IGF 2020 – Best Practice Forum on gender and access

13 Nov 2020 11:20h

Event report

[Read more session reports and live updates from the 11th Internet Governance Forum]

The session was focused on the work Best Practice Forum (BPF) has done on gender and access over the past year in relation to the barriers of Internet access women face around the world.

It was pointed out that the work done would not be possible without the community-driven efforts when it comes to gathering information.

The work is particularly valuable when it comes to the support for women and girls’ equality goals, and the promotion of the empowerment of women and girls outlined in the UN 2030 Agenda for the Sustainable Development, specifically goal 9 about access and goal 5 about the need to empower women.

Session organisers Jac SM Kee, Women’s Rights Programme Manager, Association for Progressive Communications (APC), Renata aquino Ribiero, Researcher, E.I. MAG member to the IGF CS, and Anri van der Spuy, Internet Governance Forum

Andri Van der Spuy, Internet Governance Forum, opened the session and noted the development of the best practice forum which was developed as a result of community input from civil society, companies and individuals working in the field. National and regional IGFs participated in terms of sending relevant examples from their countries.

The BPF focused on challenges in terms of barriers, which the research showed to be:

  • the effect of culture and norms
  • lack of women in decision-making roles
  • relevant policies

Claire Sibthorbe, from GSMA, UK, presented a study published in 2015 which showed women to be disproportional, affected by barriers such as income and education.

She said that 19% of women said that they made decisions to purchase devices on their own. 61% had to get permission to purchase a device.

Angie Contreras, Youth Observatory, Mexico, explained the the Internet as a space and a tool for confidence and freedom of expression for women. The research shows girls and women to be subjected to heavy social surveillance both “at home and as social surveillance”, largely in Asia. Lower income and lower education is directly putting women under control.

Alison Gillwald, Research ICT Africa, South Africa, stressed the need to make governments accountable for public statistics, and the need to work together on the literature.

Ritu Strivastava, Digital Empowerment Foundation, India said ‘In India women are given second hand mobile phones, and the reality is women are unable to reach public wi-fi access points because they are controlled by men.”

Peter Bloom, Rizomática, shared his experience from working in rural areas on how men are asking to learn about how to access the metadata in order to ensure “their wives, sisters, and daughters are not allowed to talk to men they don’t want them to talk to.” Bloom stressed the ongoing presence of a patriarchal system where women’s bodies are being surveilled and controlled.

Session’ conclusions were:

  • the need to work with all stakeholders
  • to base discussions on research and evidence, in order to stop talking about women as a homogeneous group
  • the need for exact data

Participants were invited to further contribute to the document. The BPF’s second draft outcome document was published on the IGF’s review platform on 3 December 2016, and will remain open for public comment until 18 December 2016. It is available for download.

by Aida Mahmutović

The theme of this year’s Best Practice Forum (BPF) on Gender was violence, harm, pleasure, and consent online, from a gender-diversity perspective. It looked into how these issues have been mentioned at the IGF between 2016 and 2019.

Ms Bruna Martins dos Santos (BPF Co-facilitator; Advocacy Coordinator, Data Privacy Brazil Research Association) and Ms Marwa Azelmat (Policy Advocacy Coordinator, Association for Progressive Communications (APC)) moderated the session.

Ms Sorina Teleanu (Consultant, IGF Secretariat) led the analysis report. She presented some of the key findings and recommendations.

General key findings:

  • The IGF has featured discussions on gender-based violence and harm, however this has not been the case when it comes to pleasure and consent.
  • There has been a tendency to focus on negative aspects, rather than what needs to be done to promote the Internet as a space for self-expression and pleasure, with consent as a guiding principle.
  • While the proportion of IGF sessions focused exclusively on gender issues can be seen as low (between 3% and 7%), there is a positive trend in which an increasing number of sessions integrate gender-related issues when discussing other Internet policy topics (from 19% in 2016 to 41% in 2019).

Key findings on the inclusion of women and gender-diverse people:

  • IGF discussions on violence, harm, pleasure, and/or consent do exceptionally well in terms of gender diversity among speakers, moderators, and participants. However, this is only valid in a binary sense.
  • There is no mechanism in place to measure the inclusion and participation of gender non-binary people.
  • The general feeling is that progress has been made over the years to foster more gender diversity.

Recommendations on gender mainstreaming at the IGF:

  • Continue to encourage the integration of gender-related issues within discussions on other Internet and digital policy issues.
  • Consider including a question on proposal forms for IGF workshops asking session organisers to indicate how they plan to approach proposed topics from a gender diversity perspective
  • Make gender report cards mandatory for all session organisers, followed by analysis afterwards.
  • Ensure gender inclusion in sessions, which is a shared responsibility: Itt must be encouraged from the top (by the Multistakeholder Advisory Group (MAG), the IGF Secretariat, etc.), but the community must also be proactive in this matter.
  • Promote more discussions and linkages between BPFs and Dynamic Coalitions (DCs) in IGF intersessional work to allow for more interdisciplinarity.

Recommendations on violence, harm, pleasure, and consent:

  • Encourage more discussions on empowerment, self-expression, pleasure, and consent, as women and gender-diverse people’s experiences online are not and should not be limited to harm and violence issues.
  • Make the IGF the main space in which discussions are fostered on how to empower and uplift women and gender-diverse people in the digital space.
  • Ensure discussions on these issues do not happen ‘inside bubbles’ but rather reach and include the wider community.

Recommendations on gender diversity:

  • Ensure that the principle of gender diversity applies across all sessions, including those focused on gender issues (i.e. avoid echo-chambers).
  • Make sure that having women and gender-diverse people in sessions is not the end goal. Their participation should not be tokenised.
  • Encourage women and gender-diverse people to engage with other work, as inclusion must go beyond participation in a singular session.
  • Go beyond capacity building to develop confidence building for those working on gender issues at the IGF.

Objectives for ongoing work:

  • Map out policy processes and spaces that discuss violence, harm, pleasure, and consent online in the digital context.
  • Map out policy processes and spaces that discuss these issues outside of the digital context.

Ms Anri van der Spuy (Senior Associate, Research ICT Africa) reflected on the main challenges present in 2015 when the BPF was introduced, and in particular which of these challenges persist. People still do not properly understand that online abuse is a real form of abuse. More importantly, policymakers also do not understand this. Van der Spuy noted that it has taken a long time and a lot of convincing to put gender issues on the IGF agenda. That being said, today’s report shows that we have come far but there is still a lot of work to be done.

She pointed out that there is still a very siloed approach to dealing with these issues. In South Africa, it took a lot of effort to convince parliamentarians about the online dimension of violence, and that it is very much real. This is mainly due to the lack of data about it. She said that encouraging multidisciplinary conversations is important to get outside of the Internet governance (IG) bubble.

Van der Spuy highlighted that when it comes to the IGF, data demonstrates binary results almost exclusively. Only since 2017 has the non-binary dimension been present. Up to this point, she noted, intersectional activities have tended to show a decrease in active participation.

Ms Avri Doria (Principal Researcher, Technicalities) asked the session how comfortable working on the BPF within the current IGF is and whether the IGF is a safe space for these types of conversations. She remembered that before 2015, topics around sexuality were rather unmentionable. They were introduced at a MAG meeting in 2015. Ms Chennai Chair (Research Manager, World Wide Web Foundation) also wondered whether the IGF is a space to talk about women’s agency, or a more conservative space? Van der Spuy said that interrogations related to agency are necessary, especially for people that are not at the table. She noted that when diversity is discussed, we often neglect talking about what the barriers are to having more people in this space.

Ms Anriette Esterhuysen (Director of Global Policy and Strategy, Association for Progressive Communications (APC)) believed that the IGF is the right place to discuss these issues. However, she noted that it is important to focus on the effective way of doing so. The APC and other BPF partners have worked to provide evidence and voices to inform this process. She also noted that many withdraw upon seeing the work being done with a ‘feminist’ perspective. Therefore, more work around framing the messages is needed, as well as strategies on the approach.

Second part:

It is important to do more when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion. But in what ways are some of the BPF recommendations applicable in other policy spaces as well as at the IGF?

Doria said that she always looked into gender issues in terms of access. This year’s report provided her with wider insights. It is important to work ‘outside of the IG bubble’, with people who do not understand such issues and have very narrow ways of looking at policy analysis and development. Even schools teaching IG do not include these issues in their curricula. She noted that for a long time, sexuality had been a sensitive topic for the IGF too. It is important to have people who understand both gender and other issues and are able to tactically translate it for policy purposes.

‘Maybe we should introduce feminist analysis without even mentioning the word feminist, first,’ she said. She continued with the explanation that people are defensive when things come in a language they do not understand. It does not excuse them but it is a tactical necessity to maneuver around such a barrier if something is to be achieved within policy processes. Having more data means looking at every part of the chain. Therefore, it is important to reach out to marginalised communities and put what is important to them on the agenda. When it comes to consultation, more gender experts are needed.

‘Representation and [the] image we project is also very important,’ said Ms Jennifer Chung (Director of Corporate Knowledge, Dot.Asia). While in themes related to human rights there is more diversity in representation, in other areas such as technical issues this is not the case. She suggested that there should be reconsideration in relation to having the word ‘gender’ as part of the name of this BPF.

by Aida Mahmutović