The WSIS process is almost over, and I am wondering about
what we have achieved in terms of integrating gender as a relevant dimension
into the building of an ‘information society’ after 7 years. What do we have?

In terms of official documents produced, after a LOT of
resources, effort and time spent into gathering information, sleepless nights,
many cups of coffee and sticks of cigarrettes (for some), talking, training,
skills sharing, lobbying and writing, gender has a few specific mentions.

In Phase I, where there was both an official,
multi-stakeholder WSIS Gender Caucus as well as an informal coalition called
the NGO Gender Strategies Working Group, the Geneva Documents in 2003 produced

Paragraph 2, Geneva
Declaration of Principles:

“Our challenge is to harness the
potential of information and communication technology to promote the
development goals of the Millennium Declaration, namely the eradication of
extreme poverty and hunger; achievement of universal primary education; promotion
of gender equality and empowerment of women; reduction of child mortality;
improvement of maternal health; to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases;
ensuring environmental sustainability; and development
of global partnerships for development for the attainment of a more peaceful,
just and prosperous world. We also reiterate our commitment to the
achievement of sustainable development and agreed development
goals, as contained in the Johannesburg Declaration and Plan of Implementation
and the Monterrey Consensus, and other outcomes of relevant United Nations

 Paragraph 12, Geneva
Declaration of Principles:

 “We affirm that development of ICTs
provides enormous opportunities for women, who should be an integral part of,
and key actors, in the Information Society. We are committed to ensuring that
the Information Society enables women's empowerment and their full
participation on the basis on equality in all spheres of society and in all
decision-making processes. To this end, we should mainstream a gender equality
perspective and use ICTs as a tool to that end.”

 Paragraph 11 (g), Geneva
Plan of Action:

 “Everyone should have the necessary
skills to benefit fully from the Information Society. Therefore capacity building
and ICT literacy are essential. ICTs can contribute to achieving universal
education worldwide, through delivery of education and training of teachers,
and offering improved conditions for lifelong learning, encompassing people
that are outside the formal education process, and improving professional
skills […]

g). Work on removing the gender barriers to ICT education and
training and promoting equal training opportunities in ICT-related fields for
women and girls. Early intervention programmes in science and technology should
target young girls with the aim of increasing the number of women in ICT
careers. Promote the exchange of best practices on the integration of gender
perspectives in ICT education.”

Paragraph 19(a), Geneva
Plan of Action:

 “Encourage the development of best
practices for e-workers and e-employers built, at the national level, on
principles of fairness and gender equality, respecting all relevant
international norms.”

 Paragraph 23(h), Geneva
Plan of Action:

 “Cultural and linguistic diversity,
while stimulating respect for cultural identity, traditions and religions, is
essential to the development of an Information Society based on the dialogue
among cultures and regional and international cooperation. It is an important
factor for sustainable development. [...]


h) Strengthen programmes focused on
gender-sensitive curricula in formal and non-formal education for all and
enhancing communication and media literacy for women with a view to building
the capacity of girls and women to understand and to develop ICT content.”

Now in 2005, members of the NGO Gender Strategies Working
Group decided to work through individual networks and capacities, and through
dispersed membership in the other caucuses instead. We still have the official
WSIS Gender Caucus that made interventions in the official plenaries on issues
of gender, and produced other important statements in the official process. The
Tunis documents reflects gender
as thus:

Paragraph 23, Tunis

 “We recognise 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 with in 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.”

Paragraph 114(d),
Tunis Agenda:

“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: […]

d)         to develop specific
gender-disaggregated indicators to measure the digital divide in its various

So what do we do from here? It was certainly a struggle even
to get those few mentions, especially in Phase II, where the Russian delegation
wanted to withdraw gender within the documents. Working from a consensus
process, if one government decides that one particular term is unacceptable,
unless effective lobbying and negotiations happen, the language drops out of
existence. But what is the importance of having these explicit mentions anyway?
How can one sentence here and there change the considerable obstacles and
complex challenges of gender-based disparity
in the whole fabric of a so-called information society? Have transformation of
social relations become reduced to wrangling over text and installing or
removing brackets?

More reflections on this later!

Responses to this post

At least for me, the text wrangling that I've witnessed worked positively in a couple of very interesting ways.
1 - The reactions to language were sometimes (often) surprising - I'm thinking - but this obvious - and realise that for someone from a different culture or pespective sees/reads it totally differently. Really opened my eyes (and mind)
2 - The issues that showed up during the text wrangling were eye-opening as well, in that issues were raised that in some cases were brand new to me.
3 - Seeing the interactions during the negotiations was interesting to see how countries, groups, etc interacted (and this usually tied into things like gas prices!)

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