• Relevance of women in Internet Governance
  • 07 Dec 2016

Over the years media research has shown that male voices and opinions dominate the mainstream media. The mainstream media remains increasingly pre-occupied with political stories, which are typically dominated by men and often women are not seen used as ‘valuable’ sources of news.

Admittedly the emergence of the internet offers a space for women to amplify their voices. There has generally been a global increase in the number of frontline women in the internet ecosystem.  These include online platforms for content focus on women’s socio, economic and political rights and other issues –ranging from sexual and reproductive health rights, female opinion leaders with verified social media accounts, women in Tech and women in internet policy.

However, the reality is that even though women have the opportunities for greater visibility online, the internet is not devoid of sexism and patriarchal attitudes that exist and permeate society offline. More often than not, women censor their views online or stick to ‘softer’ issues as they still feel subjugated and will publicly have an opinion on potentially controversial issues. Furthermore, with the emergence of the trend of distribution of intimate images of women without consent, popularly known as revenge pornography, has been very damaging to women as it has violated rights to privacy, dignity and free expression. Women are typically the victims of revenge pornography, and usually have their lives destroyed, and face moral judgment largely because globally most societies have remained highly patriarchal and ‘conservative’.


Within the internet governance framework, women’s rights and gender equality activists thrive for policies and legislation that will enable the internet to be a friendlier place for women so that they can fully exercise they can exercise their rights as fully as their male counterparts. There has been an admission though that there are existing laws in the statutes of a number of countries that make it difficult for the criminalization of revenge pornography within cyber laws such as the anti-pornography laws. New and emerging discourse around a ‘feminist’ internet is about an internet that enables more women and queer persons to enjoy universal, acceptable, affordable, unconditional, open, meaningful and equal access. 


However, it is apparent that an open Internet does not necessarily translate to equality nor it mean neutrality. This is why gender issues are relevant within the internet governance framework, as they also come up with mechanisms that address inequalities that exist in the web’s architecture, while reinforcing human rights of all. Globally, women still have less access to the internet than men and this is particularly so in developing countries where social, economic and, to a lesser extent, political barriers exist that hinder women’s access to the internet. Some of the barriers include, low ICT literacy, lesser access to and/or ownership to computers, cultural practices and little or no income to facilitate their access.  


Conversations connecting of the next billion users, although while well founded, have begun to take into consideration the fact that the current disproportionate access by women translates to a setback in its facilitating role in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals thereby making issues relating to gender relevant in Internet Governance.