Chairing the Gender debate in Internet Policy Principles with Chenai Chair!

Here’s to the second week of  my Youth@IGF journey! This week we covered Internet Policy Principles, where we went through the following topics:

  • Introduction to Internet Policy Principles;
  • Internet Design Principles (Openness, Access, End-to-End);
  • Human Rights and Internet Principles; and
  • Principles and Public Policy.

The importance of this course is underpinned by the fact that humans are increasingly using the internet in their everyday lives. From shopping, dating, learning, working, the list goes on and on… the point is that the internet is part of our personal and private lives.  Therefore, Internet Governance (IG) in itself is a human issue that we should all be concerned about.

It’s great that human rights are seen as a priority when it comes to IG, and it’s equally important that users know that they have rights online. As a young African women in IG, I found myself reflecting on the discourse of gender rights online and how gender rights are perceived and tackled within the IG space. Some of the issues that women & LGBTQ communities face online are:

  • Revenge porn (e.g. leaking of nudes & private sex tapes)
  • Sexual harassment & stalking
  • Sexist jokes that promote rape and violence against women & LGBQT communities
  • Slutshaming
  • and loads more….

“Just because it’s virtual doesn’t make it any less real”


This quote captures the severity of gender based violence online as it has real life impacts and implications.

It is therefore, important to have bigger and open conversations around gender rights and the internet with all internet users at the table.

Gender rights and issues are not women only problems!

To discuss further on the issue of gender and IG, I called on Chenai Chair, who is a dynamic young leader in the field of IG. She is a strong advocate for gender sensitivity when it comes to Information Communications Technology (ICT) and internet policy. She is a researcher at Research ICT Africa, a nonprofit think tank based in South Africa. Her areas of specialisation include conducting qualitative studies with a focus on gender, youth and the informal sector, internet governance and tracking pricing and pricing trends on the African mobile market. She majored in gender studies in her undergraduate studies. Currently, she holds a Masters degree in Social Science specialising in Global Studies from the University of Cape Town. Chenai also formed part of Internet Society’s 2016 IGF Ambassadors.

As an expert in gender discourse in ICT and IG, in our short interview, Chenai gives thought-provoking perspectives on how gender rights are viewed and addressed in the IG landscape in Africa.

Q: Hi Chenai, do you think gender rights are recognised in IG discourse and taken seriously?

A: I think the issue of gender and ensuring men and women’s rights are recognised in IG is a recognised issue. Taken serious? In various forms yes and no. Without a doubt, every discussion on IG on the different forums seeks to engage with the issue of a gendered divide in society or concerns particular to women and other non-conforming genders. This level of engagement has progressed over time though, to moving the discussion from simply making sure women’s issues were on the agenda but to discussing gender issues on a spectrum. In 2015 I participated in the Africa IGF and spoke on internet access from a gendered perspective in a human rights panel that was at the end of the day with no one really interested. And now, to engaging in 2016 at a panel in the early morning specifically on gender and bridging the gap. For me, this is a reflection on mainstreaming and opening up the gender and rights conversation without it seeming like a conversation only to be had by women.

Q: What are some of the challenges in promoting the realisation of gender issues in IG?

A: In my opinion, there are those who engage with gender as a way to simply tick the box to indicate that gender was dealt with. For example, cybersecurity and freedom of expression may be a focus for a whole topical discussion across various disciplines, but gender is often seen as for only those interested in gender.

For others, gender becomes something that we must simply do without.

There are also those who engage in the gender debate and only focus on women and it becomes unAfrican to talk about the LGBTQ community for instance.

Secondly, I think another point of contention on gender issues is participation between men and women. For example, the IGF gender check system asks questions that are meant to provide numbers: were there women on the panel, how many were they, were any gender issues brought up? These questions, to me, seem to only want to count the number of people who touched on the issue without engaging in the quality of conversations.

Q: What do you mean by “unAfrican to talk about the LGBTQ community”?

A: There was a thread on an African mailing list about a LGBTQ research funding where someone said,

“who will do this research? It is unafrican this LGBTQ thing!”

Furthermore, if you look at gender panels in Africa, most focus on women – we don’t have a gender panel with self-declared lesbians it’s mostly heterosexual women.

(End of interview)

From just 3 interview questions, I found myself wondering:

  1. If a woman suffers gender abuse online in Africa, can they get the necessary assistance from law enforcement agencies?
  2. How can we make the internet a safe space for women and the LGBQT community without “segregating” the internet, and keeping inline with the principles of the internet such as openness?
  3. Do women and LGBQT communities in Africa actually know that they have digital rights?

Overall, what I took out is that more needs to be done in opening up the discourse of gender in IG. There is also a need for driving awareness and capacity building for internet & ICT policy makers on gender issues.

Below are some resources that I would recommend you to read:

  1. Feminist Principles of the Internet
  2. African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms
  3. Chenai’s 5 part blog serious – Access & Beyond
  4. Explore the GenderIT website! Make it your friend, it is so rich and relatable to the issues women & LGBQT communities face online.

Thanks for joining me & let’s continue the conversation on twitter @simply_omhle

See you next week!



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