Is there anything like ‘Women’s issues in Internet Governance’?

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The other day, a women’s group asked me to outline women’s issues in Internet Governance, based on my experience. Tech issues have always sounded geeky and out of touch for many people so I thought I should be as simple and basic as possible.

This is what I wrote, and in a separate post, I will tell you why the women’s group did not take me seriously……..

During the World Summit on Information Society in 2003, delegates were highly polarized over issues of who should govern the internet and its critical resources. Opinions were divided over whether the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) which was under USA’s Department of Commerce should continue managing the internet or the role should be handed over to the ITU, an inter governmental body.

By the time the second phase of WSIS was held in Tunis in 2005, it was clear that there was need for a body, with no governmental affiliations. After discussions and negotiations, it was agreed that the Internet Governance Forum should be convened, to run from 2006-2010.

Africa has been largely represented within IGF, although most of the people have no access to affordable ICT. Given the historical imbalances, women have suffered most.

The IGF addresses issues and policies such as redelegation of African domains, investment in critical internet infrastructure such as Internet Exchange Points, Cyber security, censorship and the extent of government control among other issues.

In matters technology, women are largely absent; there are few female telecommunications engineers, either because they are not given opportunities or are left out.

But one of the major issues is the lack of capacity, most of the IG issues relate to technical jargon, which is not simplified enough for people to understand. For instance, policies on Cyber security affect what is accessible online by children, issues of pornography and what the government should do is discussed in cyber security meetings.

Apart from policies, African governments have not invested in critical infrastructure or have not given it the priority it deserves. Failure to subsidize the cost of hosting and domain names has affected the online market places that women can access and has stifled electronic commerce.

E-commerce is considered a tool for women especially in areas where women have multiple roles or are not allowed to leave their homes for businesses. With e-commerce, women can buy and sell without any challenges.

Ends