WSIS Gender and ICT Policy

WSIS Gender and ICT Policy

J. Ann Dumas (The Pennsylvania State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-949-6.ch034
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The World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) was organized by the United Nations (UN) and the International Telecommunications Union to address the need for international policy and agreement on ICT governance, rights, and responsibilities. It convened in two phases: Geneva in 2003 and Tunis in 2005. International representatives of governments, businesses, and civil society raised issues, and debated and formed policy recommendations. The WSIS Gender Caucus (2003) and other civil-society participants advocated for gender equality to be included as a fundamental principle for action and decision making. The voting plenary session of delegates produced the WSIS Declaration of Principles (UN, 2003a) and WSIS Plan of Action (UN, 2003b) in Geneva, with gender included in many of the articles. Two major issues WSIS addressed in Geneva and Tunis were Internet governance and the Digital Solidarity Fund. UN secretary general Kofi Annan established the Working Group on Internet Governance (WGIG) to define Internet and Internet governance to “navigate the complex terrain” (GKP, 2002, p. 6) and to make recommendations for WSIS in Tunis in 2005. WGIG addressed three Internet-governance functions: technical standardization; resources allocation and assignment, such as domain names; and policy formation and enforcement, and dispute resolution. Relevant issues not initially addressed by WGIG included gender, voice, inclusiveness, and other issues rooted in unequal access to ICT and to the decision-making process including governance, now shaping the information society. On February 23, a joint statement on Internet governance was presented in Geneva at the Tunis Prepcom by the Civil Society Internet Governance Caucus, the Gender Caucus, Human Rights Caucus, Privacy Caucus, and Media Caucus on behalf of the Civil Society Content and Themes Group. The statement asserts, “gender balanced representation in all aspects of Internet Governance is vital for the process and for its outcomes to have legitimacy” (WSIS Gender Caucus, 2005a). The Digital Solidarity Fund was proposed at WSIS, and the UN Task Force on Financial Mechanisms for ICT for Development was formed. In the 1990s, official development-assistance (ODA) support declined for ICT infrastructure development. In the new millennium, this decline has been offset by funds to integrate ICT programs into development (Hesselbarth & Tambo, 2005). The WSIS Gender Caucus (2003) statement on financing mechanisms affirmed that ICT for development must be framed as a development issue, “encompassing market-led growth but fundamentally a public policy issue.” Public finance is central to achieving “equitable and gender just outcomes in ICT for development.” This article examines the WSIS political dynamics over the issue of gender equality as a fundamental principle for action in ICT policy. The WSIS civil-society participants, particularly the Gender Caucus, continued to advocate for gender equality as a fundamental principle for action and decision making within the multiple-stakeholder WSIS process of government delegates and private-sector representatives.

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