23 September 2005 - Gender and internet governance in the African context

"Is there such a thing as gender aspects of internet governance (IG) or does it boil down to the technical and political aspects?," asked Christine Butengwa from the African Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) during her presentation in the panel discussions on internet governance and gender organized by Association for Progressive Communications Women's Networking Support Programme (APC WNSP), FEMNET Communications, and the WSIS Gender Caucus.


She observed that during the online discussion on internet governance, many women activist have pointed to the lack of gender analysis in the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) report. She said there are gender aspects to the internet governance debate and illustrated them in the perspective of Africa.


The inclusion of content and internet use issues within the framework of internet governance illustrates the importance of end users applications of ICTs. The content should be discussed with structural and technical aspects of technologies.


The content theme also brings in the issues of freedom of expression, since many governments in Africa, Asia and Saudi Arabia had already sought to regulate content. In her view there are differences in approach between the traditional freedom of expression advocates and the African women’s movement with respect to such issues as pornography. “We feel that freedom of expression and human rights should be cross cutting theme in internet governance and therefore stress the need for a clear definition of ‘harmful’ content that is based on human rights norms and standards,” said Butegwa.


She highlighted that the universal, equitable and affordable access to ICTs remain a myth in Africa, unless the issue of infrastructure is dealt with in the context of urban-rural and gender divide. The costs particularly affect Africa women’s access to and use of ICTs. The internet connection costs are therefore a key issue in closing the gender digital divide.


Africa is also concerned about the potential loss of revenue from the new telecommunication systems such as the Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP), which can enhance the access of women to information and communications. Butengwa thinks that the short-term compensatory measures should be set up by the international community to assist Africa to offset these losses.


Radio is most accessible ICTs for many women in Africa, thereby the community broadcasting is seen to be an avenue for African women to access and create local information. Despite its potential for development, many African countries are creating a conducive regulatory environment for public and community broadcasting. However governments should distribute the airwaves in an open and transparent manner with the full participation of stakeholders. Butegwa suggested that the approach to radio spectrum as a public common and its regulation by an independent broadcast body should be promoted by internet governance at national level.

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