[Read more session reports and live updates from the 12th Internet Governance Forum]
The birds of a feather session was moderated by Ms Amrita Choudhury, Director – Cyber Café Association of India (CCAOI), who shared preliminary findings of a study to identify the main global challenges related to gender rights, especially in the global south, while highlighting regional and national issues. 164 participants from 54 countries participated in the survey.
Ms Angelica Contreras, Chair – Internet Society Women Special Interest Group, mentioned that young women face the challenge, that now, in addition to compromised rights in offsite spaces, they also have the same rights compromised in online spaces. She gave statistics from the World Wide Web Foundation that 7 out of 10 women who use the Internet have suffered abuse online.
Ms Nooria Ahmadi, Executive Board Member – Afghanistan School on Internet Governance, mentioned that the intersectional perspective is really important. Some of the challenges highlighted are cultural, traditions that do not allow women to participate in Internet governance or digitally related discussions, low digital literacy levels and limited access to technologies. She called for digital literacy to be embedded in policy-making.
Ms Sarah Kiden, Ford-Mozilla Open Web Fellow – Mozilla Foundation, highlighted social and cultural norms, mentioning that in many cultures in the global south, women are seen as housekeepers. She mentioned that there are many women who have been instrumental in the history of computing and the Internet, like Grace Hopper, and such stories can help encourage women.
Ms Anju Mangal, information and communication technology (ICT) specialist, highlighted that inclusive means everyone – persons with disabilities, men, women, ethnic minorities, indigenous communities, etc. Speaking from a Pacific Islands perspective, she felt that ICT is still progressing. Opportunities are provided by inclusive policies, gender training, and encouraging digital rights.
Presenting remotely, Ms Nadira Al-Araj, Chairperson - Internet Society Palestine Chapter, spoke from a perspective of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, highlighting that many MENA region countries are going through political and economic instability including the Gulf countries. From the survey results, she mentioned that 11% of MENA respondents are aware of the best practices adopted by their countries. Respondents gave priority to improving gender rights for women.
A recorded video of Mr Gustavo Paiva, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte (UFRN), was shown. Paiva stated that there are many challenges related to the subject but participants can take the limitations to local leaders and do something to help their communities. He also highlighted that he has done some work with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
There was a general feeling by participants that there have to be initiatives that solve issues related to gender. Another participant highlighted that women with disabilities are doubly disadvantaged, which creates a lot of barriers for them. But she was optimistic that a lot more work can be done to break down these barriers. There was a general agreement about the need for mentorship and promoting role models for girls to learn from.
Participants also agreed that gender does not mean only women, but should cover men as well, as men can be allies to help improve circumstances. An issue of grass root initiatives was raised, where local communities work on issues is later taken up by bigger corporations, without even acknowledging the original project communities.
On harassment, participants felt that more women are becoming invisible online in order to avoid online harassment, but creating awareness and capacity building can solve this problem. Regulations were also encouraged as a way to help deal with online crime and violence against women.
By Sarah Kiden