Friday, March 07th 2014
Ms Maya Indira Ganeshi, India, lead researcher, Exploratory Research on Sexuality and the Internet
Dr Katharine Sarikakis, Institute of Communications Studies, University of Leeds, United Kingdom
Moderator: Mr Jan Malinowski, Council of Europe
Remote moderator: Jac sm Kee, APC Women's Networking Support Programme
The debate around Internet content and regulation is based on concerns for freedom of expression, data protection or the protection of children from illegal or harmful content. The fact that much Internet content and many Internet business models perpetuate gender inequality (gender stereotyping, pornography, games linking sex and violence etc), and are used to subject women to violence and abuse (cyber stalking, sexual harassment, GPS tracking, trafficking in women) is largely overlooked.
This workshop explored the importance of applying a gender perspective to Internet content, discussions around harmful content and content regulation. Its aim was to demonstrate how a change in perspective can change the perception of what needs to be regulated. This would allow future policies on content regulation to reflect the realities and concerns of both, women and men. This workshop also discussed ways in which conflicting rights and interests can be reconciled: freedom of expression and business interests on the one hand and safety concerns and human rights on the other hand.
Participants heard about the EroTICs (Exploratory Research on Sexuality and ICTs) research conducted by the Association for Progressive Communication (APC) on Indian women’s Internet experience, especially in respect of personal contacts and relations, including the risks associated thereto. They heard of interference or risk of interference with women’s rights (freedom of expression or association, but also political or cultural rights). Women suffer surveillance, harassment, stalking, fear, identity theft and manipulation) and related offline consequences (persecution in private and professional environments, defamation, assault or bodily harm). A range of issues require attention in a gender sensitive manner, in particular freedom of expression (censorship and undesirable self-censorship) and privacy, as well as risk of harm and its perception (the right not to be afraid).
However, women’s online or related offline risk of harm has to be properly understood against the fact that those who experience harm online also display strategies to resist, block and negotiate it. The research showed that women users realise that there are dangers online that they need to protect themselves from. They block, resist and ignore offenders and are aware that personal information and details should not be divulged to strangers. Therefore, women users also show a self-evolved, self generated response to the harms they face online. This has to be recognised in policy formulations.
The policy response should not involve limiting freedom of expression, a measure that may be detrimental of women’s own rights (i.e. as regards content produced by women), but empowering including through further media and internet literacy, Technology and, in particular, privacy settings do not provide a satisfactory response to risk of harm or fear, and do not offer women adequate self-protection tools. There is a need to strengthen the effectiveness of the right to privacy or enhance the possibilities to manage one’s own image or identity online.
Interference with content related to women’s political, including feminist, activities may undermine possibilities for self-protection. Content facilitating self-protection (e.g. tools for assessing whether women are in a violent relation or at risk of violence) should be promoted. Participants noted that the Council of Europe is working on a draft convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. The protection offered should extend to the online environments and women should have a right not to be afraid.
Proposals for further action
There needs to be a broad range of responses to address the issues of women's right to safety, expression, information, mobility, association and participation in public life on the internet. This includes not just regulatory or legislative, but also capacity building and participation in decision-making processes in public and private organisations and entities.
× Policy responses should be backed by further empirical research that reflect the realities of women
× Women need to be closely associated with the design of technology, as well as the online tools and applications used by them and the means of protection available to them
× As a distinct stakeholder group, women must be more closely associated to Internet governance and related discussions.
Women have a right to be "Free from Fear" on the Internet. The following "F-words” emerged clearly in this respect:
The Internet has to be
And to this end, Internet governance (cf. the WGIG definition: the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society, in their respective roles, of shared principles, norms, rules, decision-making procedures, and programmes that shape the evolution and use of the Internet) has to involve more
and has to be more
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