Gender equality may constitute a normative consensus, but the political will is lacking

Many have asked for a summary of the outcomes of the Tunis summit, and rumors have spread that the only reference to women or gender included in the official documents consists in the call for gender-disaggregated indicators. Let me bring you up to speed on the results of our lobbying and advocacy work during the second WSIS phase and give you an initial, tentative assessment.



Two documents were agreed on in Tunis, the Tunis Commitment (dated 18 November 2005) and the TUNIS AGENDA FOR THE INFORMATION SOCIETY (Rev.1-E, dated 15 November 2005). Please note that during the negotiation process, the Tunis Commitment used to be called the Political Chapeau, and the Tunis Agenda was called the Operational Part.



The Tunis Commitment represents a clear victory of our lobbying and advocacy work. It contains one paragraph on women that is more or less as we had drafted it. Paragraph 23 reads:



23. We recognize that a gender divide exists as part of the digital divide in society and we reaffirm our commitment to women’s empowerment and to a gender equality perspective, so that we can overcome this divide. We further acknowledge that the full participation of women in the Information Society is necessary to ensure the inclusiveness and respect for human rights within the Information Society. We encourage all stakeholders to support women’s participation in decision-making processes and to contribute to shaping all spheres of the Information Society at international, regional and national levels.



Conceptually, this paragraph establishes “the gender divide (…) as part of the digital divide,” which may have broken new ground as far as UN consensus documents are concerned. Also, women’s full participation is named as vital for ensuring respect for human rights, which is a very strong statement. The last sentence would be better if it contained the qualifier that not only women’s participation, but women’s full or equal participation is called for, but its reference to different levels is quite useful.



Apart from paragraph 23, the gap between men and women is also referenced in paragraph 13:



13. We also recognise that the ICT revolution can have a tremendous positive impact as an instrument of sustainable development. In addition, an appropriate enabling environment at national and international levels could prevent increasing social and economic divisions, and the widening of the gap between rich and poor countries, regions, and individuals — including between men and women.



The drawback of this paragraph is that “an appropriate enabling environment” in WSIS-speak refers to neoliberal deregulation and pro-competitive market approaches, which in the eyes of many of us are in fact the root causes for the widening of the gap between rich and poor.



The Tunis Agenda, in contrast to the Tunis Commitment, is very disappointing from a gender equality advocacy standpoint. Most of our contributions were erased at the last moment by the Russian delegation. Three provisions have remained in the document that address women and/or gender, which are very important as far as they go. All three belong to the section entitled “Implementation and follow-up”:



90. We reaffirm our commitment to providing equitable access to information and knowledge for all, recognizing the role of ICTs for economic growth and development. We are committed to working towards achieving the indicative targets, set out in the Geneva Plan of Action, that serve as global references for improving connectivity and universal, ubiquitous, equitable, non-discriminatory and affordable access to, and use of ICTs, considering different national circumstances, to be achieved by 2015, and to using ICTs, as a tool to achieve the internationally-agreed development goals and objectives, including the Millennium Development Goals, by: (…)



c) building ICT capacity for all and confidence in the use of ICTs by all – including youth, older persons, women, indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, and remote and rural communities – through the improvement and delivery of relevant education and training programmes and systems including lifelong and distance learning



d) implementing effective training and education, particularly in ICT science and technology, that motivates and promotes participation and active involvement of girls and women in the decision-making process of building the Information Society



114. The development of ICT indicators is important for measuring the digital divide. We note the launch, in June 2004, of the Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development, and its efforts: (…) to develop specific gender-disaggregated indicators to measure the digital divide in its various dimensions.



All of these provisions do not add anything to what had already been codified in the Geneva Plan of Action, which was in fact more comprehensive (and I never thought I would call this document comprehensive!), for instance by also addressing jobs and careers.



It is indicative that the Tunis Agenda section entitled “Financial mechanisms for meeting the challenges of ICT for development” is devoid of references to women, the gender gap, gender budgeting and the like. This outcome basically mirrors the finding that was prominent at this year’s Beijing+10 evaluation: Gender equality and women’s empowerment may constitute a normative consensus, but the political will – and the financial resources to make it actually happen – are lacking everywhere. This is something we still need to work on.



Also, it is worth pointing out that the section on “Internet governance” does not contain any reference to gender-equal representation in Internet governance and the soon-to-be-created Internet Governance Forum. We need to be pushing for inclusion in scenarios like these, since they might evolve into crucial sights where power over the Information Society is being brokered, even if formally, no political decisions are taken in them.



What we have gained and lost in terms of integrating gender as a relevant dimension into the ‘information society’ after this 7 years? What do we have? And where should we go from here? What is the importance of having these explicit mentions of gender and women here and there? Can you think of the most concrete thing which may have some catalytic impact on women participation and gender equality in the developing ‘information society’?



Share with us YOUR views, experiences, and concerns regarding WSIS gains and losses in Feminist Talks.

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