The Dynamic Coalition on Gender and Internet Governance was a unique panel at the 2018 IGF, not only because it was one of the few to have full focus on gender rights, but also because it was a participatory session with presentations from panellists and also engagement by the majority of audience members present. With the intent “to look at some of the emerging issues at the intersection of gender and internet governance and the cyberspace,” this Dynamic Coalition (DC), organised by APC members Point of View and Foundation for Media Alternatives, was an important continuation of previous DCs at the IGF.
Moderated by Bishakha Datta (Point of View, India), the session launched with the desire to expand the range of issues being discussed in relation to gender.
First to speak was Laura Brieton Despradel from ISOC-RD in the Dominican Republic. In describing the local situation, she spoke about how organisations like Pro Familia are using technology (via an app called Planeapp, currently only available in the Dominican Republic) to support their fight with the government and with the Catholic Church, two of the central institutions posing challenges to their work on sexual and reproductive rights for youth.
In the Dominican Republic, Laura shared with the group, three out of 10 girls become pregnant before age 18, and many are victims of rape. Many others are sick or end up dying. However, due to a lack of sexual education in schools (on account of influence from the Catholic Church), lowering those numbers is a difficult task. Only 10% of schools in the Dominican Republic are secular, and Pro Familia has encountered a lot of resistance from the church throughout their campaigns. In fact, the Catholic Church sued them for showing an ad with a young woman who had a condom in her purse, where the condom was not even visible. Pro Familia was told that they were wrong for "promoting promiscuity" among girls.
Even the Ministry of Education tends to follow this conservative approach, saying that the word “condom” cannot be said and always presenting families using the same format: man, woman and children. The only information allowed in apps covers basic anatomy.
For this reason, Pro Familia decided not to work with them any more, instead getting the support of the Ministry of Youth and Ministry of Health, both of which take a much more progressive stance towards sexual health and education. Thanks to this and the development of the app, youth between ages of 13 and 19, including queer adolescents, are now asking for information, and saying what they want to see in there. The campaign was so successful that more than 200 questions were submitted in one week. Interestingly, 87% of those came from girls.
As Laura said, they know that adding information for queer adolescents is going to be a problem with the government, but they have been getting encouragement from the ministries and have started working with Mexico and Bolivia as well, in an effort to share knowledge.
In terms of challenges, the main issue has been promoting the app, and being able to include information that the youth want to know about. Since the Dominican government uses Twitter actively, Pro Familia has been running campaigns to address them through this platform, which has been one effective and creative strategy for raising awareness about their work.
The group next heard from APC’s Women’s Rights Programme project coordinator on sexuality and the internet, valentina (hvale) pellizzer, based in Bosnia and Herzegovina. hvale spoke on the use of the Feminist Principles of the Internet (FPIs) as a framework for her work, along with the EROTICS project (Exploratory Research on Information and Communication Technology), which conducts exploratory research on sexuality and the internet. With the latest research focusing on India, Sri Lanka and Nepal, hvale elaborated that "the study started from curiosity, because the internet is a visible medium, and is hosting everyone."
Noting that there is increasing collection and surveillance of user data by governments and other non-state actors, which can be misused to target women and queer persons, hvale spoke about the concept of a “freedom search”, meaning that a user is able to look for words that they might not hear in schools, for example, because of the taboo on discussion of sexuality. She gave the example of Sri Lanka, where data may end up being used against people in insidious and dangerous ways. She explained how this introduces a particular level of vulnerability because in Sri Lanka, anyone can go directly to a telecom agency or local ISP and get full details on the internet usage of others, without the company needing to inform them that there is research being done on them.
She also explained that we need to start doing benchmarking on companies because sexual rights are attacked (or protected) at national levels, while most data is sitting outside countries (e.g. social media content on Facebook or Twitter is not hosted nationally), so there is a continuous tension between the national and the global.
Approaching the issue from an academic perspective, Baldeep Grewal from Universität Würzburg in Germany spoke about a research paper she has been compiling on the Gender Report Cards (GRCs) at the IGF. The GRCs look at such indicators as the number of women participants, the number of women speakers, the number of women moderators, inclusivity of gender issues, etc. She explained that there is “an urgent need for tools that could evaluate engagement to encourage gendered perspectives in workshops.”
Beginning in 2009, it was initially APC members that filled out the GRCs; however, since 2012, every session organiser has to submit reports that answer five questions related to gender in order to secure their slot for next year's IGF, with all reports being published. The reports reveal insightful information, such as the fact that in 2011, IGF had almost negligible mention of inclusion in workshops, but that this has since been improving. As a statistical resource to monitor the level of inclusiveness and diversity, the GRCs give a sense of gendering at the IGF. In turn, workshop organisers have begun to think of gender in the context of their workshops now that gender has to be accounted for.
However, there are challenges that remain, including people not fully filling out the forms, which makes comparison of results difficult due to lack of consistency. Smita Vanniyar from Point of View had previously made a suggestion to add the word “complete” to the mandate that forms have to be filled in compulsorily, which was largely seen by the group to be a positive suggestion for bringing consistency to the reporting.
Considering the results, Baldeep noted that “gender has its foot in the door at IGF, though in varying degrees. The number of specifically gender-oriented workshops is up, and those that do not mention it at all is down.” This indicates positive progress overall on the application of the GRCs and the general development of the IGF agenda.
Following the presentations, the audience engaged in a fruitful exchange of ideas and impressions. Jac sm Kee from APC’s Women’s Rights Programme noted that the discussion of human rights at the IGF tends to be lumped together, whereas technical issues tend to get more streams for exploration and discussion.
In addition, Professor K. S. Park from the Dynamic Coalition for Publicness spoke on the right to be forgotten, a sometimes controversial subject that requires greater analysis in relation to its misuse by sexual perpetrators. He brought up the legal issue of defamation, noting that in Korea, defamation can be punishable even if it is true, which clearly dissuades victims from taking action against attackers.
Bishakha acknowledged similar issues in India around civil and criminal defamation laws, noting the case of a group of journalists who accused one powerful journalist (who was also a foreign affairs minister) as part of the #metoo movement. The accused ended up resigning in order to be free to go after the first woman who stepped forward and accuse her of defamation.
Another audience member also informed that in Pakistan, defamation has been weaponised, and it was also pointed out that to combat this, we need to shift the burden away from the accuser and ensure that the accused have the burden to prove falsity.
With regard to the GRCs, an excellent question regarding collection of information was raised, namely, the problem of determining arbitrarily who is a “woman” or “gender variant” during data collection, and how we account for this in terms of reporting.
To this, Jac acknowledged that this is an evolving report card, which is "moving away from counting numbers of people towards an analysis of content," and in that sense the data it produces is also more insightful and interesting. She further explained that it is not as relevant to know who is in the room in having a gendered analysis of the work of DCs, but rather who is on the panels
Another participant added that in order to be more effective, it was important not to have women in the same traditional spaces, such as children's rights, etc. This was made evident by the fact that approximately 95% of the participants present at this session on gender rights were women, as another audience member noted.
One way to further these efforts that was proposed was to hold Dynamic Coalitions at the regional levels of the IGF, in order to continue the work. This seemed to inspire many of the people present; however, at this point the session unfortunately had to wrap up because the 90 minutes originally slotted for the session had been shortened to 60 minutes. This fact alone led some participants to question the thematic priorities of the IGF, an issue that will undoubtedly be explored further at the DC’s next convening.