The Third Regional Preparatory Meeting for the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), held in Ecuador in early August 2010, was organised by APC, NUPEF and LACNIC and brought together around 140 representatives of governments, the private sector, the technical community, academia and civil society organisations, with another 50 people participating remotely.
A major goal of these Latin American stakeholder meetings, which have been held since 2008, is to identify and define regional priorities more precisely and expand the region's participation at IGF 2010. At the same time, focusing on the region itself, the aim is to inform Latin American actors about issues and trends in the debates and discussions of the global forum.
Valeria Betancourt, Latin America policy coordinator for APC, participated at both the regional meeting and the global forum and was responsible for presenting the Quito outcomes at the IGF, in the agenda space reserved for regional groups. Valeria and Dafne Plou, the Latin America regional coordinator for APC's Women's Network Support Programme (WNSP), were both at the Latin American Preparatory Meeting, and spoke to GenderIT.org about the impacts the two meetings had on each other, the recommendations and concerns that emerged from the regional process, and the extent to which gender issues are represented at the regional level.
GenderIT.org: How do the regional and global processes relate to each other? What repercussions do you think the outcomes of the regional process had on the Vilnius IGF?
Valeria Betancourt: There is no formal relationship between the regional event and the global forum. However, the importance of national and regional processes is increasing, as they are recognised opportunities for identifying regional characteristics and challenges related to global IGF agenda issues.
Although the regional meetings in Latin America have largely followed the IGF agenda, they also posed the need to build an agenda that responds to the particular characteristics of the region and of developing countries, combining technical concerns with discussion of desirable public policy measures. This in no way detracts from involvement in global processes like the IGF. On the contrary, the regional meetings build capacity among regional stakeholders for effective participation in the processes and institutions involved in internet governance, and increase the chances of synergy between national and regional priorities and global agendas.
The IGF is a key opportunity to address the global dimension of internet governance. However, global internet governance impacts on the regional and national spheres, and the complementarities of these different spaces need to be looked at. The regions should inform the global sphere, and vice versa. The global and the regional should enter into dialogue, learning from the positive aspects of each and deriving mutual benefit from their different experiences and riches. IGF priorities should seriously take into account the possibility of combining these different agendas.
Dafne Plou: I think it is important to relate global processes to regional ones, while keeping an alert eye on what is happening in Latin America and the Caribbean in terms of internet governance, and the agreements being reached in our countries on plans to build an information society with proposals that really integrate our region into the world ICT map as an important player. It is not easy. Our region still needs to advance developing the technology and universalising ICT services so that the entire population has access to them.
This makes discussion about internet governance seem a long way away. In Argentina, for example, a great debate is going on at the moment about who should be entrusted with the task of taking internet connection services to the entire population. Should it be the state? Should private enterprise initiatives continue to have priority? What role might be played by the telephone service cooperatives that exist in a multitude of small towns and villages in rural areas in these countries, which could be crucial to meeting these needs?
I think integration of these issues is important, because internet governance is closely related to them. And it is important that these agendas should complement each other and become integrated, so that progress can move faster and so that those who have so far been excluded from access to these advances - whether due to absence of vision, strategic planning, appropriate policies or investment by governments or the private sector - are included without delay.
GenderIT.org: What were the key messages, recommendations and concerns that emerged from the Latin American regional process?
Valeria Betancourt: The organisers of the IGF preparatory meeting in Latin America are tasked with preparing a summary of the discussions, identifying the issues that had the most impact or that were raised most often. The region is not consulted on the messages and recommendations that emerge from the global forum, which do not arise from a consensus reached with the region. In order to communicate what was discussed in Quito, a number of important facets can be mentioned:
Firstly, on the issue of ICT access, the meeting emphasised the importance of universal and affordable broadband access as a pre-condition for competitive and innovative environments that can generate new business opportunities without impinging on people's human rights. The need to widen the scope of research on access to include analysis of the impact of commercial agreements on people's access to knowledge and information was highlighted. Some participants said that if the aim is to achieve significant access to knowledge and ensure the free flow of information as well as freedom of expression, then what is needed is a new intellectual property system appropriate to digital media, which takes developing countries' needs into account.
Secondly, on the topic of internet governance to promote development, the need for building capacity so that developing country actors can participate in decision-making processes at the global level was expressed. The importance of addressing the economic, social, cultural and political impacts of internet was also stressed.
Thirdly, on the issue of privacy, the right of persons to control their own information was identified as a priority, which implies having control over access, modification, elimination, collection and dissemination of personal data.
And fourth, in regard to critical internet resources, the meeting emphasised the need to strengthen the multisector model by having all interested parties participate in the management of IP addresses.
Dafne Plou: Digital inclusion is one of the most important issues when we look at these plans with a gender lens. An enormous number of people, especially women over 35, still have no access to ICT training, to adequate connections, nor the opportunity to learn more about the resources available in cyberspace that could be so useful to them, in their personal lives; as citizens; in economic and career development for themselves and for their families; in organising community activities; and for political participation.
I think the governments and organisations that participated at the Quito meeting are very clear on this. The issue now is how to implement it and, for example, how to achieve universal broadband services across the whole territory of countries at an affordable cost, as well as making sure that there is access to community connectivity services, like public community telecentres, where people can learn computing and participate in the virtual world, receiving and creating information without economic barriers or restrictions on freedom of expression.
GenderIT.org: To what extent, and to what depth, are women's rights and gender issues represented as an integral part of this regional process?
Valeria Betancourt: The gender dimension has been practically absent from the regional debate. However, the situation began to change this year, with the active involvement of APC's WNSP drawing attention to problems related to sexual rights, censorship and content control on the internet.
Dafne Plou: The regional plan of the Information Society, eLAC2010, approved the creation of a group on Gender and ICT. Led by the Dominican Republic, this group managed to table the issue of women's right to full participation in ICT access, production and development. The group worked well over the internet, and made an impact on the Brasilia Consensus, approved by Latin American and Caribbean governments at the end of the Eleventh Regional Conference on Women in Latin American and the Caribbean. The Consensus contains a section devoted to women's rights in the field of ICT. Again, at the pre-IGF meeting in Quito, I presented the work the APC WNSP is doing in the context of ICT policies . Over the last two years we have carried out two important projects, one on sexual rights on the internet and the other on violence against women and ICT; the results will be an important input for those working on internet governance. This year there will be a meeting in Lima, Peru, to discuss the eLAC2015 Plan, and our challenge will again be to include gender and ICT issues on the agenda, as a way of continuing to affirm women's rights to participate and contribute to building a regional information society that is plural, democratic, and inclusive of each and every one of us.
GenderIT.org: Thanks very much
 The projects and initiatives mentioned by Dafne Plou that are being carried out by the APC WSNP are EroTICS: a research project on sexuality and the internet http://www.apc.org/en/projects/erotics; MDG3: Take Back the Tech! to eradicate violence against women http://www.apcwomen.org/projects/vaw_ict; and an annual Take Back the Tech! Campaign http://www.takebackthetech.net/. She also refers to the APC WSNP's work elsewhere in Latin America, such as the Regional Conference held in Brasilia in July http://www.eclac.org/mujer/conferencia/default.asp, and the eLAC regional plan http://www.eclac.org/socinfo/elac/.