From Geek to the WSIS Gender Caucus

JK: How did you get involved in all of this?



JAM: Gillian Marcelle who went to school with me in Trinidad was involved, and she was the convenor of the Gender Caucus. She called me and said “you have to be part of this!”. Well I was like, it’s a little busy right now. But she said “I’m going to put you down”. I was like, “but I can’t do anything until after college”. “Ok but you’re part of it.”



JK: What were you doing before?



JAM: Same thing I do all the time, streaming Trinidad and Tobago entertainment and culture on the web.



JK: Okay… so you’re basically like a geek



JAM: Yeah, I am an engineer – graduated from chemical engineering. Then I was database designer for web.



JK: Is that quite common, doing chemical engineering? How’d you get from chemical engineering to computers?



JAM: Because you use computers a lot. In chemical engineering, one of the main courses are math, math, math and programming.



JK: That makes sense.



JAM: Because you need to program all your results, your non-linear equations. How all the multi-reactions that you’re doing are multiples of non-linear equations, so you need programs to solve it – rather that solving it by hand – a lot of it is solved by equations in computer programs.



JK: So you started programming?



JAM: Well I had to program. Actually I started programming when I was ten. My father bought me a Sinclair computer and a cassette deck, and a black and white tv. I started to program to do things like animations of people running across that street and stuff like that.



JK: How did you learn?



JAM: From a book.



JK: Was it easy to get access to those books and stuff, and the internet?



JAM: My father is a chemist and was working in the university. My uncle was the dean of math in the University of West Indies. So we’re kinda like mathy, programmy kinda family. My mother was lecturing in the university, my sister just started working in the university, I lecture part-time in the university, my mother’s brother, my father’s brother and his wife work in the university.



JK: So that was like your support group.



JAM: Somewhat. I just grew up in a little geeky enclave. They call us the “university brats”. I grew up on campus. Well, I didn’t go to university school because my mom didn’t want me there; she got me into another school. But most of my neighbors went to the university school and hung out on campus waiting for your parents to come out of school. Like when my dad was teaching in the evening, I sit quietly while doing my homework at the back of the room. But I automatically absorbed some chemistry.



JK: So now you work in the university?



JAM: I do part-time, but not this year because of all the travelling. Like right now, I’m supposed to be teaching a course. And they’re like, “you can’t teach a course for 8 weeks and be away in 3.” So not teaching in the school system this semester. But I’m teaching a bit part-time at the Faculty of Education in 2006. And that’s part of a course – not a whole course – on programming, web development… that kind of stuff.



JK: How’d you get in the gender aspect of technology?



JAM: Because my mother worked on gender. My mother is in education. She also works with the gender node of the University of West Indies. Her PhD thesis was on gender aspects in education. How boys and girls are treated differently and reacted to differently in classrooms and that kind of things.



JK: You think so? Do you find that in your own experience?



JAM: Of course. Me and my sister were her experiment.



JK: What is uhm… your “political slant” in this issue?



JAM: As you go through engineering, you tend to get more and more radically feminist. Because you get to be fewer and fewer and then there is more and more sexism and you get very pissed off. I ended up what was basically a boys’ school that let girls in. My lab was on the fourth floor and the only women’s bathrooms for the entire building were in the basement – where the admin rooms were, where the secretaries were. So we took over the bathroom on the 4th floor. It was all graduate students, so we were like, “Look, we’re all adults, we will share the space. I am not going downstairs”. There were 3 girls, 40 something men. You just lock the door, we’re coming in. If we’re working late at night on our research, we’re not going downstairs.



JK: And how did they react?



JAM: Fine! The boys are fine. They can’t do anything about it. What are they gonna do? Lock the doors and give the guys the key and not the girls?



JK: So you got involved in WSIS when? Last year?



JAM: 2003. February.



JK: So just before the Geneva WSIS conference.



JAM: Prepcom 2



JK: How did you find it?



JAM: In comprehensible at first. Like this whole UN thing, you realise this whole content is a totally different language, mindset, culture. But by now, I kinda… I could not believe we sat down there and argued for 2 weeks over one paragraph and everyone was like, “Yes! We got the paragraph in!”

and I was like, two lines! Six people came to Geneva, argued and carried on and lobbied straight for 2 weeks over two lines. Ok, whatever, valuable use of time and money.



JK: How do you see it now, after being in the process for so long? Do you think it’s valuable or…? To have that, just set language there you know?



JAM: Yes, I think it is. Because what happens is, especially in developing countries, the UN has weight. So that if the UN says so, then it’s easier when you go back to your country and say “but the UN says so!”, and then they go, “okay”. Because it doesn’t actually do anything here, but it’s a good piece of paper to bludgeon. And you may get something like that in your local context and use it as a lobbying tool for local advocacy. Otherwise, I don’t feel that it does anything on its own.



“Which Is Why There Will Be No Financing”



JK: What about this financing, won’t it be important to recognise gender in that discussion?



JAM: The people who want financing are the people who have no money. The people who don’t want to deal with financing are the people who have the money. There are no financers. There will be no finances.



JK: What about the Digital Solidarity Fund?



JAM: Yeah, yeah. They created the Digital Solidarity Fund, but do you know how the Digital Solidarity Fund is being run? The Digital Solidarity Fund basically is a voluntary programme. If you sign up as a member, which most haven’t done, then you pay basically… when you put out a tender for a technology, you agree to put a percentage of that into the Digital Solidarity Fund. How much money is all that? None.



JK: But it just got agreed on recently, no?



JAM: Doesn’t matter. Anybody gonna do it? No. The US didn’t even say yes to pay their agreed money to the UN. And what did the UN do? Nothing. What are they gonna do? They can’t do anything. They can’t go and slap George Bush and say “dude, pay up!”. They can’t get the Mafia to break his legs if he doesn’t pay. There’s nothing they can do if somebody doesn’t want to pay. Rarely.



JK: So what’s the point then? That we’re spending so much time, so much money, coming here, talking about all this?



JAM: Hope. That we can make a difference. Hope. That perhaps, you know… But I tell you, financing is not going to make a difference. Language, yes. Money, no.



JK: Ok. laughs



JAM: I mean, when you think about it. You remember it’s the poor people asking the rich people for money, and the rich people are already paying the UN huge sums of money. We already have all our aid programme, we already give however-much money, and we will continue giving and we will decide how much money we want to give. We are not going to let the the people begging for money to tell us how much we have to give them.



JK: Which is kind of a fair point.



JAM: Exactly. Which is why there will be no financing.



More Things That Won’t Happen? Internet Governance



JK: Ok. Forget about financing; let’s talk about governance…



JAM: Well, there’s going to be some governance. Well, there already is governance. What the governance is about is attempting to get the people who are currently managing technology to voluntarily give up some of their power to people who don’t have the control right now.



JK: Not going to happen?



JAM: Not that way. ICANN is already expanding and looking on its organisation to be more transparent and more multi-stakeholder and get more input from developing countries. And that will continue. WIPO is doing the same thing and that will continue. ITU is doing the same thing and that will continue. Countries have already started looking on their laws and cross-border prosecutions of crimes and stuff and that will continue. Interpol will be strengthened, of course, because it’s a logical thing. They’re strengthening it because of drugs, because of cross-border internet crimes, for crimes utilising the internet. I mean like the last thing, they had to arrest a man in Turkey and actually he was from I can’t remember where. That was cross-border cooperation and it is going to continue. It may continue on a bilateral basis or multilateral basis. Even the UN may decide to come up with a treaty. Internet governance is a whole flue of things, and things are happening already in different areas which is part of what we get from the [Working Group on Internet Governance or WGIG]. Which is the a whole thing about looking at the issue and where the issues are currently being dealt, with and how they are currently being dealt with. And then we realise that in most cases, they are all currently being dealt with and dealt with relatively satisfactorily. Of course there’s always spaces for improvement, as in ICANN, WIPO, there is space for improvement, where other stakeholders have a chance to come and interact and give input. And all of them have realised that yeah, we need to do something like that. That’s pretty much it. We would like a forum but we won’t get a forum. We may get a forum, but we’re not getting it according to Section 5 [of the WGIG report]. The models [on internet governance

proposed by the WGIG report]? We won’t be getting any models. What we will get, most likely, is an agreement by all the governments to form a process, course with it, that will continue looking at it and negotiate. At some point, we will get to a stage, maybe in 5 or 10 years down the line, where there will be an international management group. But that’s not going to happen by November.



JK: So what’s the point – if things are already being handled and money’s not going to come anyway?



JAM: Well, one is educating people, it’s raising consciousness. With regards to governance, it made it very clear to the US government that they have to make some changes in how they’re running things. They know that it has to happen, it is not agreed yet on how it has to happen. But it has done that. It has raised consciousness in developing countries that all of these is important and you need to basically raise the capacity and get yourselves involved. And you can go home and say that the UN says so and we can get some things done in the national and regional level. In a certain community, we had a meeting this month and it came up with basically, okay, WSIS is all but ended. And the WGIG report has really helped us understand what these issues are. Yeah, WSIS is all but ended, but we have to work on it regionally. But how we are going to work on it regionally? Yeah, okay, this is all and good, but we have to focus on it regionally. We have to get our homes in order and this is useful to help us get our homes in order.



Questioning the WSIS Gender Caucus



JK: So now that you’ve been in the gender for 2 years, how effective do you think the caucus has been to try and raise gender issues in this particular process?



JAM: It was really effective in the 1 phase; then less effective in the 2 phase. But the 2 phase was different as well. The 1 phase was high-flying concepts and principles language. When you get down to the nitty-gritty, it’s much harder because otherwise, you’re gonna have to say “and women”. So it’s harder to get things in here as opposed to an over-arching principles. But to get it down in the implementation and nitty-gritty of it, it’s a lot more difficult. A lot more difficult. And I don’t think it’s

actually necessary in all the cases.



JK: How does the gender caucus function? How does it work, how does it communicate, how does it come to decisions?



JAM: The gender caucus has a steering committee which is the people you see around, mainly here, and the rest of the membership is virtual – the mailing list. We have a website. And basically, the steering committee does stuff, all the stuff that we need to do. So, coming to prepcoms, lobbying for things, that’s mainly the steering committee and some very active

members of the mailing list, like Marianne for example…



JK: How big is the caucus? How many people?



JAM: Over a hundred. But I’m not sure exactly.



JK: And the steering committee?



JAM: Supposed to be 13, or 12.



JK: Are you part of the steering committee? How did you end up being part of it?



JAM: Because I was there at the beginning, with Gillian. The 1 steering committee. The 2 round of the steering committee which was in 2004, we sent out a request for nominations and stuff to the list and got

people that way.



JK: So personally, how effective do you think was the Gender Caucus in trying to push for gender issues? ‘Cause it’s a multi-stakeholder caucus as well.



JAM: Well, that’s the thing. Since the next step, there has been a lot more civil society, and grassroot [membership in the Gender Caucus]. Because it varies according to the people who are on it. The 1 round of people who were picked, all had a similar mindset. The 2 round of people were more diverse.



JK: Even though the 2 round of people are all from civil society, well mainly.



JAM: Well no, but basically more people from civil society are on the gender caucus that any other groups. So when you had the nominations, it was civil society that was the main contributing factor. Which isn’t bad.



JK: The 2 round of people were?



JAM: People like Magaly [Pazello, DAWN], Anita [Gurumurthy, IT4Change], Heike [Jensen, Humboldt University]. The people from the 1 round were me, Lettie [Longwe from AMARC, Africa], Gloria Bonder from [Catedra Regional UNESCO] Argentina, Eva Rathgeber from [University of Ottawa/Carleton University] Canada.



JK: So how effective was it to push for a gender perspective?



JAM: It can be. It brings in a lot more [diverse views]. Like, I’m considered private sector because I hold a lot of private sector views. I worked in government, I’ve worked in civil society, and I’ve worked in private sector.



JK: How does that feel? I mean, you’re like multi-stakeholder in one.



JAM: A lot of people are. Some people hold two jobs, also involved in volunteering, and if you are from the developing country, most likely you have worked with government at some point. It gives you a more practical kind of sense, whereas sometimes, civil society does not go for practical. It wants to make a point more than…



JK: More than actually how it would work?



JAM: Yeah. But you know. I am very practical. There is an approach of “they’re going to water it down anyway, so let’s put is as strong as possible”. But I’m like, “they might not water it down and cross it off entirely. Because if it’s too strong, they might think there is no space to

water it down and they’ll cross it off entirely.” For me, it’s better to do it cappuccino than espresso. It’s still strong but a little more palatable, you know what I mean? So it’s more likely they’ll go for it. Because if they don’t like it, they’ll just throw it away.



JK: Well I haven’t personally been very involved in the gender caucus. Well, this is my first WSIS event and first time seeing the gender caucus at work and stuff.



JAM: It’s a little confusing because we have a lost of stuff going on and not many people doing it. So like in the beginning, when you go out the meeting and you’re like “what?”. Like yeah, and we also tend to be very responsive to the members. And when we planned it, we planned that we would have lobbying strategy meetings daily and 3 gender caucus group meetings.

But I was here for the 1 group meeting and in that meeting, the membership decided that they wanted to meet everyday. But as you have noticed, have not been in any of the daily group meetings because I don’t have the time – I have a lot of things to do. And I appreciate spending my time when I have time, dealing with other organisations, caucus and stuff, which is what Magaly thinks as well. Because we can’t sit and talk amongst ourselves.



JK: It’s a bit of a problem, I think.



JAM: But what happens is that there is a great need for a lot of the women to belong, network and be together. And I was like, we need to organise a cocktail some evening or something and have that space. We have documents to do and…



JK: But you don’t have meetings with everyone and sitting down and working on, sort of “Ok, this is what happened today. Strategise for the next day”?



JAM: Yeah, we need to do that but that is not a big group meeting. Yeah, it can’t be a big group meeting. It has to be for people who are doing things, and what they’re plans are. Like for example what do you want to be part of, what is your job, what are you going to do. You’re going to work on drafting in the internet governance sub-committee A, okay, and you with whoever go ever there and work on that. Talk about everything? It will take a whole week!



JK: That’s true.



JAM: Like when I arrived on Tuesday and we were doing that drafting thing, it became like, “why am I, the internet governance person, having to input into financing and implementation. Why? Okay, I know why. Because one, people kinda need me there, two, I’ve got the language. But, why?



JK: What happened to that? All the rewriting and stuff?



JAM: Heike took that, and as a group and we made a point. Heike was doing sub-committee B and I was doing sub-committee A and we each had a group of people looking on that.



JK: But, the rewriting that was happening on Tuesday, what happened to the comments and changes in the language?



JAM: Well remember, Wednesday was when they changed the version and went back to the Friends of the Chair document which we had not dealt with. Because [initially] they had gone to the Prepcom2 document which we were working on. Then on Wednesday afternoon, they changed back to the Friends of the Chair document. And that is what happened to that. And I haven’t paid attention to it since then cause I’ve been working on internet governance.



JK: This is all very confusing…



And on that note, the informal chat ended when another conversation had to happen between JAM and Avri Doria on Internet Governance lobbying issues. Head reeling with information, I decided to put my sceptical lense on hold, and continue to engage with other people present at PrepCom3 with a question that keeps returning, “what is the point?”

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