Mirror Image: Part III - The Point(lessness) of Global Platforms?

I
started writing
this blog at Doha
Airport in transit, and continued after a week in distance from the
hectic madness that is Tunis. It can be difficult to reflect on an
event in the midst of grappling with the many strains of issues and
conversations that are simultaneously happening. Here, I am
attempting to regroup some of the thoughts and experiences that I
collected during that one week, and offer a four part blog on some
post-WSIS reflections
.


This led me to question the efficacy of
such global platforms and processes. href="http://www.genderit.org/en/index.shtml?apc=f--e--1&x=91895">A
lot of money
and effort have been pumped into this
Summit, and for the entire seven years of PrepComs as well as Phase I
in Geneva during 2003. Where has it all led to?


Several outcomes and agreements have
been reached. From Phase I, there is the href="http://www.itu.int/wsis/documents/doc_multi.asp?lang=en&id=1161%7C1160">Geneva
Declaration of Principles
, which is supposed to
underpin the shaping of an Information Society, whatever that means.
There is also the href="http://www.itu.int/wsis/documents/doc_multi.asp?lang=en&id=1161%7C1160">Geneva
Plan of Action
, which are more concrete steps on how
to shape an Information Society, with various specifc mechanisms
related to women and girls. In Tunis, we have the href="http://www.itu.int/wsis/documents/doc_multi.asp?lang=en&id=2266%7C0">Tunis
Commitment
and href="http://www.itu.int/wsis/documents/doc_multi.asp?lang=en&id=2267%7C0">Tunis
Agenda for the Information Society
; the former
generally being a reaffirmation of commitments and the latter
covering aspects related to financial mechanisms, internet governance
and implementation and follow-up issues. I have drawn out the
different paragraphs that specifically mention gender in a color="#0000ff">href="http://www.genderit.org/en/index.shtml?apc=f--e--1&x=91897">separate
blog
posting, and ended with the question: “Have
transformation of social relations become reduced to wrangling over
text and installing or removing brackets?”


I am not sure if I am more equipped to
answer this now. This time around, I have not followed the official
WSIS process as closely, and instead, spent time surfacing some of
the peripheral events and situations. Specifically on attending side
events, as well as being more engaged with the relationship between
what is happening in this ‘global space’ that tries to exist in a
vaccuum from the ‘local’ physical space that is populated by, in
the main (I would guess), Tunisians. The reason being, most of the
negotiations and decisions have already taken place and been made
prior to the actual Summit, during the various PrepComms.


The most concrete thing I can think of
that might have some catalystic impact on engendering more
participation and diversity into the issue of developing an
‘information society’, is the formation of the Internet
Governance Forum. This is where the different stakeholders are able
to meet and continue discussing, articulating and surfacing multiple
viewpoints and concerns on the non-technical governance matter on the
internet. It does not have policy making powers, and its role is
restricted to advisory.


So what does this mean in effect?
Perhaps there is no need for yet another a global platform where
policy decisions are made. After all, there are already four
documents arduously agreed upon from the two phases of Tunis that can
guide national and regional policy and legislative matters. Civil
society can presumably use them to lobby locally, and as Jacqueline A
Morris said in a previous interview, developing countries can take
these documents and pressure their government to do something by
saying, “but the UN says so!”


One side-effect from this WSIS process
is that those who are involved are forced to become more engaged and
aware of the many dimensions of issues involved. Usually shrouded in
the ‘apolitical’, jargon-heavy technical language, with WSIS,
governments – particularly from economically developing countries –
as well as civil society are forced to learn how, for example, the
management of internet logical infrastructure works. So in impact,
involvement with the Internet Governance Forum will be at least, an
informed one. It would not be from a completely equal playing field,
but at least the momentum for narrowing disparities have started
somewhat.


However, to be perfectly honest, I am
still struggling to find the transformative point of such global
platforms, spaces and processes. I do not have much experience in
international advocacy, and my grasp could be lacking in
sophistication from experiential analysis. I admit that it is an
important space to lobby States where it is more difficult at home;
valuable networking happens which has an impact further than the
actual event itself; awareness is raised and capacity building
happens on the numerous dimensions of a particular field or issue,
and so on. So at the end of the day, it is not just about
brackets and punctuations, but things that occur by the by as a
matter of course.


Nonetheless, through WSIS, I felt that
this process became more of a playground for geopolitical
maneuverance. From the way in which different States voted on
specific issues and concerns that are raised, lines of influence can
be drawn in power struggles that are concurrently happening
elsewhere. For example, on the href="http://www.genderit.org/en/index.shtml?apc=f--e--1&x=91659">accreditation
issue of Human Rights in China
that happened during
PrepComm3. In this battle for clout between States, what happens to
the issues like freedoms of information and expression, right to
assembly, gender equality etc. that civil society tries to raise? It
becomes another mask for States to play with, where certain States
can claim monopoly over the ‘protection’ of particular rights to
have more legitimacy in the process. The discussions during plenary
sessions at WSIS II felt more like a bid for investment between
different States, and the ICT 4 All exhibition even more so.


I can’t help but question, if the
good bits about such global processes is for networking and capacity
building, then why not have conferences that caters specifically to
this, instead of leaving it as an accidental side-effect? I suppose
one would need the binding aspect of such processes to prioritize
certain matters as part of the global agenda. This would then
facilitate the flow of funding into the field, which would result in
more concrete impact on the ground. However, the access into these
spaces are so full of obstacles that only a small number of civil
society are privileged enough to enter and engage directly, while
those who are present struggle with the problematics of
accountability and representation.


Have we just become so used to these
processes that we cannot imagine different platforms and methods to
engender change? Is it not possible to think of other ways to raise
particular matters as priorities, with greater capacity for
participation and diversity, and less cost heavy? I’m sure there
are already alternative tactics taking place everywhere, such as the
World Social Forums or small scale and networked dissident actions,
but I will be extremely appreciative if someone could help point out
to me with absolute clarity the irreplaceable value of global
processes and platforms such as WSIS.

Responses to this post

Conferencies should be held which can best cater for this problem of networking and capacity building of women.
Posted on 01/09/2006 - 14:12 | Reply

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