by Avri Doria
Written specifically to frame to discussions of the gigX, this issue paper focuses on the question of the degree to which gender and women’s rights feature in Internet governance, in multiple interconnected ways including, but certainly not limited to access, content, and representation. Gender and women’s rights occupy a largely rhetorical role in today’s discussion of Internet governance.
When speaking of access, there has been a noticeable inverse proportionality in the movement against the digital divide. Often, especially in countries with pronounced gender discrimination, as the global percentage of men with access grows, the percentage of women without access or with limited access remains steady, thereby increasing the gender imbalance. And often with increased access for women, there is a direct relation to violence against women online.
On representation, an issue that had been very important in civil society and the private sector, there is an recognition on the need for more women in the leadership, more women on panels and more women involved in agenda setting. Civil society focuses largely on bringing women and women’s topics to the table, while the private sector has placed a premium on developing the capacity of girls and women for leadership in industry and representation as experts on mainstream topics. To a degree there is an improvement. One does see more women participating in the process, though meetings that aren’t specifically about women’s issues still only see token participation among the leadership. The IGF Gender Report Card discussed below highlights some of these trends. Dealing with women’s issues as specific topics in the mainstream discussions of Internet governance is still the exception. One has to search far and wide to find substantive outcomes that relate to gender, women’s rights, and the governance of the Internet. Many governments do, however, include targets in all of their resolutions, though there is a question on the degree to which these resolutions have any effect on the status of women on the Internet.
The discussion of gender in Internet governance is often done as a set of stand alone topics: There are not enough women on the Board! Women as subject to violence online! The presentation of women’s lives online are minimimized, stigmatized and fetishized! Rarely are these issues discussed in terms of their intersection and the interrelated nature of the issues. It is often hard enough to get the stand alone issues on the agenda. More involved topics are often shunned for being too complex and too difficult to understand. Even more rare are the occasions when issues are discussed in terms of the intersection of gender issues with other forms of social disadvantage, discrimination, and oppression, e,g., racial, national status, age, or hetero and cis normativity. While this issues paper focuses on individual issues in gender and women’s rights as related to Internet Governance, the intersectionality of the issues needs to be kept in mind.
As human beings, we don’t have one-dimensional identities – we’re all a combination of biological, social and cultural categories. We’re living intersections, we’re multi-dimensional. And so are the issues affecting us. So when we are designing a technology, a tool, a policy to sort out an issue emerging in any of the domains constructing our lives – politics, health care, security, labor, property, taxes, education, environment, media – adopting an intersectional perspective is greatly beneficial.