The cat is out of the bag. With the Snowden affair, it is unequivocally clear that the network society's emancipatory potential is more or less just that: a promise in the distant horizon that is weighed down by the political-economic surveillance complex. The turn of events is deeply disturbing for global justice. And for the feminist project, it is a sobering moment.
I remember vividly the day, in 2003, that the name of the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) was stolen online by a pornographer. I was the deputy director of UNIFEM and the head of our communications division came running into my office, frantic, and told me to search online for “www.unifem.com”. Pornographic images filled my screen and it created a loop that took many tense moments to close.
We live in a violent world. On any day in any country, we will read or hear or see stories about a woman or girl child being raped, beaten or murdered. We might even know one of them. She could be rich or poor. She could be educated or illiterate. She could live in a country ravaged by war or one in which the per capita income is the highest in the world. But as long as she lives in a woman’s body, she risks experiencing violence in her lifetime.
Gender politics in internet governance can be fruitfully explored at two levels. At the level of feminist interventions, gender is often conflated with women and girls, on whose behalf normative commitments and specific measures are sought. Attention to the link of gender with other forms of social hierarchies may lead to nuanced propositions on behalf of particular groups of women and girls, for instance, rural women or poor black girls. Nevertheless, the female category appears quite straightforwardly as that which defines these groups of people and their specific roles and needs.
At the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, ICTs were recognised as critical for achieving women's empowerment and gender equality. In 2003, the World Summit on the Information Society reinforced that the development of ICTs will provide opportunities for women's full and equal participation in all spheres of life. Since then the internet has become a critical global resource that enables women to exercise their right to speak, impart opinions, share ideas, build knowledge and access information.