Before I attended the Gender and Internet Governance eXchange (gigX) I did not think there was anything I could say related to gender activism. The last four days have reaffirmed the saying shared on the first day “if you are not at the table you will be on the menu”.
There is often an assumption that gender issues are only women’s rights issues but they operate on a principle of inclusivity for all-marginalised, invisible members of society. Our different intersectionalities may sometimes result in us assuming or not seeing the issues affecting others.
The gigX showed the need to interrogate gender issues in internet governance forums. While I have always been one against number representation at forums and workshops as an indication of gender participation, when placed in context the numbers set a different ball game. So while twenty of us moved in between sessions from the remarked “serious room” to the “activism room”, all of us made up the space and emptied the space when we left. We had an agenda and it was known, our voices will be heard and we will begin to interrogate gender issues and internet governance.
Topics that were once invisible to me or defined in another way were illuminated in the gigX and their lack of discussion were highlighted in the combined AfriSIG. The feminist internet principles, violence against women online, surveillance, privacy in the light of big data, content discrimination and issues beyond access to ICTs were unpacked in the gigX space. As a researcher capable of collecting necessary data to substantiate or set up further analysis of some of these topics. I asked myself how often have I forgotten the social constructs of gender. I had just emerged from the Communication Policy Research south conference where, in research, there are strong proponents for big data to revolutionise the way we get data that can effectively be used for social good and development, who is producing the big data? But what of the consumers privacy and did they have a choice in contributing towards big data?
While the higher end user, who knows their consumer rights can begin to negotiate privacy and anonymity what about the user simply clicking I agree to the terms and conditions in order to get the exciting app or simply signing up for a cellphone line. Issues of privacy and right to choose what they will do with my data, seemed to be undermined for the greater good. Once again I heard the story of the girl from target, whose information from shopping had exposed the secret to her parents that she had been pregnant.
The gigX highlighted the danger in simply celebrating the internet as a tool for change when yet we live in an unequal world and our lived realities are translated online. For women, the LBTI community, youth and children the internet has become a space where we can exercise agency for the issues that concern us and at the same time protectionist, patriarchal principles are transferred to protect us. Thus if we are passive in these forums those with the power will serve us on a gold platter.
Image by Caroline Tagny