Athens - 02 November 2006
It was the second plenary of the ongoing Internet Governance Forum, dubbed as an independent and transparent platform for dialogue that will inform future policy discussions on internet governance. The title of the plenary was “Multi Stakeholder Policy Dialogue – Setting the Scene.” And as in the opening plenary, another formidable line up of speakers –CEOs (Chief Executive Officers), chairpersons, presidents of corporations and professional associations, a deputy minister, an ambassador, a member of parliament, a government envoy—14 men and a token of two women. There were too many men to mention all the names and since there were only two women–the task won’t be as tough. The two women on the panel were Karen Banks, of the Association for Progressive Communications and Lynn St. Amour of Internet Society (ISOC).
The objective of the plenary as the title indicates, was to get all stakeholders to sit together and discuss how each of them and their respective constituents are able to to stay up with the pace of technology. To put it more generally, it was aimed to be the formal venue that will set the tone for more interactive exchange of views and opinions regarding internetgovernance to take place. I should tell you that this plenary was conducted in a TV talk show kind of style where the host was to ask questions in a very direct manner to elicit sound bites from his VIP guests and enthusiastic reactions from the audience.
I don't know what got to me. Sick and tired of seeing and inhaling all the testosterones in the plenary hall and the corridors of the 5-star Divani Apollon Hotel, I raised my hand and lined up for the microphone. My question, which I specifically directed to government and private sector representatives was simple: What is the gender dimension on the issue of internet governance? I also explained why I directed it to the government and private sector. The reason was also simple: Civil society has made clear its take on gender and internet governance in the opening plenary. Therefore, I don’t see the need to ask them again.
Guess what answer came from the platform where the esteemed panelists sat? Absolute silence! Unbelievable total silence! I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. Laugh at the seeming cluelessness and cry over the sad reality that no one seemed to care other than ourselves and our usual allies within civil society.
It didn’t help that after the long silence, Mr. talk show host--er, the moderator (Kenneth Cukier from The Economist) fumbled and apologized lamely that he didn’t hear the question because he was doing something or the other. “Can I invite a response from the panel? I'm at a bit of a loss because, unfortunately, I was dealing with some logistical issues and I missed the question. What I would perhaps like to do -- oh, the gender dimension. Does anyone have a ..." Because it became too embarrassing to ask the panelists again about “the question on gender dimension” the good moderator decided to take a number of questions from the audience. Note that that was the first time he did it that way. Before then he was asking the panelists to answer one question at a time.
Wait, this is not the end of my story. In yesterday’s session on building meaningful participation in internet governance, all of the speakers discussed government and private sector partnership. I raised the question of involving national women’s machineries in developing ICT policies at the national level for after all, they are the ones mandated to support government-wide mainstreaming of a gender-equality perspective into all policy areas. Again, a deafening silence.