Highlighting the gender dimension in access policies and discussions

2017 saw significant attention to gender and access issues, and APC was poised to inform and convene key discussions in order to advance women’s human rights through ICTs.

The 35th UN Human Rights Council session (HRC35) in June 2017 was one of the spaces in which APC engaged in order to amplify the outreach of access and gender issues. At HRC35 the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) issued a report on “Bridging the Gender Digital Divide from a Human Rights Perspective”. The report reinforced APC’s analysis of gender and access issues, calling for addressing underlying social and cultural barriers to women’s meaningful access and use of the internet and adopting a multifaceted approach towards eliminating online gender-based violence. We co-organised a side event with the OHCHR and the permanent missions of Sweden and the United States on bridging the gender digital divide from a human rights perspective, to give visibility to the gender digital divide as a symptom and cause of violations of women’s human rights, and to mobilise the international community to address it.

APC delivered submissions on access-related policy processes with a focus on gender, including a rights-based access submission to the Gender Working Group of the UN Broadband Commission. APC was also invited to join EQUALS, the global partnership to bridge the gender digital divide, and contributed to its inaugural meetings.

In the global governance arena, APC co-facilitated the IGF Best Practice Forum on Gender and Access, which in 2017 examined the barriers faced by specific communities of women, including women with disabilities, refugee women, young women, elderly women, LGBTIQ women, women in rural areas and indigenous women. The preliminary findings and recommendations of the survey were discussed in a session for further exploration facilitated by APC at the IGF.

APC organised and moderated a pre-event panel and supported the attendance of five women’s rights and sexual rights activists to participate at the Stockholm Internet Forum 2017, which focused on the theme “Framing Access and Power”. APC also participated in the panel “Gender-based violence online: Levelling the discussion.”

GenderIT.org, APC’s gender and ICT policy site, also initiated a periodic column called “Access and beyond”. During 2017, the column explored the motivations of internet use in Africa; zero rating services and their value for ordinary users; the specificities of how access to the internet and the barriers to get it are different for women and men; and how researchers and activists can proactively explore gender dimensions when dealing with access and a progressively increasing gender digital divide.

To watch out for: In 2018, APC will again participate in the IGF Best Practice Forum on access and gender issues. Also look out for more in the GenderIT.org column on community networks and gender, and some action happening during the AfChix TechWomen Summit 2018.

Image: APC Women’s rights policy lead, Jan Moolman, participating in the panel “Gender-based violence online leveling the discussion” at the Internet Stockholm Forum.

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Engagement in key forums on access-related policy, regulatory and governance processes

During 2017, in line with our longstanding commitment to promoting innovative and people-centred approaches to access (including areas such as digital migration, community networks, infrastructure sharing, dynamic spectrum management, open hardware, public access and access for women), APC continued advocating for access to information and communications technologies (ICTs) as enablers for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGS). APC intervened and engaged at national, regional and global forums, including the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development (CSTD), the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), as well as the Inter-American Telecommunication Commission (CITEL) and the Communications Regulators Association of Southern Africa (CRASA).

APC participated in numerous global events focused on community networks as a means of promoting access, such as the Community Networks Exchange in Asia-Pacific in September; the Digital Citizen Summit, organised by APC member organisation Digital Empowerment Foundation and ISOC, in September in New Delhi, India; and the Second Summit on Community Networks in Africa in May in Nairobi, Kenya. We organised a workshop on Local Connectivity Solutions for the Unconnected at the WSIS Forum, convened by the ITU in June 2017 in Geneva.

APC delivered a statement at the WSIS Forum High-Level Policy Session, “Inclusiveness – Access to Information and Knowledge for All”, where we emphasised the need to encourage governments to develop policy and regulatory environments that support community-based local access networks as well as other inclusive approaches.

We participated in a Workshop on Policy and Regulatory Advocacy for Community Networks with Civil Society organised in October in Buenos Aires, Argentina, as a pre-event to the ITU World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC) and, in partnership with ISOC and Rhizomatica, worked at the WTDC in November to promote the adoption of a resolution in favour of community networks. At the Stockholm Internet Forum 2017 in May, APC staff members were panelists in the session, “Helping the last four billion get connected: The potential for small-scale community-based networks”.

At the global Internet Governance Forum (IGF) 2017 in Geneva, APC participated in several workshops on community networks and in particular the Dynamic Coalition on Community Connectivity (DC3), where APC’s paper on research methodology was presented and published in the DC3 2017 annual report. APC also contributed to the IGF session on Connecting and Enabling the Next Billion.

In addition, APC delivered submissions on access-related policy and regulatory processes nationally and regionally, contributing to an increased understanding of APC’s people-centred perspective on access, innovative regulatory approaches and public policy recommendations. The inputs provided to the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI) Multistakeholder Working Group on multilateral development bank support for access, and a submission to ITU’s public consultation on over-the-top services (OTTs), among others, show APC’s deep commitment to this area of work.

Image: Screenshot of the video from the Dynamic Coalition on Community Connectivity (DC3) session at the 2017 IGF.

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Better-informed and more resilient community networks

Under the Local Access Networks: Can the unconnected connect themselves? project implemented by APC in partnership with ISOC and Rhizomatica, APC published the first edition of a community networks and local access monthly newsletter in December 2017. This newsletter contributes to shaping a better-informed community of practitioners with greater resources for implementation and operation of more resilient, locally-owned telecommunications infrastructure.

Every newsletter edition contains opportunities for involvement, calls for grants, information on upcoming events related to community networks and local access, academic publications, news and blogs on the topic, regulatory updates and more, all in a multilingual format. You can subscribe to receive the newsletter here.

To watch out for: Prepare for many more newsletter editions in 2018! Also, the 2018 edition of the annual Global Information Society Watch report will focus on community networks and include over 40 country reports and eight thematic chapters.

Image: Rhizomatica.

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Support to 11 community networks in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe

2017 was the first year of the “Local Access Networks: Can the unconnected connect themselves?” project, which we implemented in partnership with APC member organisation Rhizomatica, from Mexico, and the Internet Society (ISOC), with the involvement of external consultants Nicola Bidwell and Steve Song.

As part of this initiative, APC provided technical, policy/regulatory, economic and social assistance, with an emphasis on community networks and gender, to at least 11 community networks and local access initiatives that identified progress in and barriers to their deployment, development and sustainability in Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe.

In order to better understand the business, technology and institutional models that have been adopted in a range of community-based and local access networks, APC and our partners carried out in-depth case studies and analysis to identify and understand the gender dimensions of local access networks, the roles women play in them, the barriers to women’s participation and mechanisms to increase their participation and contribute to transforming gender roles.

APC also built regional and global alliances of community networks, and strengthened the capacities of local access practitioners and advocates through the networking and collaboration opportunities provided through the Local Access Networks project and our partnerships.

To watch out for: In 2018, APC will significantly focus on creating an enabling environment for communities and local entrepreneurs to solve their own connectivity challenges, and APC member organisations devoted to promoting community-owned infrastructures will play a major role in these efforts.

Image: Coolab, Brazil.

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Rhizomatica and AlterMundi train indigenous communicators in Mexico

Between October 2016 and May 2017, the first edition of the Diploma Course for Community Promoters in Telecommunications and Broadcasting was held in Mexico. Two member organisations of APC collaborated in this process: Rhizomatica, who taught the community cellular networks module, and AlterMundi, who led the module on wireless internet networks. The coordination for the diploma course was conducted by Redes por la Diversidad, Equidad y Sustentabilidad A.C. and Palabra Radio.

Overall, the project involved 17 Mexican organisations that have been collaborating since 2012 in a participatory research process to understand the concepts that should be reinforced for indigenous communicators. Based on the results of this research, the need to coordinate efforts in the technical training of organisations working with community and indigenous media was detected.

The course consisted of eight modules that included topics around community communication and technology, electricity, electronics, free/libre software, broadcasting, community cellular networks, wireless internet networks, legal frameworks and sustainability. The course was attended by community communication organisations from six Mexican states, and a total of 36 participants. The knowledge that was socialised during the diploma course was accompanied by the provision of tools and equipment to the participants through four new regional technological laboratories.

Image source: Techio Comunitario.

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Building and supporting community cellular networks in Brazil and Colombia

Thanks to support through an APC subgrant, Rhizomatica was able to support a number of emerging initiatives in Brazil and Colombia regarding community cellular networks. These are basically community-based networks that use 2G cellular technology as a way to facilitate communication between people.

The project took Rhizomatica to both countries in the final part of 2017. In Brazil they worked with Rede Mocambos and local authorities and community members in the Kalungas quilombola community to put up a small, local GSM network. They then travelled up north to Pará state to work with the Lasse project at the Federal University of Pará in Belem. Together they installed two new networks. Since GSM frequencies are heavily regulated, the networks did not go live until early 2018, when the Brazilian regulatory authority approved the experimental licences.

After Brazil they travelled to Colombia to work with another APC member, Colnodo, and the University of Cauca, on the implementation of a community cellular network in the Cauca region, with indigenous, Afro-descendant and campesino populations. The network has been installed, but once again the licensing issue remains unresolved, although it seems that things will be worked out by mid-2018.

Image source: Rhizomatica.

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Nupef Institute launches collaborative multilingual website on spectrum usage policies and practices

The Nupef Institute supports the implementation of community networks in areas lacking internet access, both through the deployment of networks in regions that are not accessible (such as the Marohao communities in Maranhão where Nupef operated through 2017), and through the circulation of information on the dynamic use of spectrum.

The spectrum site gathers information, documentation and learning materials on initiatives, public policies and regulation regarding the dynamic use of spectrum and underutilised frequencies for the creation of community internet access networks where access is non-existent or precarious.

The portal, launched in 2017, was conceived as a reference space, with the aim of disseminating information about community network initiatives. The Nupef Institute acts as an editorial facilitator, as well as handling the maintenance of infrastructure, site administration and technical development. An 11-member editorial group brings together experts and activists from Brazil, Uruguay, South Africa, Australia and the United States who share their knowledge and references from concrete experiences.

In August 2018, the Nupef Institute will carry out an evaluation and planning with the editorial team to encourage dynamic collaboration on the site and broaden its reach. The content of the portal has been promoted through e-newsletters and through the Nupef Institute’s Facebook page.

Image source: Nupef Institute. Network installation in Penalva, state of Maranhão in the Northeast region of Brazil.

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Kéfir cooks up autonomous feminist networks

In 2017, along with its Latin American transhackfeminist allies Vedetas and Periféricas, Kéfir started dismantling the patriarchal structures of the internet in the “Autonomous Feminist Networks” lab which took place during the EncontrADA 2017 technologies and ancestral knowledge gathering in Serrinha do Alambari, Brazil. This is part of a long-term collaboration they have been cooking up around transhackfeminist and decolonial infrastructure.

You can see part of what Kéfir is up to by visiting the website on feminist autonomous networks that they developed together, and listening to a GenderIT.org podcast of an interview with them at the 2017 Internet Freedom Festival. You can also check out the “From steel to skin” manifesto that Vedetas member Fernanda Monteiro and Kéfir co-founder Nadége co-created in the spirit of rephrasing “helping the needy” as “interdependence”, as well as the conversation they had on the subject with APC’s Erika Smith.

Image source: Kéfir.

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CITAD urges governments to equip female schools with ICT facilities and internet access in Nigeria

As the entry examination for tertiary education institutions becomes fully computer-based in Nigeria, most girls’ secondary schools in Kano state still do not have computer laboratories or internet access. Research conducted by the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) on a sample of girls’ secondary schools in the state established that the students lacked information and communications technology (ICT) skills, even though they have to write a computer-based examination to gain entry into universities. Nigeria has a National ICT Policy which includes an education component, but implementation of the policy remains a challenge across the country.

Of the students sampled for the research study, 84.6% admitted they do not know how to operate a computer; a further 10.8% are computer literate but had acquired their computer literacy at home, as their schools lacked such facilities; and 4.7% said they have internet access in their schools, but there is a lack of maintenance, teachers, power, etc. The study also found that awareness of ICT at the parental and societal level is low.

Having raised a number of concerns, the study made a series of recommendations, which included urging governments to equip female schools with ICT facilities and internet access, as well as to recruit enough qualified teachers. It also stressed the need for parents to encourage and support their female children in computer and internet usage, while creating awareness around measures for protecting themselves against cyberbullying. The findings of the research were gathered in a publication, Promoting greater access to internet for female students of secondary schools, which was produced with the support of an APC subgrant.

Image source: CITAD. Conducting a focus group discussion with students for the research.

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ALIN promotes access to information in remote areas of Kenya

Arid Lands Information Network’s (ALIN) innovative approach to information and communications technologies (ICTs) and knowledge management received a boost in 2017 when it deployed a Community Education, Business and Information Centre (CEBIC) in Samburu County, Kenya. The Low Emission and Climate Resilient Development (LECRD) Project under which this centre falls is a joint initiative implemented by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry and is funded by USAID and UK Aid.

The centre will promote access to information as well create business opportunities for vulnerable communities. In addition, the Samburu County government, which is also a partner, will use the centre for its development activities. The centre will enhance access to timely and up-to-date information like market data, which is a critical element for spurring economic development.

Communities in the area lack the means to access and share transformative knowledge. Most of them do not have adequate skills and competencies to access needed knowledge and there is a lack of knowledge exchange nodes in the area.

The centre will be launched by the third quarter of 2018 and will offer renewable energy demonstrations and services, a community library, climate information, ICT services, building technology demonstrations, and conference and edutainment facilities.

The CEBIC will facilitate learning and skills transfer among communities. They will be able to embrace a culture of knowledge sharing that will enable them to make informed decisions on their livelihoods.

Image source: ALIN.

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