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As the warp and weft of all social systems change with the indelible mark of the internet and digital technologies, there is a destabilisation of norms and rules. This is true for national and global institutions – from trade, commerce, financial markets, work arrangements, etc. to social and cultural arenas of communication, media and knowledge. The flux we are witness to can be harnessed by agile feminist action into a productive space that can mark a departure from traditional norms that define social power. But for this to happen, feminists need to claim historical knowledge and build an informed framework of analysis and action.
So far, a strong civil and political rights framework has led feminist actions in the digital realm. Using the normative compass that feminist conceptual tools on development offer, digital rights activism must promote an idea of gender justice that accounts for the lived experience of women at the margins of the mainstream economy. This calls for a composite approach that underscores the indivisibility and interdependency of social-economic and civil-political rights.
This paper historicises gender justice struggles and feminist engagement with information and communication technology (ICT) policies, tracing the idea of development put forward by women from the global South through the years leading to the Beijing Conference on Women and later, the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) process. It looks at the media and ICT-related positions articulated by women’s movements and the gains and continuing challenges for tackling patriarchal forces in a globalising world.