Caroline and Itir: work and insights on gender and ICTs

Mavic Cabrera-Balleza
(MCB): Tell us something about yourselves and your interest in information and
communication technologies (ICTs).

Caroline Wamalacaroline_wamala.jpgCaroline
Wamala (CW): I am a gender and technology doctoral student at Lulea University
of Technology in Sweden. I am interested in understanding the gender and
technology relationship from a development perspective. The technology under
investigation is the Internet. I have had personal involvement in ICT
development in Swaziland through training programs, and realized that women
face greater hindrances when it comes to accessibility. They are rarely
involved in policy and decision-making and such that even where their needs are
addressed in these documents, they remain marginalized as far as access is
concerned because they have not been asked what they think, what they want,

Itir_1.jpgItir Akdogan (IA): I am interested in ICTs
because they are the one way ticket. There is no return from the information
society. As a member of that information society I live in, I think that I’d
better know what is going on and try to play a role in its development. I
am currently researching on the future of e-citizens for my PhD in Helsinki. I
have been working in youth capacity building especially through ICT for several
years. I have also been a researcher for several organizations such as the
European Union on e-democracy and e-participation.

Internet Governance Forum: a useful exercise?

MCB: You were both at
the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)...Did you find the Forum a useful exercise? Were your expectations met?

CW: My
research has focused on governance issues and how these affect the gender and
technology relationship in developing countries so going to IGF was a big event
for me. …It is important to have gender sensitive policies now if we hope to
have an all inclusive
information society for the future. However, I found that gender was not
adequately addressed.

Itir Akdogan
(IA): My research is not directly related to gender. …In a way I was happy to see that gender was
not on the IGF agenda…now, everybody is convinced about the importance of
having gender balance.

CW: But if
there’s no balance, we may prevaricate gender neutral outcomes which will leave
most marginalized. At this point, gaining access is the most important issue,
and this has to be addressed now.

IA: Access
is indeed one of the most important issues and of course gender divide should
be bridged there but we are waiting for the days where there won't be a need to
talk about gender issues—this is especially from my e-citizenship point of

CW: For me
personally, I
felt that the IGF was a good start in demonstrating where we are and where we
should be going. I was very happy with the development issues being addressed
but women in developing regions have little or no access and this is where we
should expend quite a bit of energy. … My experience has been that gender is always
swept under the auspices of development or social issues. It is
thought to be addressed under these two topics. However, even as gender is a
social issue, it has to be addressed as a separate issue, because it affects
different categories of women and men differently.

believe you should first make women independent, or train them, or give them
awareness or take some of their responsibilities and give them to men, do
something to make them equal then will automatically come the women access. We
can't separate gender
divide from the other issues. I worked in capacity building projects and nobody
forbid women to come to the training but they were busy at home so they were
not able to attend the training.

CW: I have
also worked in capacity building projects, specifically with the United Nations
Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) in training educated women, who are
business entrepreneurs on the importance of ICT. The question here is that why
educated women who know how to use computers are not using them. They have been
provided with access but they are not using it. What I have found thus far is
that the socio-cultural, socio-political, and socio-economic issues affect
accessibility but the biggest issue is gender because as a social construct in
developing regions it ties in with traditions and social norms which should not
be upset in favor of development.

IA: That's
what I meant. Women are given roles and responsibilities that prevent them to
use ICT as much as men. Men hold a privileged position on development projects
in the larger picture.

content regulation: boon or bane?  

MCB: Moving on now to
the issue of internet content regulation…In your respective countries, had
there been efforts to regulate internet content? How is this being done?

CW: I have
lived in Swaziland more than half my life it is my second home. In Swaziland, up
until September 2006, the country did not have an ICT policy so content
regulation was not an issue. The issue for most Swazis is having more local
content on the net. That’s the extent of internet content regulation in the

IA: In
Turkey, the parliament tried to pass a law that demanded that all online
publications had to be printed and sent to the local governor for each of their
issue. …but then they realized how stupid it was and they cancelled that law.

MCB: What made them
realize that it was not a good law?

IA: All online
publishers told them that it was technically not easy to print millions of
pages everyday-- for example the online version of newspapers. They also
realized that the problem is that technology is always ahead of the law... and
parliamentarians know very little about technology so they hired advisors and learned
how stupid it was. 

MCB: Caroline, is the in
Swazi government doing anything to encourage local content production?

CW: Yes,
definitely. I have seen additions on the local webpage showing more on the
Swazi culture and traditions. Government ministries also have some of their
functions online now.

MCB: But is civil
society also generating content? Does the government provide them any incentive
to create local content?

CW: There
are more weblinks on the home page. To my knowledge, it is the initiative of
civil society that strives for a wider audience despite the fact that they have
to pay the service providers some fees to keep their pages running. It is
expensive and only those who can afford the service use it. Bear in mind that
the ICT policy has only just been validated.

Content regulation and freedom of
expression: contradictory or consistent concepts?

MCB: Narrowing our
discussion of content further…we all know that there's a lot of violence
against women and children online. How do you think this could be best

CW: This is
a real big issue.  Human rights should most definitely be
respected even in this free and virtual space. 
We must not forget first and foremost that it is our bodies that enable
us to wander in the cyber streets. This is
something that should be communicated to the whole world. Violating someone
else even in cyberspace is infringing upon the whole freedom that is provided
by the internet, and to insist that the internet is a free and borderless
territory where freedom of expression is to be supported is all well and good
but it should not be at the expense of another human being’s rights. We should
remember always that behind or in front of the machine, there in exists a human
being, and it is against our human nature to violate this human being. However,
there doesn’t seem to be enough laws to empower the victims because of the
nature of the violence being in cyber space. It is a rather sensitive topic
because the internet was created as a free space where someone can freely
expresses themselves. I think there should be a body within IGF that deals
specifically with human rights laws and that those who have been violated
online have a place to go to have their grievances heard.

IA: I think
there should be global laws for that. If a Brazilian is violating me when I am
in Finland hacking a French guy's computer, then I shouldn't spend years to
track him and use the Brazilian local law. A global law that all countries will agree on must be there
to protect me. People should know that they would be punished very quickly—that
would be discouraging cyber crimes. Other than that, I believe in free internet.

MCB: In some
countries, the issues of violence and pornography online are being addressed
through content regulation. One way of regulating content that some  institutions or some countries resort to is filtering.
In the Philippines, the Catholic Bishops Conference,
distributes internet cards to students in catholic schools. The internet cards
automatically filter sites which contain materials that are not consistent with
the teachings of the Church. What do you think of this?

IA: That's
scary I think. If
it is not me who filters the content, then that is too dangerous because you
never know what has been filtered out. …Many other content can be
filtered out and this includes intellectual or educational stuff.

CW: It all
goes back to regulating the Internet nationally. If countries do that, to what
extent can they/should they be stopped? It is difficult...I have lived in
countries where the media was censored for a time until people cried for more
democracy. For me personally, I would say free internet
definitely. But I also understand when a nation state decides to regulate
content so as to preserve local culture.

Caroline, when you say that nation-states are trying to preserve the local
culture, the word
"culture" is so fragile. You always have to stop when it is about
culture. The problem there is that there is a big chance for a nation state to
use that in order to preserve its own interest.

CW: I agree
with you 100%. That is why I will not presume to deconstruct it, but merely to
say that I understand the need to preserve certain norms, traditions in
different nation-states.

IA: I am against violence against
anybody ( including women).  However, I
believe that the internet should be a tool for everybody to express themselves
freely. I’d like to underline that freedom of expression doesn’t give anybody
the right to harass others. We should also keep in mind that ICTs are tools
that facilitate our lives. If we don’t like any content we just don’t use it
and pick the one we like. …There should be an effective global law to
discourage violence or any other human rights abuses.

CW: Yes and
it should have a gender aspect.

Education: still the way to go?

MCB: Are you then
saying it is up to the individual to discern what online content is good for
her and what is not? What about children or women who are very new to the

IA: Women are new to technology
but they are not new to concepts of violence, pornography, etc. As
to the kids, their parents would decide for them until a certain age.

During my field research, I discovered that most of the older generation had
constructed the internet in a negative light and hence were not very keen to
gain access. Their initial reaction had been "it is a dangerous
place." I was also
told that the internet can be too much information by one lady and I said to
her that she had the choice of which information she chose to use. But in the work I have been involved in, the core of my
reference has been how best to help the participants overcome the social
impediments that deny them access. The girls and women are aware of the dangers lurking in
cyber space, but this did not discourage them. However, most of them do not have access to it. It is this
access I am striving for.

MCB: What did you tell
them when they expressed this fear to you?

explained that all technology has its benefits and its risks and the benefits
in most cases outweigh the risks. I also said that the great thing about the internet
was the ability to be anonymous. I had a lengthy conversation with women on
this issue, and while they could seem to agree with my points they felt that
the internet did not really add anything to their lives.

MCB: You practically
educated them on the risks and benefits of the internet. Do you both think it
is useful to do this with more women?

CW: I  welcome this move totally

IA: Me too

MCB: You both
mentioned international laws—this was also discussed in the IGF, particularly
in the session on online security. However, the participants also recognized
that this will be very difficult to do at this point. So while there is no existing
international law, what can be done to address the issue of violence against
women and children online?

CW: It is
difficult yes, but look how far we have come? We now have an Internet Governance
Forum and I do believe we will have another billion users online soon because
of the initiatives arising from these endeavors. Likewise, I believe that creating a body responsible for
international laws is not an impossibility.

MCB: Could education
be an alternative to content regulation?

CW: To a
degree yes. Educating people on content regulation will equip them with better
choices on what to search for and what to avoid or how to recognize bad sites. And
because people who use the internet can already read and write this could be
done online or in the form of pamphlets, etc.

IA: Who educates who
and how is also very important! If you educate me in such a way that I would
never go to the sites that are against your interest, then I am not educated
but brainwashed.

CW: But to
what degree can we control that? We are all social actors being controlled by
different structures and beings.

MCB: At this point, what
do you think is the best way of eliminating violence against women and children

IA: Mommies
will protect kids and themselves until a global law is set.

CW: I agree
with Itir's point, parents should regulate their children's time online and for
the women who are victims of cyber crime, I think the world is now much more
aware of this issue and we are in a good starting space. I believe it can only
progress to better protective laws from hereon.

MCB: Is there anything more that you want to tell our

CW: I want
to emphasize that gender awareness is an important inclusive point in all internet
discussions and cannot and should not be blanketed under other social issues.

IA: Access is definitely the most
important issue but as I also said in our emerging issues panel at the IGF, it
is not enough to access the hard/soft ware, the important is to be able to use
them efficiently both technically and content wise. Then comes security.
Researches show that those who don’t use ICT state security as the reason. I
think awareness is another big issue. People should be aware of what they lose
in not using/knowing ICTs. 

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