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BPF Gender and Access

Final Output Document 2018

Impact of Supplementary Models of Connectivity in Enabling Meaningful Internet Access for Women and Gender Non-Binary Persons

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Executive Summary 

This is the final output resource produced by a community of participants in the United Nations  Internet Governance Forum (IGF)’s Best Practice Forum (BPF) on Gender and Access in 2018. This year, the BPF studied the potential impact of initiatives that support or develop supplementary models of connectivity that respond to the needs of underserved populations of women and gender non-binary persons. ‘Supplementary models of connectivity' refers to complementary telecommunication infrastructure models that not only speed up the pace at which unconnected populations can be supported with Internet access, but also complement existing models in making communications accessible to all. The BPF identifies benefits of such supplementary models of connectivity from gender perspectives and maps existing initiatives around the world that currently focus on women and gender non-binary persons as well as their impact, specifically for Community Networks, TV White Spaces and Public WiFi.

This work builds upon the work of the BPF in the previous four years. In 2015, the BPF Gender looked at online abuse and gender-based violence. Identifying this as one of the barriers to access, the BPF in 2016 aimed to identify different barriers that women face as regards Internet access. In 2017, the BPF noted that some barriers are experienced more keenly by women in certain communities than in others and therefore focused on identifying the needs and challenges of diverse women’s groups with respect to Internet access.

This BPF 2018 resource finds that supplementary models of connectivity can help make progress on resolving the pertinent barriers commonly faced by women and gender non-binary persons in gaining meaningful Internet access. However, a key finding of the BPF is that there is a dearth of (known) initiatives currently developing and supporting such connectivity models with a gender focus. Despite this, many respondents in the BPF surveys and the 13th IGF BPF Gender session at UNESCO, Paris noted that initiatives of  supplementary models of connectivity have the potential to be better customized to specifically address women and gender non-binary individuals. The BPF hence recommends and urges attention to the following best practices for including gender perspectives while developing supplementary models of connectivity that can aid in making their access and use more equitable with regard to gender and its intersections.

  • The BPF recommends acknowledging that assumptions about Internet infrastructure as inherently neutral and democratic are often misaligned with the realities of accessing the Internet; connectivity networks are equally sites of spatial, political, and cultural contestations. It hence urges initiatives to take into account the disparate needs and demands of different genders and implement approaches that are specifically gender-focussed in their vision and in practice.
  • The BPF recommends encouraging broader gender classifications of nationally representative and gender-disaggregated data by collecting statistics in a consistent and rigorous manner that go beyond the male-female gender binary and recognize and value gender non-binary experiences and beyond.
  • The BPF recommends that rigorous efforts be made towards ensuring that patriarchal, white cis male dominated societal structures are not reproduced in supplementary models of connectivity. 
  • The BPF highlights the importance of agency and recommends ensuring that agency is not tokenistic so that women in decision-making roles can exercise authority independently, as opposed to being relegated to acting as “proxies” for their male family members. The BPF also recommends that future research should continue for mapping similar experiences for gender non-binary persons.
  • The BPF urges valuing women’s (often invisible) labor, collectivist practices, and contributions within communities as an integral and inherent part of the social glue of initiatives supporting supplementary models of connectivity. The BPF also recommends that future research should continue for understanding similar engagement of gender non-binary persons with such models of connectivity.
  • The BPF encourages a bottom-up approach where the community is an active stakeholder in supplementary models of connectivity by finding effective methods of communicating with diverse communities.
  • The BPF recommends that further research be done in identifying methodologies and potential indicators that can be used to understand the role and variances of culture and norms as barriers to access, and paying attention to the intersections between gender and other relevant socio- economic and political identities or factors.
  • The BPF recommends that gender analysis be made an integral part of planning efforts every step of the way while implementing initiatives of supplementary models of connectivity (from budgeting to implementation processes), rather than an “add-on” task in the end. It urges such an analysis to adopt an intersectional approach as gender always overlaps with sex, race, class, caste, religion, ability, and other relevant identities.
  • The BPF recommends that future regulations include mandating service providers to remain sensitive to gendered notions of meaningful access and practicing inclusivity in the spaces where they deploy Internet services.

How was this resource produced?
This outcome resource was produced as a reflection of an open, iterative, bottom-up, multi-stakeholder, and community-driven process in which people from diverse regions and stakeholder groups participated by completing online surveys, attending regular virtual meetings, submitting input on the mailing list, dedicated email address, and mobile messaging, sharing reports of relevant/linked events, and contributing background research. This resource also contains references to discussions facilitated at the BPF’s session at IGF 2018 at UNESCO, Paris, France on 13 November, 2018. For a more detailed explanation of the BPF’s methodology in 2018, see ​Part B of this resource. For additional background and information on how to participate in the IGFs intersessional activities, please visit the IGF website.

BPF Gender session, 13th Internet Governance Forum 2018, UNESCO, Paris

Session recording

Session transcription (English)

Background to BPF Gender

In the last three years, the BPF Gender has addressed the barriers faced by women and girls to access, use and make the most of the Internet, and has also investigated the challenges that women have to participate and get involved in Internet policy development and decision-making processes.

To be more precise, in 2015, the work of the BPF Gender looked at online abuse and gender-based violence, and in 2016 aimed to identify the different barriers that women face as regards Internet access. Last year, the BPF amplified this work by focusing on gather information about specific communities.

Like other intersessional initiatives, the BPF Gender has functioned in a bottom-up, multistakeholder, and community-driven manner to gather stories, experiences, and lessons. But, as gender is a key and broad thematic area not only for its study but also about the other central IG and Internet policy matters, the BPF Gender has also worked hard to integrate gender issues within other IGF’s work and within the framework of SDG5 on gender equality, including the CENB III.

The community formed around the BPF Gender has become genuinely active and strong during the years as it has maintained the commitment to addressing the topic both in a broader angle and in delving into particular emerging issues. In this context, we were able to host for the first time a main session in IGF Geneva only about Gender. Therefore, 2018 can be seen as an opportunity for strengthening, even more, the work that the BPF Gender has done and continuing supporting the efforts of our dynamic community.

We also see an opportunity to take the outcomes of previous years outside our usual audiences by sharing the best practices identified by the BPF in news spaces and forums as a way to stimulate and expand collaboration. In 2017, the BPF Gender started this path by engaging and bringing the work of IGF into other spaces, like APrIGF and Brazil IGF, and we think is essential to strengthen our actions.

About BPF Gender 2018

In 2018, we propose to further the work on gender and access, with a strong focus on the following aspects:

● Continuing the work done in 2017, by focusing on communities from which it was not possible to gather enough information as are usually far from the IG work. Women with disabilities, migrant women, and refugee women face several challenges to access the Internet, and this access could mean different things for each of these groups. Getting more information on this groups will give us different approaches to understanding gender and access as a way also to addressing SDG5.

● For those communities that the BPF has access to information and can get inputs from, further analysis can be conducted to study the way that alternatives ways of connectivity, like community networks, public wifi, free basics and TV White Spaces, have on empowering women.

● For both previous aspects, identifying women leaders and stories of women that have changed their lives through access, will contribute to putting together best practices that encourage women to take leadership positions.

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2018 BPF Gender and Access Meetings Summary Reports

Contact Information

United Nations
Secretariat of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF)

Villa Le Bocage
Palais des Nations,
CH-1211 Geneva 10

igf [at] un [dot] org
+41 (0) 229 173 678