Truly inclusive global internet governance requires dismantling existing power structures and addressing existing power dynamics in the Internet governance world, and it requires treating the needs and voices of the most vulnerable and marginalized people as central, rather than an afterthought.
A quick look at various boards and staff pages make it clear – Able-bodied, straight, cisgender white men have claimed Internet architecture and policy as their own, and they have consistently held positions of power and influence. As a result, Internet governance bodies often fail to understand that small decisions can have big impacts on everyone else in the world. It’s time for people to give up some of that privilege and for organizations to make a better effort to change the structures that are getting in the way.
First, there is some level of personal responsibility here. In recent years there’s been a push to end “manels”- all-male panels – with some men signing pledges not to speak on them. But what about whinels- all white-panels? What about panels speaking about experiences of people in regions where no one on the panel is from that region? Anyone from a marginalized community can relate the experience of seeing exactly this repeatedly. It is frankly cringe-worthy, but somehow continues to happen. This can change. People who have historically had unearned advantage in the field can today say no to opportunities, and pass those opportunities on to others.
Like global warming, though, no level of personal responsibility can change the situation. Instead, the structure of Internet governance work itself has to change. The Internet Governance Forum has made some laudable efforts to increase access for and participation from marginalized communities, including remote and travel funding for representatives from underrepresented communities.
But it’s important to see these measures as stop-gap. Schengen or US visas aren’t always so easy to get. Taking time to travel isn’t so easy. In between such in-person meetings, conference calls are often in English and centered on European or US time zones, excluding much of the world.
Internet governance bodies need to address these issues as much as possible, increasing travel funding and being more thoughtful about meetings. But they also need to make new efforts to meet vulnerable communities where they are. Major Internet governance bodies can send representatives to regional digital rights and technology events. They can hold listening sessions, create easy guidelindes on how to get involved, and provide materials and meetings in more languages.
Once Internet governance bodies begin to put in as much effort towards being inclusive as they are expecting from marginalized and vulnerable communities just to participate at all, we will start to see truly inclusive Internet governance.
This article was first published (12th November 2019) online via hiig.de and is part of the publication "Critical Voices, Visions and Vectors for Internet Governance".