2 November: The IGF Experiment is a Success - if women take part in setting the agenda

The experiment is a success. The Internet Governance Forum (IGF), an open-door, multistakeholder experiment that most people were skeptical about proved to be a successful initiative. That we managed to identify and debate various issues around security, openness, access, diversity and security in the true spirit of multistakeholder partnership and with respect to our various cultures as governments, as the United Nations, as civil society, and as business entities is a proof of this success. This was the assessment made by the organizers and a number of participants at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) that concluded today.



Women's organizations present in the Forum shared this assessment of success that resonated across the plenary hall. Even as this was the shared sentiment, women's groups including the Association for Progressive Communications - Women's Networking Support Programme (APC WNSP), International Women's Tribune Centre, Women'sNet South Africa and ZamirNet, Croatia stressed the need to ensure women's representation and participation of women in the next IGF in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in November 2007.



During her intervention in today's closing plenary, Chat Garcia Ramilo of APC WNSP drew attention to the positive experience and added value of women's presence in the IGF. She urged the IGF Secretariat and the Advisory Group to aim for parity in the level of participation of women in the activities of IGF and other related events that will be organized in the future and to identify and include experts and representatives of women's groups to contribute to agenda-setting of the IGF.



Ramilo also recalled that all throughout the processes around the World Summits on the Information Society (in Geneva in 2003 and in Tunis in 2005) gender equality advocates worked actively for the inclusion of gender equality and women's empowerment principles in WSIS outcome documents. She also pointed out to the initiatives of women from Latin America who are not here in Athens but have prepared a statement on the issues they want to be addressed in this Forum as well as the next one in Rio de Janeiro.



Following up on this intervention, I took the floor and spoke about the centrality of gender in the discussion on internet governance and information and communication technology (ICT) policies in general. I raised violence against women and pornography as serious issues that need to be put on the agenda. Despite this, why is it only civil society—particularly women's organizations who are raising these as an issue in the IGF?, I asked. I reiterated the call to the organizers to ensure women's representation in all IGF that are to take place –in Brazil in 2007, in India in 2008, and in Egypt in 2009. I asserted that women are here, we are ready and we are capable to engage in the dynamic coalitions being formed as a follow up to the IGF.


Following is the women's statement that was circulated in today's closing plenary:

Women setting the IG agenda


This input serves to bring attention to our observations on the
contribution of women's participation in this Forum, and to call on the IGF
to build on this positive experience and broaden the added value in the
various activities of the IGF.



At this Forum, gender advocates organised a panel that brought together
voices of ISPs, feminist media activists and international agencies to
debate the issue of pornography on the internet and consider the consider
the tensions between content regulation, freedom of expression and women's
and children's human rights advocacy.



This workshop and rich debate illustrated that women's and feminist
perspectives can bring innovative solutions that draw on the many years of
experience in the gender and development field and add value to the
conference themes.



Within the context of the IGF, women have to be included in the debate in
greater numbers. Our experience in the last few days illustrated the
limited evidence of gender parity in the main sessions and workshops we
attended. For example in the plenary on access, the panel consisted of 15
men and 1 woman. This example reflects a general pattern at this inaugural
meeting. The diversity of participation in future IGF events will be
seriously compromised if this imbalance continues.



Early in the conference a question was raised around the gender dimension
of internet governance. Unfortunately, the question was sidelined and the
opportunity to explore this issue was missed.



We interpret this as a failure to understand how gender intersects with
governance in general and with internet governance in particular. We have
all learned from decades of practice that development initiatives which
take gender perspectives seriously are more likely to meet their
objectives.



In many of the panels, we have heard repeated reference to the success of
the Grameen Bank's telephony and microcredit initiaitve in Bangladesh in
providing access to rural communities. What is not being said is that this
initiative has targeted women precisely because of the conviction that
women are central to achieving development objectives.



We call on the IGF Secretariat and the Advisory Group to take steps:

  • to aim for parity in the level of participation of women in the
    activities of IGF and future events that will be organised

  • to identify and include experts and representatives of women's
    constituencies to contribute to agenda-setting of the IGF II and
    subsequent activities


Dating back to the WSIS process, a coalition of gender activists have
successfully advocated for the inclusion of the gender equality principle
and the empowerment of women in the implementation of the action plans by
all stakeholders. We are bringing this energy and commitment to the
internet governance debates and are strengthening the coalition for this
purpose. We invite men and women whose interest it is to ensure that women
are not marginalised in this process.




Signed:

APC Women's Networking Support Programme

Women'sNet, South Africa

International Women's Tribune Centre, USA
ZamirNet, Croatia

Dr Heike Jensen (Hamburg University, Germany)

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