss in this toolkit, and also a good list of resources to help understand and work on the different issues. We should keep in mind that one of the main matters to consider to further a feminist agenda in the present time should be to look to the future and see where it is essential for women to be present now. This policy advocacy toolkit encourages women and their organizations to engage in a political discussion about the promotion of internet development with a vision of inclusion, fairness and respect for human rights.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Women and ICT policies
by Dafne Plou

Internet Governance and gender issues
by Avri Doria

Women’s freedom of expression in the internet
by Margarita Salas

Internet, women and porn
by Bruno Zilli

Internet democracy and the feminist movement
by Anja Kovacs

Women, privacy and anonymity: more than data protection
by Women’s Legal Bureau

Resources

APC-201112-WNSP-T-EN-PDF-127
ISBN: 978-92-95096-36-3

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Critically absent: Women in internet governance. A policy advocacy toolkit1.81 MB