IGF 2019 WS #248 Towards equitable and sustainable community-led networks

Organizer 1: Sebastian Bellagamba, Internet Society
Organizer 2: Carlos Rey Moreno, Association for Progressive Communications
Organizer 3: El Khouri Cynthia, Association for Progressive Communications
Organizer 4: Valeria Betancourt, Association for Progressive Communications
Organizer 5: Nicolás Andrés Pace, APC

Speaker 1: Joyce Dogniez, Technical Community, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)
Speaker 2: Nicola Bidwell, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 3: Josephine Miliza, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 4: Jesica Giudice, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)
Speaker 5: Sarbani Banerjee Belur, Technical Community, Asia-Pacific Group

Policy Question(s): 

1. The relationship between gender inclusion and the paradigm of community networks:
- What are the factors that affect gender inclusion which community networks reveal that are hidden by commercial telecommunications solutions more generally?
- What pathways will ensure that policy frameworks recognise the direct effects of spectrum regulation on women specifically?
- What are the mechanisms that allow for inclusion of women, queer, trans and gender-diverse people to take active roles in building, managing and sustaining community networks?
- What are the differential aspects resulted from inclusion of women in community based connectivity initiatives that contribute to more positive change and transformation?

2. New approaches to policy formulation, implementation, monitoring and assessment:
- How should connectivity interventions be evaluated to ensure they fully assess their benefits and disadvantages for women?
- How policy responses should integrate the inter-sectional approach to tackle the different layers of access needs and barriers including economic power, geographic divide, different abilities, and more?
- What examples can guide the initiatives around the world to inspire gender-informed equitable processes and policies for Community-led networks?

Relevance to Theme: There is increasing concern over across the board slowdown in the growth of voice and internet users, whether it is at the level of mobile subscribers or internet penetration. Commercial networks deployed by national operators are now only expected to connect 60-70% of the world’s population by 2025, which indicates that the UN Sustainable Development Goals, that anticipate attaining universal connectivity by 2030, will not be achieved. Despite decades of deployment, using current strategies it appears increasingly difficult to address the needs of the billions of people in developing countries who still suffer from ineffective communication services due to coverage and affordability limitations. In response to that situation, communities around the world have decided to explore options for connecting themselves. As a result there is an increasing numbers of small-scale networks are now emerging where telecommunication infrastructure is locally owned and managed. In order to address this problem and locate ourselves in the side of the solutions, it is imperative that we look at infrastructure and connectivity issues from a gender perspective and how they contribute to digital inclusion.

Community networks still face gender-based discrimination in various areas. It is no exception of the spaces of access where male hegemony excludes women from playing an active role in having control over the various components of access. Community Networks are much more complex than just infrastructure, and much 'richer' than incumbent telecommunications infrastructure. They support the creation of social bonds, foster a local economy, encourages the professionalization of rural citizens, increases access to knowledge. Through their community governance and community ownership models, they tend to be more inclusive. If rooted on structural historic divides, community networks can replicate exclusions. However, there is initial evidence that they create conditions and motivations to respond to them more deliberately and face inequalities at structural levels.

"The next big thing will be a lot of small things".

Relevance to Internet Governance: Two of the most persistent internet governance related challenges relate to the last mile and the gender digital gap. The premise about the need to connect everyone and the need to adopt a gender perspective to access are the starting point but it is important to go beyond defining the problem to discuss solutions. New approaches and solutions have emerged to bring online the hardest of the hardest to connect and to contribute to development goals, particularly to gender equality. What type of solutions and approaches are the most suitable for those purposes? What type of alliances have allowed to make progress in this area? What type of partnerships should we create and foster ahead? What are the policy and regulatory circumstances necessary to build equitable and sustainable community-led networks.


Round Table - U-shape - 90 Min

Description: This panel will facilitate a conversation about the ways that connectivity excludes people and what community networks uniquely offer to address these exclusions, from a gender perspective. Community networks help to refocus attention on women's lack of representation in policy spaces and technical decision making that is, all too often, considered normal. For instance, more women than men live in rural areas around the world, so their involvement is more vital to a community network's sustainability and thus their absence is more noticeable than, say, their lack of representation in regulation or commercial telecom spaces. We will reflect on the many benefits that engaging with community network initiatives have provided women, the challenges women face in becoming involved and the strategies and tactics they use to overcome challenges. This will offer valuable insights to people interested in improving community networks. However, just as importantly, community networks expose issues about inclusion and exclusion that are hidden by telecommunications more generally. For instance, on the one hand women have become technically proficient and empowered by community networks because they learn about technologies in accessible and familiar situations in ways that are relevant to their everyday lives. Yet, on the other, women can encounter barriers to using community networks because social norms, and their daily routines and safety concerns, limit their access to public Wi-Fi - a technology that many CNs are forced to use because of regulatory restrictions. That is, community networks can shed light on the ways regulations can be blind to, and complicit with, gender barriers.

All the panelists who will put community networks under the microscope identify as women, and all have been involved extensively in community networks around the world. They are the mothers of community networks, community networks builders, leaders, researchers, fundraisers and advocates. Their combined real-world, lived experience of community networks, for over 30-years, will bring to life and extend beyond the findings of APC's study lead by Nicola Bidwell, about the impact of community networks on the lives of women in six countries in the global south. Their stories will illustrate that community networks offer far more than just affordable telecoms and internet access to women. While, indeed, the many impacts of community networks can be translated into economic terms, it is not only that they lower costs, improve trade and afford other income opportunities for women. They can, in fact, also foster women's agency - socially, technically and politically. The panelist's perspectives will illustrate how standard assessments of connectivity interventions, like community networks, which typically evaluate a very narrow range of impacts (e.g. scale, volume, revenue) do not account for the varied, deeper and more nuanced benefits of connectivity in women's lives, as users and as makers of physical, virtual and social internet infrastructures.

Participants in this panel present a broad set of skills and attributes that enable women to thrive despite the louder and more frequent voices of men in technical and policy decision making. In contrast with the manels and wanels, that are prevalent in discussion of internet governance, we will learn about women's resilience and resourcefulness in contributing to the various layers of community networks despite the challenges. And, finally, we will discuss recommendations for safer and inclusive community networks that not only ensure women have the power to enjoy the full range of benefits of community networks, but also ensure the sustainability and creativity of community networks benefit from the attributes that women bring.

By focusing on the Community Networks model,this session considerably extends the formative work of the Best Practice Form on Gender an Access 2018, which explored the impact of supplementary models. It also supports the Dynamic Coalision on Women and Internet Governance by considering the governance of the community networks as part of the internet governance. The session will provide the grande finale, for the year, of continuous conversations in other international forums to build upon each other's outcomes: IFF2019, SIF, WSIS

1. introductions
2. directed questions from onsite moderator to speakers and audience
3. open questions from audience to speakers

Expected Outcomes: * Provide an overview of the realities of women in the different contexts (Africa, LAC and Asia).
* The audience will get a set of success stories about women in community networks
* The audience will hear the testimony of the challenges of the experience of women in Community Networks from the mouth of the doers
* The audience will get insight in relation to how to best build a network from a bottoms-up approach that is led by women.

Onsite Moderator: 

El Khouri Cynthia, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator: 

Carlos Rey Moreno, Civil Society, African Group


Nicolás Andrés Pace, Civil Society, Latin American and Caribbean Group (GRULAC)

Discussion Facilitation: 

The session will have three moments: introductions, directed questions and open questions.
The audience will be able to engage with the organizers and the speakers in the last space, in person or remotely.

Online Participation: 

We expect to encourage remote participation particularly of Community Network actors who can share their experience with the audience and also to pose questions for the panelists. Any interested participant in taking part in the discussion and contribute with reflections and questions will be given the floor during the space assigned in the session for interaction with the panel.

Proposed Additional Tools: Propose a twitter hashtag for people in the audience (in person and remotely) to propose ways to support women in community networks activities.
Leave some time (3 mins) to send the proposals.


GOAL 5: Gender Equality
GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
GOAL 10: Reduced Inequalities