Overview of gender-related language in WSIS documents

The WSIS process is almost over, and I am wondering about what we have achieved in terms of integrating gender as a relevant dimension into the building of an ‘information society’ after seven years. What do we have?

The WSIS process is almost over, and I am wondering about what we have achieved in terms of integrating gender as a relevant dimension into the building of an ‘information society’ after seven years. What do we have?

In terms of official documents produced, after a LOT of resources, effort and time spent into gathering information, sleepless nights, many cups of coffee and sticks of cigarrettes (for some), talking, training, skills sharing, lobbying and writing, gender has a few specific mentions.

In Phase I, where there was both an official, multi-stakeholder WSIS Gender Caucus as well as an informal coalition called the NGO Gender Strategies Working Group, the Geneva Documents in 2003 produced these:

Paragraph 2, Geneva Declaration of Principles:

“Our challenge is to harness the potential of information and communication technology to promote the development goals of the Millennium Declaration, namely the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; achievement of universal primary education; promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women; reduction of child mortality; improvement of maternal health; to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability; and development of global partnerships for development for the attainment of a more peaceful, just and prosperous world. We also reiterate our commitment to the achievement of sustainable development and agreed development goals, as contained in the Johannesburg Declaration and Plan of Implementation and the Monterrey Consensus, and other outcomes of relevant United Nations Summits.”

Paragraph 12, Geneva Declaration of Principles:

“We affirm that development of ICTs provides enormous opportunities for women, who should be an integral part of, and key actors, in the Information Society. We are committed to ensuring that the Information Society enables women’s empowerment and their full participation on the basis on equality in all spheres of society and in all decision-making processes. To this end, we should mainstream a gender equality perspective and use ICTs as a tool to that end.”

Paragraph 11 (g), Geneva Plan of Action:

“Everyone should have the necessary skills to benefit fully from the Information Society. Therefore capacity building and ICT literacy are essential. ICTs can contribute to achieving universal education worldwide, through delivery of education and training of teachers, and offering improved conditions for lifelong learning, encompassing people that are outside the formal education process, and improving professional skills […]

g). Work on removing the gender barriers to ICT education and training and promoting equal training opportunities in ICT-related fields for women and girls. Early intervention programmes in science and technology should target young girls with the aim of increasing the number of women in ICT careers. Promote the exchange of best practices on the integration of gender perspectives in ICT education.”

Paragraph 19(a), Geneva Plan of Action:

“Encourage the development of best practices for e-workers and e-employers built, at the national level, on principles of fairness and gender equality, respecting all relevant international norms.”

Paragraph 23(h), Geneva Plan of Action:

“Cultural and linguistic diversity, while stimulating respect for cultural identity, traditions and religions, is essential to the development of an Information Society based on the dialogue among cultures and regional and international cooperation. It is an important factor for sustainable development.

h) Strengthen programmes focused on gender-sensitive curricula in formal and non-formal education for all and enhancing communication and media literacy for women with a view to building the capacity of girls and women to understand and to develop ICT content.”

Now in 2005, members of the NGO Gender Strategies Working Group decided to work through individual networks and capacities, and through dispersed membership in the other caucuses instead. We still have the official WSIS Gender Caucus that made interventions in the official plenaries on issues of gender, and produced other important statements in the official process. The Tunis documents reflects gender as thus:

Paragraph 23, Tunis Commitment:

“We recognise that a gender divide exists as part of the digital divide in society and we reaffirm our commitment to women’s empowerment and to a gender equality perspective, so that we can overcome this divide. We further acknowledge that the full participation of women in the Information Society is necessary to ensure the inclusiveness and respect for human rights with in the Information Society. We encourage all stakeholders to support women’s participation in decision-making processes and to contribute to shaping all spheres of the Information Society at international, regional and national levels.”

Paragraph 114(d), Tunis Agenda:

“The development of ICT indicators is important for measuring the digital divide. We note the launch, in June 2004, of the Partnership on Measuring ICT for Development, and its efforts: […]

d) to develop specific gender-disaggregated indicators to measure the digital divide in its various dimensions.”

So what do we do from here? It was certainly a struggle even to get those few mentions, especially in Phase II, where the Russian delegation wanted to withdraw gender within the documents. Working from a consensus process, if one government decides that one particular term is unacceptable, unless effective lobbying and negotiations happen, the language drops out of existence. But what is the importance of having these explicit mentions anyway? How can one sentence here and there change the considerable obstacles and complex challenges of gender-based disparity in the whole fabric of a so-called information society? Have transformation of social relations become reduced to wrangling over text and installing or removing brackets?

More reflections on this later!

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