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Connecting Our Rights at IGF2013: Women and sexual rights defenders leading progress on equitable, inclusive internet policy

Author's name: 
Shawna Finnegan
Bali, Indonesia

The human rights of women and sexual minorities are being increasingly impacted by the internet, not only through violence and discrimination, but through policies and legislation that do not recognise their specific contexts, concerns and capacities.

This was a key message coming out of the workshop hosted by APC’s CIPP and WRP, ‘Connecting Our Rights: Strategies for Progress’. In this workshop, participants discussed ways in which internet rights issues are being addressed within various human rights mechanisms and spaces, and the implications for global internet governance and public policy.

Jelen Paclarin from the Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau in the Philippines, described the experience women’s rights groups in the country, which have lobbied for the recognition of technology-related forms of violence against women within mechanisms and instruments at the national, regional and global level. Despite strong advocacy in spaces such as the Universal Periodic Review, Commission on the Status of Women and ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), in 2012 the Philippines passed an anti-cybercrime law that includes cyber sex as a content-related offense. Women’s rights and internet rights groups have questioned the constitutionality of this new law, which has now received a temporary restraining order by the Supreme Court. Women’s rights groups have called for a law that recognise the capacities of women, rather than treating them simply as victims, and which provides for equality of access, opportunities and results.

Speaking on the context of Indonesia, Kamilia Manaf discussed the disconnect between law and practice in protecting the rights of women and LGBT online. Despite ratifying CEDAW, since 2011, LGBT websites have been blocked in the country, on the basis that they promote pornography and sexual deviance. Women’s rights groups are also working to raise internet-related human rights issues with the national human rights institution and local ISPs. Both Kamel and another local participant expressed frustration over the local ISP association’s decision to run ‘Miss Internet Bali’, which does not support progress on women’s rights and internet rights, and ignores the multiple identities of women.

Hate speech and violent language targeted at women and sexual minorities was discussed as a growing issue in Indonesia, silencing the voices of these groups in online spaces. Johan Hallenborg from the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs also raised concern about hate speech against women online in his country, and the need for law enforcement to apply existing laws to the online context. Bishakha Datta from Point of View in India, pointed out that we must be careful with what we refer to as ‘hate speech’, as some politicians use the term to describe instances of critique.

From APC, Joy Liddicoat reflected on the way that human rights mechanisms are responding to the diversity threats and opportunities posed by the internet. While we are not yet at a point of critical mass, spaces such as the Human Rights Council are beginning to engage on Internet Governance issues, and the quality of consideration on these issues by special mechanisms is high. Addressing a comment about responding to hate speech with more speech, Joy raised the essential point that the ability to respond to hate speech with more speech is mediated by factors such as power relations, knowledge, and position.

Following an open and reflexive discussion, Chat Ramilo Garcia closed the workshop with the reflection that expanding public discourse of rights is essential for empowerment online.

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