IGF 2019 – Best practice forum on gender and access

27 Nov 2019 15:40h

The Gender and Access Best Practice Forum (BPF) session discussed preliminary findings of the Beyond access: Women and gender-diverse people’s participation in the digital economy outcome document. The report collected inputs to build on recommendations which can help enable all genders to fully enjoy Internet rights, especially to be able to equally participate in the digital economy. 

The EQUALS Access Coalition research group produced a report which looks beyond skills and access to tools into ways to actively participate in the digital economy. Equal participation in the digital economy is challenging for all genders. At the Web Foundation in South Africa, Zimbabwe, they are conducting research on what women and gender diverse people are doing online, especially focusing on the barriers they are facing. For instance, the challenges women have when accessing formal banking. Usage of mobile money is increasing in Ghana, pointed out Ms Chenai Chair (The Web Foundation, South Africa/Zimbabwe). Data shows that working conditions in online work is exploitative, said Ms Anriette Esterhuysen (Director of Policy and Strategy, Association for Progressive Communications (APC)).  The International Labour Organization (ILO) is doing a lot of research on fair work. Ms Smita Vanniyar (Point of View, India) said that the digital economy is dependent on cards and banking systema, which pose a challenge for queer people because ‘many don’t have an ID, and are neither mister nor miss’. In Palestine, women are discriminated by online payment companies such as PayPal, said Ms Alison Carmer Ramel (7amleh, Palestine/Israel).

The challenge of closing the gender gap in digital environment persists. There is still not a lot of aggregated data about gender diversity in online work, noted Esterhuysen. It is important to understand that the gender gap includes not only women, but also the non-binary. There is not enough information about gender diverse people. Vanniyar reiterated that it is not good to talk about closing the digital gender gap with only women in mind, leaving ‘other’ genders behind, ‘this directly creates hierarchy’, she added. When it comes to women in the IT industry in Central America, 15% of students are female in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) areas, and only 2% of entrepreneurs are women, said Ms Kemly Camacho (Sula Batsu, Costa Rica). An additional gap is created in Palestine due to the suppression of digital development. Palestine only recently got 3G, and with the Israeli control of import and export, electronic devices are even more difficult for women to obtain. Ramel called for ending economic discrimination and blockages. 

For different genders and sex workers, privacy, security, and online safety are real and important considerations. When presenting their findings about teenage girls, Ms Nicole Pitter Patterson (Jamaica, Kemly Camacho, Sula Batsú, Costa Rica) pointed out that privacy and online safety were highly rated issues, with special emphasis on cyberbullying. In Palestine, with the ongoing occupation, intimidating measures are directed especially towards children and women. They are forbidden to participate online because of their offline safety, noted Ramel. 

Changes in gender policies are needed. ‘We need gender-responsive not gender-sensitive policies, and e-skills training for capacitating policymakers’, said Chair. Ms Anita Gurumurthy (IT for Change, India) said that policy changes, both global and local, need to be based on emerging policy areas and data. 

Towards the end of the session, Ms Bruna Santos (Policy and Advocacy Analyst, Coding Rights) reminded all that the final report of the BPF will be published after the end of the IGF 2019. She invited participants to suggest topics for the next year. Suggestions included: looking more closely at the output of  BPF 2015 on Violence Against Women; reviewiing gender violence online and access in more depth; physical and digital barriers that prevent access; and the relationship of algorithms to access and solving gender violence. For next year, Esterhuysen suggested taking the BPF further by organising a debate based on the previous year’s findings and inviting relevant stakeholders into the debate. 

by Aida Mahmutović