APC statement at the opening of the 2022 Internet Governance Forum
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Excellencies, participants of this IGF, good morning. My name is Jamila Venturini, I live in Brazil, and today I am here as a representative of Derechos Digitales and on behalf the Association for Progressive Communications.
For many of us, this is the first edition of the IGF that we are attending in person after the effects of the pandemic hit us all in different ways. This IGF has the imprint of a re-encounter to continue shaping the governance of the internet to ensure that it contributes to the common good, to a just, equitable and sustainable digital future.
The 17th edition of the IGF is taking place in a moment when the exacerbated effects of overlapping global crises such as the weakening of democracy, wars, and the worsening of the environmental situation and climate change, among others, are felt strongly, but differently in different contexts. Extrapolated to the digital sphere, those crises have translated into the intensification of polarising and stigmatising narratives; the magnified, pervasive and concentrated power of big corporations over the digital space; and the rising of new forms of digital and data colonialism, just to mention a few.
But what does all this mean for internet governance?
In my view, it means the following key things:
First, all these recent crises are created or exacerbated by structural inequalities and power imbalances that we need to acknowledge as we develop discussions on internet governance.
Technologies have the potential to exacerbate such imbalances and inequalities; this became evident during the pandemic, when a small part of the global population could continue their activities safely, and remotely, while another part continues to pay the price of being excluded. But can’t technology also play a role in mitigating such inequalities? The answer is yes, and we have several examples of that. However, for them to be sustainable and become the norm, we need to deeply review our priorities and find ways to make the best possible uses of the existing international processes.
As power imbalances affect internet governance spaces as well, more proactive actions towards building effective multistakeholder processes and increasing broader participation in all digital cooperation and internet governance discussions are urgently needed. International organisations should set the example and include proactive measures to allow historically marginalised groups to have their voices heard and meaningfully considered. And this includes intergovernmental and standard-setting organisations, development agencies and banks, among others, which should also build transparency and accountability mechanisms into their own processes, and pressure national governments and global tech corporations in the same direction.
The IGF is a central piece of the internet governance ecosystem and key to improve coordination in global internet governance and digital cooperation. We look forward to the role that the IGF Leadership Panel can play to consolidate the IGF as a platform for identifying viable ways to shape, sustain and strengthen genuinely democratic governance processes.
One second point to answer my initial question on the relationship between the multiple crises that affect us and this IGF, is that the internet is embedded in people’s lives and digitisation impacts both those connected and the unconnected. The internet should serve to promote the empowerment and agency of groups in situations of marginalisation, and they should be able to participate actively in the decisions that are affecting their futures.
For instance, gaps in internet access continue to be a critical challenge in Africa and broadly throughout the Global South, or Global Majority. Greater effort can be placed on contextualising connectivity in order for communities to fully benefit from it. Expanding the telecommunications ecosystems to include locally driven, community-oriented solutions can help to drive appropriate content, local innovation and community ownership as well as economic change in many areas in Africa and elsewhere, as several leaders and grassroots organisations present here have already proved.
They should be part of any discussion on internet governance. Women and LGBTIQ+ people should also be a part and they already play a key role in building a resilient and sustainable digital future.
Concrete measures should be taken to foster their participation in digital cooperation and internet governance conversations; and to protect their rights, including the rights to life and freedom of expression, which are constantly under attack due to gender-based political violence against those who occupy decision-making spaces or insist on raising their voices against injustices.
Finally, I cannot stand here without echoing civil society’s call for the re-establishment of internet access across the African region – and beyond – and the promotion of a free, open and secure internet that allows all to fully exercise their fundamental rights.
While we celebrate the existence of the IGF – which is itself a result of significant civil society pressure – we stress the need for it to play a leading role in fostering human rights, gender and environmental justice perspectives in digital cooperation and internet governance conversations towards the digital future that we want.