20 September 2005 - Getting to the Gender Ghetto (post-lunch-that-didn’t-happen)

In
the last hour where I sat through the plenary session, my ears were on high
alert for the mention of gender. Granted I only m
anaged to catch a few
governments’ statements (i.e.
Switzerland, Venezuela, Turkey, Burkina Faso, Singapore, South Africa and Republic of Korea) before stakeholders like
the ITU, CCBI and the Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus,  were given the floor for their statements.
Gender relations, dimensions, -base
d discrimination/exclusion were missing
from any of the statements. The WSIS
Gender Caucus
(WSIS GC) did not speak, although a statement by the caucus
on internet governance was distributed outside of the plenary rooms.






But
this reliance on the WSIS GC to speak on behalf of ‘gender’ is part of the
problem perhaps. When there is a caucus that looks specifically at gender
related issues, then it becomes purely their
issue in everyone else’s eyes. I mean, it would be idealistic to expect
governments to also champion civil society perspectives and vice versa. But the
structure and framework of gender relations affects every other sectioning of
social, political, cultural and economic life. There are people socialised into
either masculine or feminine subjectivities in government agencies, human
rights organisations, disability rights networks, youth coalitions, business
entities etc. In short, all the multiple holders of stakes in this purportedly
multi-stakeholder process who wake up in the morning and identify themselves as
(predominantly) man/boy or woman/girl. These socialisation enables life
experiences with very different opportunities and expectations from the moment
of gender-naming. How then could gender related matters disappear into the
language of root zone files and so on? In fact, how would it be possible to
cull out gender dimensions of root zone files?






Beats
me. It is mind-boggling enough to get my head around the WSIS process and its
peripheral themes. But it is problematic when everyone else leaves the
responsibility of making gender inequalities visible strictly to the WSIS GC
alone. Especially when the WSIS GC is one of the two multi-stakeholder caucus (the
other is the Youth Caucus). Theoretically, if I understand this correctly, it
would mean that the women and men from civil society, business entities and
governments who are supposed to constitute this caucus should bring into the
caucus perspectives from the different positions they inhabit in the formation
of information society. Likewise, the caucus – being a space to examine the
gender dimensions of information society enriched from these various
perspectives – would enable the members to bring this knowledge back to civil
societies, private sectors and governments. Voila! Gender consciousness and
analysis should be everywhere!






Fat
chance. It is barely expressly mentioned. Getting the gender paragraph into the
Declaration of Principles during Phase I of WSIS Phase was hard enough, now the
task is to remind everyone that the job is far from done. There’s still a need
to make sure that it doesn’t stop at language, and that talks about
inclusivity, transparency, multi-everything is not only about developed/developing
nations, but also about groups of people who inhabit very different worlds no
matter which location they share because of socially-relevant axes of
identities. But the nuances take a lot of effort and time to understand.






I chanced
across the drafting meeting of WSIS-GC after attending a parallel event,
huddled together at The Serpentine (cool name for a nondescript coffee and
smoking space at the belly of Palais du Nations). Overjoyed with my find of
what looks like some gender related advocacy activity, I pulled a chair and
joined in. It turned out to be a strange experience for me. We were looking at the
Chapter One document and scanning for gender gaps. While we were struggling
with language and probably caffeine-overdose, I felt that the exercise was
almost like “just add ‘woman’ and stir”. Where were the men in this caucus? Inclusivity
is up for grabs, since theoretically, anyone could be part of the WSIS GC, but
in actuality, we are predominantly, if not almost completely women.  As though gender automatically slides to mean
women. As though men are genderless. As though there is no gender identities
beyond the two.






Is
it then surprising that gender issues are ‘left to the women’ to bring up? When
we ‘add gender and stir’, how are we contributing to our own ghettoisation?
When the discussion is circulating around root zone files and DNS m
anagement, how can we ever hope
to locate and surface the gender dimension, if there are indeed any? Questions
upon questions. Meanwhile, debates an
d discussions are being
conducted in the room next door that precludes any meaningful recognition that
gender relations matter in information society, in internet governance, in
financing mechanisms, in prioritisation of issues, language and boundaries, or
a thoughtless silence of piecemeal assent.






At
the last dregs of the day where “Chapter One: Implementation Document” was
discussed paragraph by paragraph at the Sub-committee B plenary session, WSIS
GC’s comment on paragraph 4 was raised. This was to include “successful
approaches to Gender Mainstreaming” to national e-strategies and policies for
bridging the digital divide. When the Chair asked for comments, there was a
prolonged silence. She then wrily asked, “Is it because you are tired or
because you agree with gender mainstreaming?” Har har.. I guess this can be
taken either as a sad state of affair where you can’t really disagree to
‘gender’ – whatever that may mean – in international platforms without looking
like some unprogressive, backward nation so lip-service (or in this case, lack
of dissenting lip service) OR gender rights advocates can use this as a sneaky
tactic to slip in gender-conscious language at the last minute when everyone is
tired and just wants the session to end. Hmm… =/ 






Earlier
in the afternoon, I shared a cigarrette break with a delegate from Bangladesh.
Halfway through, I asked if his delegation is prioritising any gender related
issue. He smiled at his friend from the NGO, and said, yes of course, his
delegation is in full support of the gender language included in the Geneva
Principles, and in paragraph 43 of the WGIG report. BUT, each country has its
own priorities, and in terms of Bangladesh, it is infrastructure and capacity
building. So, they would have to bring those up, and leave it to ‘someone else’
to bring up gender. I began an attempt to engage with him in a conversation
about the gender dimensions of infrastructure and capacity building, and with
half-hearted (I’m sure I know which half!) listening, they said, “yes, yes” in
unison, and half-jokingly maintained that the NGO project was already currently
“gender-biased” in its prioritisation of women as intended beneficiaries of
rural knowledge centres.








I
give up! Already embroiled in mutinous thoughts of always having to raise
gender-related issues simply because I currently embody the identity woman, I simply
grinned, stubbed out my ciggarette and walked away.


Multi-stakeholder… multi-lateral… multi-media…multi-frustration.

jac smk

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