November 2007

II Internet Governance Forum 

The Exclution of Women Persists in the Debate about Internet Governance



November 15th, 2007
Rio de Janeiro, Brasil

By Katerina Anfossi
Feminist International Radio Endeavour - FIRE


After 4 years of analysis about Internet Governance, women´s perspective remains absent from the debate, regardless of the intense participation of women activists and organizations dedicated to informational technologies in different scopes of civil society.   


For Chat García, who is in charge of the Gender Program of  the Asociación para el Progreso de las Comunicaciones, the feminist analysis of TIC`s  is not present in discussions, nor are the critical topics. She pointed out that "the participation of women in the forum, specially in plenaries is very small. That is why we are here, to bring more voices and perspectives to the discussions about the Internet. The challenge is for the women movement to be at the forums,. or our perspectives will not be incorporated."  

An example of this is the discussion about the regulation of contents.  Chat García uses the discussion about child pornography as an example, “where the feminist  input of years has been left out."


The presence of women at the  II Internet Governance Forum/IGF reaches one third of the participants, 610 women aproximately.  However, this proportion in not equally divided between speakers and panelists, where the monopoly of words remains in the male voices, with mild exceptions,   such as the space provided for the conformation of the Dinamic Coalition of Gender, where men did not get a chance to speak, due to their total absence.   This could seem as merely superficial, however it is a repeated pattern of conduct that forces women to rethink their strategies, transform their achievements from paper into concrete actions, thus concentrating their energy to face new challenges and not in the implementation of the agreements and rights by those who formulated them. 


In the workshops as well as in the central panels where the different scopes of Internet governance are being discussed, the advances achieved by the women movement are unknown, as well as the perspectives incorporated into the official documents of the United Nations, as constituted in chapter 12 clause J of the Beijing Platform of Action adopted in 1995 at the IV Women World Conference. 


The activist Magaly Pazello pointed out to Feminist International Radio Endeavour that "taking into consideration our presence at the global forum under the wing of the United Nations, none of the accomplishments by women at the conference on social developments are being considered."  


Women and Internet Gobernance

Until now this  is a concept that does not seem to be defined. However, to the civil society and to the women movement its definition comprises the incorporation of the gender dimension, the inclusion and participation of all sectors, under the framework of human rights, the principles of access, open source, diversity and transparency in the process of decision making about the Internet, as those referred to the regulations framework, legislation and politics about the Internet. 


According to Graciela Selaim, member of the civil society, Brasil`s government is committed with diversity, democracy, use of participation and representative processes of society in Internet governance, as expressed by the Minister of Long Term Planning,  Mr Mangabeira Unger, during the inauguration of II IGF.  Unger spoke about the necessity of an anti-hegemony principle in Internet gobernance and a principle referred to limit the influence of the State and the influence of money.


Axis that make up Internet gobernance

Access, diversity, critical resources, openship, and security are the five central themes that focus the attention of the 2100 participants from 109 countries,  550 representing governments, 700 from civil society, 100 of international organizations, 300 from businesses and 400 from diverse areas.


These axis have marked radically different opposite postures between the diverse actors participating in the forum.


  • Access, a concept under construction that goes from connectivity infrastructure, educational measures for the use of the Internet, access inequality and the digital gap between north and south, the democratization of access, as well as the defense of the Internet as a public service good and universal access.


  • Diversity refers to the necessity to incorporate the multiple linguistic expressions, overcome the exclusion of groups and sector of the civil society, as well as the discrimination of the population with disabilities, the lack of neutrality in the search engines, which direct users to informational and entertainment monopolies, excluding the possible virtual alternatives with different vision, information and perspectives.


  • Critical resources comprise infrastructure, technical norms, traffic, interconnection, innovative and convergent  technologies, among others.


  • Openship as a fundamental principle of the Internet, of open and unrestricted character, and a free flow of information, respectful of freedom of expression, and instrument of human development, versus intellectual property and property rights.  Dafne Plou, of APC referred to the presence of private businesses at the IGF (Yahoo, Goggle, Sun Microsoft, Nokia, Microsoft, Telefónica-España, Fuji) by saying that "their is a dictatorship of power, of cultural  authoritarianism, norms and values of ultracapitalist societies where sharing becomes a threat to the private monopolies."


  • Security  referred to cibercrime, credibility, security for data transfer and security for the protection of childhood, debate between those who plea for strict security controls, operated and provided by the states and those who fear that their privacy right will not be guaranteed.


Advances and disadvantages for participation

Among the advances provided by the II IGF are the major participation of civil society, as well as the incorporation of new participants in the debate. 

For Anriette Esterhoysen, executive director of the Association for Communicational Progress - APC, the IGF  “...is the only space where we can talk about the politics and the strategies to keep the Internet as a public space and good."

This position is shared by the civil society as well as some governments, but not by the private sector.

She added that the IGF is an intergovernmental space of the United Nations  where various conversations between different actors, such as businesses  linked to technological development, governments and others counterparts such as the media, researches, etc can take place.


However, Anriette Esterhoysen considers that in this meeting a classifications of participants took place by using identifications that distinguish those from governments, civil society, businesses, which in essence shows the power of each one. 


Another obstacle pointed out by activist Magaly Pazello, is the presence of more organizations, participants and panelists of the north, who are more articulate and have more resources for their preparation, as opposed of those from the south, which expresses inequality during the participation and expression of perspectives. She also pointed out the absence of women at the panels and the lack of gender equality during the development of the II IGF. 


Dinamic coalition of gender conforms at the igf

Diverse women organizations, academics and activists conformed during the II IGF the Dinamic Coalition of Gender to guarantee women participation in the construction and  conceptualism of Internet gobernance.


Some of the objectives are:

  • Visualize, promote and influence effective links between gender and Internet gobernance initiatives. 

  • Defend the achievements, guarantee gender equality during the conceptualism of Internet gobernance, such as the dimension of gender and women rights expressed as access, content regulation, privacy and freedom of expression, among others. 

  • Influence and guarantee more participation and inclusion in the Informational Society.

  • Recognize and continue the precious work of women in the TICs, towards the Informational and Knowledge  Society as well as in the I and II fase of the United Nations Summit about the Informational Society. 


From  India, Senegal, Brasil, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Chile, New Zeland, Argentina, Uruguay, Pakistan, Czech Republic, among other countries, this initiative hopes to obtain achievements at the next Internet Gobernance Forum to take place in  New Delhi in 2008.


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Source: Feminist International Radio Endeavour/www.radiofeminista.net