There were several sessions and side meetings at the 9th Internet Governance Forum (IGF). Out of those, there were only a few on gender and sexuality, and this post is about the ones I had the privilege to attend.
On September 1st, before the IGF officially started, the Association For Progresssive Communications (APC), organized a day-long pre-event meeting on Sex, Rights, and Internet Governance. The meeting brought together women’s rights, sex rights, and internet rights activists together to discuss those intersecting issues.
The meeting introduced the Feminist Principles of the Internet, which we treated as an evolving document for the basis of our discussion. Some of the attendees were part of the group working on the principles back in April 2014 (EngageMedia was also part of that group), while others were still new to the principles.
We discussed the final draft of the 15 principles which covers issues including internet rights for women and LGBTQI, online violence against women and LGBTQI, hate speech, sexual expression, child protection, and pornography. The plenary discussion provided a space for attendees to express their questions or concerns regarding the principles, be it in the substance or wording.
After the introduction and plenary on the principles, we divided ourselves into four groups to have more focused discussions on different principles with guiding questions such as how the principles resonate for us, what more do we want to flesh out from them, and how we can use the principles in our respective countries.
I joined the group that discussed gender-based violence, where we discussed how to make the connection between online and offline violence, how to apply the principles in our own contexts, especially considering that the principles are not necessarily easy to understand in aspects of language, terminology, and substance. I personally need to think of reasons or arguments on why these principles matter to get buy-ins from activists in Indonesia because I imagine that many would think that online violence is trivial when there are so many women suffering from violence in the “real world”. It was a fruitful discussion to give us starting points to work on adopting the principles.
The pre-event meeting also gave an introduction about the IGF to those who have never attended it before. The challenge was how we could integrate analysis on gender and sexuality into the spaces where most of the speakers or attendees did not necessarily have gender perspectives. So we agreed to work our best to raise the issues of gender and sexuality in as many sessions as possible, while also observing how gender dynamics played out in the different spaces at the IGF (gender composition of speakers, how many women and men spoke up at the sessions, etc.) as references for our future work.
9th Internet Governance Forum: Gender and sexuality online
The next day, when the IGF officially started, one of the first sessions was the Gender Dynamic Coalition led by APC. The session discussed the issue of unequal access to the internet for men and women. From the statistics presented, there are 200 million more men who have access to the internet than women. As Argentinian minister Olga Cavalli puts it, less internet access for women leads to less access to higher education and economic freedom.
The meeting also discussed strategies on how to overcome this digital divide between men and women using experiences shared by the speakers from different countries. One of the speakers, Titi Aksmani from Google, spoke about her experiences related to some projects she has undertaken to bring infrastructure closer to the people as one of solutions to the digital divide. However, Bisakha Datta from India responded by asking who then will use that infrastructure the most? Men or women? In relation to helpful information and education that can be found online, Kamel Manaf from Indonesia related her experience with the blocking of LGBT sites that were considered to have pornographic content, although that wasn’t the case in reality.
The Gender Dynamic Coalition also launched the Feminist Principles of the Internet at the end of the session, making the document officially public.
Another event I attended that raised gender issues was ‘Anonymity by Design: Protecting While Connecting’. The main topic there that caught my interest was on whether one should stay public about his or her identity in the name of freedom of expression which should protect everyones’ rights to speak without consequences from either the government or other individuals, or stay anonymous in order to be safe and secure from violence.
The latter was expressed from the perspective of women and LGBT persons who need to find and share critical information which might include sex education, safe abortion information, and rape experience stories. A teenager from the UK said that young people are more confident to ask questions or seek information online, especially on sex education and when they are anonymous. The Youth IGF survey revealed that 65% of respondents chose to be anonymous in order to protect their personal information.