Women have historically been underrepresented in the telecommunications policy and regulation spaces, but there has been a recent push to increase diversity and representation in these fields. This underrepresentation can result from gender bias, discrimination, and lack of access to mentorship and networking opportunities.
These factors can make it difficult for women to enter and advance in telecommunications policy and regulation. Still, some initiatives and policies can be implemented to address these issues, such as diversity and inclusion policies, mentorship programmes, and initiatives to increase the representation of women in the field.
Socio-Political Advocacy for Community Networks Engagement (SPACE) is a capacity- and movement-building mentorship programme led by the Local Networks initiative, which APC and Rhizomatica jointly implement.
The mentorship programme aims to support women and gender-diverse individuals to take on leadership roles in community network advocacy. The programme, launched in 2021, allowed mentees to submit proposals for projects that look at increasing diversity in the telecoms space.
In 2022, Ms. Risper Onyango, a member of the programme's first cohort of mentees, came up with the idea for the SPACESHIP Kenya project, which aimed to increase the number of female lawyers in Kenya with the capacity to support policy, regulation and their implementation within the country. The project organised a two-day workshop whose objectives were:
To initiate conversations and dialogue around legislation and the healthy regulation of community networks in Kenya.
To educate and equip 20 female lawyers through an "introduction to community networks" course.
To create a community of female lawyers in Kenya that advances community networks.
To offer a training workshop focused on policy development and engagement surrounding community networks in Kenya.
When asked for feedback on the two-day workshop, key responses included a request for continued training, as the participants stated they had learned a lot in one day, and suggested that the information should be further dissected in smaller bits for ease of understanding. The participants also wanted to be involved in upcoming projects and activities within the community networks ecosystem.
Increasing the number of women in telecoms policy and regulation is important for several reasons. One reason is that women tend to have different usage patterns and needs regarding telecommunications services and infrastructure. For example, women may have different needs related to internet access, mobile phone usage, and online safety.
By having more women involved in policy and regulation, we can ensure that these needs are considered when decisions are made. Another reason is that, like in other fields, diversity in decision making leads to better outcomes.
When women are represented in telecoms policy and regulation, different perspectives and experiences are brought to the table, which can lead to more inclusive policies and regulations that benefit everyone. Representation matters, as it helps ensure that all voices are heard and that policies and regulations are responsive to the needs of all members of society.
Image: A panel discussion entitled "Lessons Learned from Capacity Building in the Global South" held during the 2022 Internet Governance Forum. Photo: Daniela Bello