The Internet Governance Forum (IGF), is an annual multi-stakeholder policy platform that brings together various actors interested and involved in public policy issues pertaining to the internet. This year’s IGF took place in Kyoto, Japan from 8 to 12 October. The Our Voices Our Futures (OVOF) project that supports structurally silenced women in accessing their digital rights, facilitated the attendance of three country partner representatives from Bangladesh, India and Kenya to the forum in 2023.
This participation was also in line with the local Gender Internet Governance eXchanges (GIGX) gatherings in 2022 that OVOF partners in Bangladesh, India, Kenya and Uganda implemented, bringing together local activists interested in learning more about the importance of intersecting gender with internet governance policy work. From these local GIGX spaces, activists and partners from and directly working with structurally silenced communities engaged with the myriad of issues that emerge around internet governance spaces, and exchanged learnings on the value of a gendered and feminist approach to internet governance.
What is OVOF?
The Our Voices Our Futures (OVOF) project supports structurally silenced women to participate freely across three key spaces: the online space, the physical public space, and the legal and policy space. OVOF aims to uplift women who are structurally silenced due to their identity (such as lesbian and bisexual women, and trans, gender-queer, or LBT persons) or their chosen form of labour (such as sex workers, working online and on-ground) and/or their activism (women human rights defenders). OVOF believes that this structural silencing is systemic and by design, and that the global civic space is being intentionally narrowed and degraded by state actors as well as by non-state, anti-gender, and anti-rights forces. The IGF, as a global multi-stakeholder policy space, becomes such a space where the voices of women and communities mentioned above are easily silenced or excluded.
For this year’s IGF, the OVOF Project at APC supported the attendance and participation of OVOF country partners; Angela Minayo from Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet) in Kenya, Ayesha Sinha from TALASH Society in India, and Parsa S. Sajid who is a Digital rights and internet governance consultant from Bangladesh.
We gathered some of their reflections from their participation in this year’s IGF as relates to their work with the OVOF project in their respective countries.
Q: Is this your first IGF? What were some of your expectations going into this year's IGF?
Angela Minayo (AM): No, this is my second IGF. My expectation was not only to meet the OVOF partners and learn about their work but also extend KICTANet networks with other organisations working on gender and digital rights. Seeing that the internet is a global resource, KICTANet is prioritizing advocacy engagements at both international and national levels.
Ayesha Sinha (AS): Yes, this was my first IGF. My primary expectation was to get the feel of the space and understand possibilities. I also wanted to understand other work with youth and young people, gender and tech work and possibilities of advocacy – reaching out with youth voices and experiences from rural West Bengal.
Parsa S. Sajid (PS): This was my second IGF after attending the Berlin IGF in 2019 for the first time. I had several expectations prior to attending the IGF - learn more about the works of OVOF and other APC partners especially; attend sessions with learning opportunities or to be aware of discussions around artificial intelligence, data sovereignty; be in conversations and attend sessions related to internet governance sessions I organize in Bangladesh, this time, particularly around data protection and governance.
I think there is opportunity for more well-rounded and critical discussion around gender and technology to be included at IGF beyond what is on offer.
Q: Did you see any direct connections between the work that APC is doing with the OVOF project reflected in the space? If yes/no, how did this make you feel?
AM: I saw connections in the gender and technology sessions. Other sessions such as the one on Artificial Intelligence and cross border data flows did not even have gender perspectives which speaks to the fact that feminist tech perspectives (Our Voices) are still missing in these critical topics on emerging technologies.
AS: The connections are very evident. This opportunity offered me a view of the larger canvas of APC and OVOF work. For me, it was rather overwhelming. It took me a while to situate myself and look for sessions that can be helpful. I observed that the gender perspective is yet to be a cross cutting issue in most cases. Voices and perspectives of the marginalised are yet to be meaningfully integrated. In many cases, the voices of the marginalised looked like they were missing, even though issues affecting structurally silenced communities of people are mentioned. I realise that a lot of work still needs to be done, on behalf of APC, OVOF and us, for the partners to bring voices of dissent into discourses at spaces like the IGF.
PS: The connection and importance of gender and technology were obvious and present in some sessions and missing at others. However, a general observation is that when those connections were made clearer it was because of a push from civil society. At the same time, some of the sessions I attended which included these perspectives were poorly attended. I think there is opportunity for more well-rounded and critical discussion around gender and technology to be included at IGF beyond what is on offer. There is also a prevalence of framing the issue of gender as one of inclusion and exclusion with regards to technology which detracts from a truly well-rounded and critical approach to formulating discussion, policy agenda, actions plans, and understanding.
Q: What important aha moments did you have in this year's IGF? For example, what issues became clearer, what concerns became bigger or what new interests were developed?
AM: My aha moment was the fact that we have global consensus on online safety for women and gender/sexual minorities however, this consensus is not reflected in governments’ priorities. Advocacy efforts should therefore be towards influencing states’ legal and policy frameworks at the national and regional levels. For instance, at KICTANet we are working on closing the capacity gaps of the law enforcement sector in prosecuting online gender based violence (OGBV) cases in Kenya.
My aha moment was the fact that we have global consensus on online safety for women and gender/sexual minorities however, this consensus is not reflected in governments’ priorities. Advocacy efforts should therefore be towards influencing states’ legal and policy frameworks at the national and regional levels.
AS: I observed that most stakeholders were expressing concerns about the online safety of women and gender/sexual minorities. However, I noticed that there are gaps in the implementation of government policies and programmes which offers us (civil society) an opportunity for advocacy. I realise that our collective efforts are needed to influence this and many other internet governance spaces, and offer direction. Collective efforts and linkages are needed from local, national to international level to make these advocacy initiatives towards the safety of women and gender/sexual minorities effective at the country level.
PS: I don’t typically engage with disability justice while being aware that it is critically linked to gender and technology, and with questions of accessibility and fairness, and that it’s not an afterthought but embedded into thinking about technology from a feminist perspective. Being at IGF I wanted to seek out discussions which would allow me to hear and engage with those conversations. A session (unfortunately also poorly attended) allowed me to think about the issue of fresh perspective while also made me think in ways that I would like to investigate further via my work (e.g., tech utopian future for disability justice, more concretely about pros and cons of smart/fully tech integrated homes/dependency and autonomy). I also appreciated the opportunity to connect and brainstorm with APC partners outside OVOF, like Sulá Batsú, and think about internationalist/transnational network building more concretely.
Q: Why is it important for OVOF partners to participate in spaces such as the IGF? What value did your participation bring to the community of structurally silenced people and women in your country?
AM: The very essence of the OVOF project is to bring the voices of structurally silenced people into internet governance discussions. Participation in the IGF helped me connect with more partners such as the UNFPA, EU and Alliance for Digital Rights for future collaborations for mainstreaming women and minorities in internet policy regulation. Already, KICTANet is collaborating with these partners to apply for a session proposal on gender perspectives on cybersecurity at the Council of Europe’s Octopus Conference to be held in Bucharest, Romania from 12-15 December 2023. You can read more about the conference here: https://www.coe.int/en/web/cybercrime/octopus-conference
Collective efforts and linkages are needed from local, national to international level to make these advocacy initiatives towards the safety of women and gender/sexual minorities effective at the country level.
AS: It is important for OVOF partners to participate in such spaces, as this offers us an understanding of the bigger picture as it relates to internet governance and our grassroots work. It allows us to see the link between our work with the big picture and global activities, and align our initiatives accordingly where necessary.
One of my major learnings is that I can now realise the relevance of the actions that we are engaged in:
- Internet literacy & cyber safety trainings – as this can ensure more effective participation of marginalised silenced people from our community,
- Dialogue on feminist principles of internet and its applications,
- Collating voices and experiences of structurally marginalised folks, while enhancing platforms for raising their voices,
- Finally, strengthening civil society networking to make voices of dissent heard.
I also realise that our country level policies require civil society influence in order to make the digital landscape safer for women and gender/sexual minorities.