Sexuality, Identity and Digital Spaces (October 6, 2007)

The panel discussion was chaired by Avri Doria, Adjunct Professor, Luleå University of Technology (Sweden). There were 2 panelists namely, Namita Malhotra, a legal researcher at the Alternative Law Forum in India and Cecilia Sardenberg, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology of the Federal University of the Bahia, Director of NIEM, Brazil.

Namita’s presentation was fascinating. She spoke about the history of pornography, the laws around pornography –citing specific legal cases on the issue. She also elaborated on how difficult it is to apply the existing laws on pornography to online pornography. She made a point about the need to clearly define what constitutes pornography. Here, I agree completely with Namita. Pornography is very contextual. What is pornographic in one situation, at one particular period or to a certain group of audiences may not necessarily be pornographic in other situations, other periods or to a different audience group.

The other thing that struck me in Namita’s talk was the link she made between pornography and the saturation of media with images of war. Hmm…I certainly believe that violence brings about a perverse kind of thrill to some people but I’ve never associated it with pornography. …I made a mental note to read Namita’s paper.

I was so enthralled with Cecilia’s talk. She spoke about cyberfeminism, and how this has become an important form of activism. …More than that, I also found out that she is a very interesting person…she stressed that being a feminist doesn’t equate to being anti-men. In fact, she likes men she said. She disclosed that she was married 4 times. (In a later conversation, she clarified that she only got married twice –the other two men she did not marry. Ok, I got it! Twice is enough but that doesn’t mean you stop having fun right? )

Open forum

The open forum was just as interesting as the presentations. There were a number of points raised but some of those that resonated with me were Sally Burch’s point about her discomfort with the term cyberfeminism. She reminded the group that even as we use the new ICTs in our various activist engagements, we should not lose the capacity to be critical of the technology. Another important question raised during the open forum was: What happens when personal spaces are being made public and corporatized as in the case of My Space?

There was one point that generated a lot of reactions and that was Anita Gurumurthy’s question to Namita on where she sees the policy moving [given the ambiguities around online pornography].

Namita said that she feels restricted with the policy discourse; that she prefers to discuss the issues in a broader context. Vimala Ramachandran, Director, Educational Resource Unit, India and Simrita Gopal Singh from Aalochana also said that the discussions should not be limited to policy. This prompted me to ask some of the participants regarding their views on the interface between policy and practice.

Here’s what I’ve gathered:

“Neoliberal ideology has sought to discredit the idea of public policy and services (shrinking of the State; inefficiency of state services, corruption, etc.), as an argument in favor of privatization and deregulation. (Except in IPR issues!). This discourse has permeated thinking, even among civil society. Reclaiming the need for public policy and services would be an important aspect of challenging the idea that the market can solve everything. But it needs rethinking in terms of what we mean by the term “public” (eg not government, but a combination of State and civil society participation/decision-making, which would probably take different forms in different societies and political power structures).” - Sally Burch, ALAI (UK/Ecuador)

“In countries that are dependent on international financial organizations for funding to implement development programmes examples indicate that the implementation takes a different path from policy.” - Leelangi Wanasundera (Sri Lanka)

“For me policy can be best actualised when there is a groundswell of public opinion, support, lobbying for it. The RTI in India is being used effectively and has great potential because it was created in response to the demand from social activists and social movements.” - Simrita Gopal Singh, Aalochana (India)

“As gender and feminist advocates, I think it is important that we focus on having in place policy frameworks that support our course. Just as important, we need to keep our eyes on implementation processes once a policy framework is developed. This is because of the tendency by most governments in developing countries acting contrary to policy provisions when it comes to implementation.” - Constantine Obuya, ACWICT (Kenya)

“Policy and practice are inextricably linked and perpetually respond to one another. In order to achieve policy influence, I believe there is a need for sound evidence (based on practice) as well as an understanding of the policy making process – including the windows of opportunity, effective strategies to communicate for influence, etc.” -

Chaitali Sinha, IDRC (Canada)

“Under article 40 of the Thai 1997 Constitution, radio waves are national resources that should be shared among the state, people and private sector . The organic law of article 40 demands 2 dependent organizations: NTC-National Telecommunications Commission and NBC-National Broadcasting Commission. Around 2003, the NTC was set up but until now no NBC –because of big conflict of interests. Most members of NTC were nominated by big telecom enterprises. What I’m trying to say is, policy is very important but without public participation and monitoring, operation or practice will be for the benefit of the state and private sector. The most important is good governance.” - Uajit, CMDI (Thailand)

“Policy and practice are like the two sides of the same coin, like feminism with theory --political action walking side by side, building our experiences. I understand that there should be time to put our energies into practice, to address policies, and learn from such experiences. We know that there are a lot of challenges to face and there are opportunities, open windows, new fields like ICTs. Women have been shaping this field since the beginning --moving forward both in developing the technologies, in advocating for policies and doing practice. There is no other way to claim our space than by involving in both policy development and practice. In G2G we believe that the practice also has the power to define the policy.” - Magaly Pazello, Brazil