Now that the dust of the third Internet Governance Forum, held in Hyderabad from 3-6 December 2008, has settled, a brief look back is in order. The host country's efforts amounted to an unqualified success and provided a smooth – even lavish – context. This was especially appreciated under the difficult circumstances in the wake of the Mumbai attacks.
The main sessions and workshops illustrated yet again that the multi-stakeholder approach, bringing together representatives from governments, the private sector and civil society, constitutes a very productive approach because different perspectives need to inform the deliberations of the complex political, economic and social issues connected to ICTs, the internet, and internet governance. However, the multi-stakeholder approach as witnessed here also had its limits, most notably in that it appeared to be heavily male-dominated in terms of the panel participants. Care must hence be taken that this approach does not only establish a cross-occupational male club. Similarly, it does not do to mainly reflect non-grassroots or even elite perspectives, particularly in a political process that is to tackle internet governance from development perspectives. Hence what would be required in the future are sustained outreach efforts to go beyond the group of the usual suspects and bring in grassroots concerns and fresh perspectives.
Unfortunately, from a feminist social justice perspective, the IGF has not yet succeeded in mainstreaming a strong rights-based framework to provide guidance for the tackling of difficult issues. This would be direly needed in a climate which at times appears doubly short-circuited by the political panic surrounding terrorism and the social panic surrounding child pornography. In this climate, care must be taken to remember that answers and strategies will not do much good if they only result from knee-jerk or automatic type of responses rather than thorough considerations of the issues involved from historical, geopolitical, economic, social and rights-based, gender sensitive bases. If the next IGF in Egypt in 2010 would indeed be organized around the theme of human rights, as has been suggested, this would undoubtedly be a good thing, provided that the stakeholders indeed take up this theme in their deliberations. At this stage, it appears that human rights proponents, gender equality advocates and the development community are drawn closer together to argue a common cause under the difficult political climate outlined above, and a consolidation of forces along these lines seems quite promising.
At bottom, the IGF has proved its utility for providing a platform where a wide array of internet governance-related issues can be brought together and pondered from different perspectives. While it thus constitutes a crucial site within the dispersed global internet governance structure, it has yet to prove, as pointed out eloquently by Anita Gurumurthy from IT for Change in the closing session, that it will facilitate political solutions that make a positive difference in the world – in terms of human rights, development and gender equality. Thus as always, much work remains to be done, but a promising beginning is clearly discernible.
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