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“Technologies have the potential to act as catalysts for the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and help advance all 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and constituent targets. At the same time, rapid technological change poses new challenges and can have unintended consequences,” stated co-moderator Nadia Tjahja from the Youth Coalition on Internet Governance during the opening of the main session “Development, Innovation and Economic Issues: Focus on the SDGs”, which took place on 13 November at the Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

Different leading experts from a range of stakeholders and communities were convened to explore policy considerations and approaches needed to leverage the internet and information and communications technologies (ICTs) to facilitate common development goals and present how the IGF communities are engaging in work related to the SDGs.

The policy questions raised and discussed in this session were: How can the internet and ICTs be used to positively drive the SDGs to facilitate inclusiveness, equality and development? Which issues are part of internet governance processes and which ones are missing? What are some of the challenges identified, particularly in the context of rapid digital transformation, for developing economies, labour, vulnerable groups, etc.? What are some of the possible routes for overcoming those challenges? What is the enabling policy environment for supporting inclusive and prosperous societies? Where can we identify areas of mutual collaboration within the policy space so we can increase our efficiency, improve communication between relevant actors, and reduce redundancy? What are the effects with respect to the SDG on open access/open science policies currently advocated by the scholarly community?

Gender and internet governance emerged as one important takeaway for consideration and reflection during this main session. How do we understand the diversity of gender issues in the context of the IGF? What is happening with the institutionalised mechanisms to monitor gender representation, participation, inclusion, diversity, etc., such as, for example, the Gender Report Card? And how does this relate to advancing the achievement of the SDGs from the internet governance perspective?

Bishakha Datta from Point of View, an APC member organisation in India, made a very interesting remark in relation to the question of what social and cultural policy considerations can help facilitate users to understand and engage with technology to become creators. “The first social and cultural consideration actually has to be understanding that there is a very wide diversity of users of digital technologies, whether these are on old type, simple phones or whether these are on more sophisticated devices that can access the internet, and that users of the internet occupy not just different countries or different languages or have different income levels, but actually also come from different genders, different sexual orientations as well as different abilities. And that the internet, as it currently stands, perhaps is not a comfortable space for everybody, particularly people who come from less privileged or marginalised sexualities and abilities,” she noted.

Datta then raised the question: Is access enough when talking about cultural considerations for appropriation of the internet? “Is it enough for a community to have access to the internet or do we need to go further and see who in that community actually gets access to the internet, particularly since this is shaped by cultural norms?” she asked.

“I think it means looking at the whole concept of being a bystander on the internet,” she maintained. “Research is showing that many women, many girls, particularly from low-income communities who do not speak English or who access the net in other languages, don't feel the sense of confidence, autonomy, agency or belonging to actually participate meaningfully in those spaces, and sometimes tend to become bystanders in these spaces. It's important to break this to ensure they become creators as well.”

In a second part of the session, the Dynamic Coalitions representatives presented findings and the main takeaways from their work as it relates to the key challenges of digital transformation.

APC's Jac sm Kee, attending in representation of the Dynamic Coalition on Gender and Internet Governance, made three key points in relation to this context. First, that addressing access is critical: “Currently there still exists a large gender digital divide and the proportion of women using the internet is 12% lower than men globally, and this number is much bigger in several countries and regions. And this gap is not just in terms of access to the connectivity and devices but also the ability to use them freely in a way that realises a range of their human rights and takes into account existing inequalities, for example, expression based on social norms.”

The second point made by Kee was highlighting that “data really matters”: “Right now there's a critical gap in data that reflects the needs of sections of communities. We barely have disaggregated data, which is seeing populations as men and women, never mind gender-disaggregated data which unpacks a more complex, social, political, economic context that impacts on a range of human rights and all the SDGs. There needs to be a commitment to this.” Kee added that this includes the work done on the Gender Report Card of the IGF, which has shown that roughly 15% of the workshop organisers filled in the report cards even seven years after they were introduced.

The final point raised by Kee was that “intersectionality is integral to this question”: “Many intersecting factors impact on our ability to realise a range of rights. This includes factors like disability, location, income, ethnic identities and sexual orientation. This matters in the way we ask questions, who matters, what are their needs and concerns, who are we building trust around or with whom, and the indicators that we're developing research around,” she explained. “This is to make sure we are not developing policies or programmes based on data sets that have systematic bias that results in exacerbating inequalities, and Goal 10 of the SDGs on reducing inequalities compels that approach.”

Datta picked up on Kee's point in relation to the IGF Gender Report Card: “I think it is a matter of concern, and something that I hope we will take seriously, that not even 50% of people who are filling out these reports are actually filling out the gender part. To me, that speaks of not enough seriousness being given to a topic that we know is crucial to building a safe, open and free internet.”

In relation to how the IGF as a space frames gender, Datta added, “We have to think about the fact that in the world today, there are many genders, including transgender people, etc. We very rarely see them in the Internet Governance Forum and at the same time we know they are huge users of the internet, particularly when they face stigma and discrimination offline, but online becomes a safe space.”

“I do believe that as part of our commitment to gender equality, and SDGs, we have to really think about including all genders and marginalised genders in this conversation,” she concluded.

Transcript of the session available here

Image: Screenshot of the session video.