How to not look like a newbie at an ITU Council meeting

Note: I am attending the ITU Council 2016 meeting as a member of the Australian delegation; however, any of the views I express in this blog post are entirely my own. This post does not reflect the official Australian position, nor is its content endorsed in any way by the Australian government.

ITU Council can be a daunting experience for newbies and old timers alike. As well as the formal etiquette and procedures (such as a confusing array of document types) there are the things that nobody ever tells you. This is a guide to some of that hidden etiquette:

  1. The first time you take the floor, congratulate the Chair on being elected. You must do this, even if your first intervention doesn’t happen until the second week of the meeting.
  2. Don’t take a selfie while you’re sitting behind your country’s flag. If you really must take a selfie, make sure you don’t do it while you’re on the big screen showing the webcast of the meeting.you-are-on-camera
  3. Decide what approach to take when the person next to you/in front of you/behind you is making an intervention and you appear on the big screen as well. Will you look directly at the person making the intervention and look interested? Do you prefer to appear to be taking notes studiously? Or are you so cool that you don’t care that you’re appearing at twice life size on the big screens at the front?
  4. If you haven’t figured out how to turn your phone to silent mode, do. Not everyone may appreciate your taste in music. And not everyone may appreciate hearing that music when you leave the room and your phone rings. And rings. And rings.
  5. Take your earpiece off before you turn your microphone on to make an intervention. Else, a high-pitched squeal will pierce the ears of everyone else in the room. And they will not thank you for it.
  6. Learn how to effectively smuggle liquids into the Popov meeting room by hiding them in your bag. If you carry them openly, the bouncers[1] at the door are likely to prevent your entry.
  7. Make sure you have the Geneva “three kiss” protocol perfected. It’s not one kiss. It’s not two kisses. It’s three. And absolutely no hand kissing, unless you want to look like a time traveller from the 19th century.
  8. Learn how to use the cheap coffee vending machine correctly. First, insert 1CHF, then choose the sugar level, and finally choose coffee type. The order is not logical, but this is Geneva. Accept it.
  9. Before you begin your serious intervention between coffee break and lunch, don’t forget to thank the Member State that just paid out for the coffee and croissants. Especially if that country is an ally or your country hasn’t paid for a coffee break in a long time.

[1] The bouncers are there to ensure that only suitably accredited people enter the room.

Gender equality: still an uphill battle in international forums

Note: I am attending the ITU Council 2016 meeting as a member of the Australian delegation; however, any of the views I express in this blog post are entirely my own. This post does not reflect the official Australian position, nor is its content endorsed in any way by the Australian government.

A step forward for gender equality

For the first time in its 151-year history, ITU Council has women in both its Chair and Vice Chair positions. Julie Zoller, USA, is Chair while Dr Eva Spina, Italy, is Vice Chair. There has been a female Chair of Council once in the past ( Lyndall Shope-Mafole, South Africa, 1999) but this is the first time both lead roles have been filled by women. In addition, the Secretary of the Plenary Meeting and Steering Committee is also female: Doreen Bogdan-Martin (ITU secretariat).

In her opening statement as Chair, Zoller stated:

“As we begin the 2016 session of Council, I would like to thank you for the confidence you have placed in me and in the vice chairperson of the Council, Dr Eva Spina of Italy.  You have elected us from among the 48 councilors, which is a vote of confidence for our leadership and a sign of progress for gender equality.  This is the first time that both the chair and the vice-chair of Council are women, and we are making history together.  I would particularly like to thank my administration as well as my beloved region, the Americas, for your support.

She also, unlike many of her male counterparts who have often urged Member States to reach positions of compromise that makes everyone equally unhappy, suggested a more positive approach to the Council’s work:

“We must lead by example and commit to bring forth the best results, with everyone equally happy. “

The election of women to the two key positions of Council is amazing progress, given at ITU Plenipotentiary 2014, none of the top elected positions (Secretary-General, Deputy Secretary-General, Directors of the three sectors) were won by women.

And then the alarming inevitability of a sexist joke

But there is still much to be done. Even well-meaning men still frequently display an inherent bias against women. This was demonstrated after Zoller and Spina were elected, with the usual “jokes” about gender bias now happening in the other direction (after a century and a half of men in those positions, three women this year apparently equates to a takeover by women). Such comments were meant to be funny, but offended a number of the women in the room.

Inherent sexism is still a widespread issue, even in places that advocate gender equality

The comments in the opening plenary reflect the inherent sexism that still exists in many men (and indeed, in many women, too). It’s this inherent sexism that is the biggest barrier to successfully achieving gender equality in ITU and elsewhere. As long as three women in high-up positions are considered so unusual that it warrants an official blog post but the regular appointment of all men to similar positions is considered situation normal, a state of real gender equality is still a long way off.

This is a not a problem specific to ITU. It is a problem with many other UN agencies, too. Two weeks ago, I was frustrated by the number of all-male panels (also known as ”manels”) at the CSTD 19th Session in Geneva. When I raised the issue on the second day with a member of the secretariat, the response was that they had invited a woman (one??) for the first day, but she hadn’t shown up. In other words, the token woman was to blame – not the fact that there hadn’t been more effort on the part of the organizers to consider gender balance when developing the panels. In frustration, when the last manel occurred, not knowing how else I could lodge my objection (calling out the manels on Twitter wasn’t effective) I decided to protest by not live tweeting the discussion. If men were not going to involve women – even when some of the discussion was about the gender divide – then why should I, as a woman, give them legitimacy by tweeting their one-sided conversation?

I am also aware of female delegates on government delegations being pawed and being the targets of attempts at sexual coercion by senior members of other government delegations at UN meetings and associated social events. These cases often go unreported, as the women don’t want to cause a diplomatic incident between their country and that of the perpetrator.

It also is a problem outside the UN. At the most recent ICANN meeting, a member of the community stated that she had been sexually harassed by another member of the community. Due to a combination of circumstances that I won’t go into here, the ombudsman was not able to continue the investigation. But what was extremely telling about the prevalence of inherent sexism in the community was the way that many members of the community (mostly men) made fun of, and continue to make fun of, the details of the claim. I had a previous experience with the person alleged to have harassed the woman, but had said nothing when it happened because, to be honest, as a woman, inappropriate touching and comments happen pretty much daily, and at a certain point, it just becomes too tiresome to point out to each and every man who behaves in such a way why his behaviour is inappropriate. There were only so many times that I could handle being told I can’t take a joke/am imagining things/frigid/a slut before I decided it wasn’t worth the effort of challenging these bozos any more.

Unfortunately, if I had chosen to challenge the person at ICANN way back when it happened to me, he may have adjusted his behaviour and it may have prevented the young woman at the latest ICANN meeting feeling she had been placed in a difficult situation. But I didn’t, and now, if other women are harassed, having seen how this latest woman was made fun of, they may also think twice about reporting the behaviour.

What’s the way forward?

Gender equality is a very complex topic, but here are a few ways to help counter the specific issues I’ve discussed above.

  • No more token women. No more blaming of token women who don’t show up for panels and reveal the true “manel” focused nature of the panel selection process.
  • No more celebration when a woman or two manage to break through the gender barriers to reach positions of authority. Let’s stop treating such situations as out of the ordinary and start expecting them to be routine.
  • Shame manels. Submit them to this Tumblr blog.
  • Recognize that none of these excuses can in any way justify a manel.
  • Call out inappropriate behaviour each time it happens. Men, too, should call out other men who behave inappropriately. Men (and women) who have internalized sexist attitudes need to be made aware of their biases every time it happens. Ignoring it will just allow it to continue.
  • Stop defending all-male management by saying “there were no qualified women”. Start making sure women have the opportunity to progress their careers. Understand the reasons women find it difficult to rise through the ranks at the same rate as their male counterparts (career interruptions to have children, cultural expectations that women not be as assertive as men, etc.)

 

Drafting the WSIS resolution for ECOSOC at the CSTD 19th Session

The 19th Session of the Commission for Science and Technology (CSTD) was held in Geneva, 9-13 May. At each of its annual sessions, the Commission drafts two resolutions for the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC):

  • Draft Resolution on Science, Technology and Innovation (2016 draft adopted by CSTD)
  • Draft resolution on the Assessment of the progress made in the implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the World Summit on the Information Society (2016 draft adopted by CSTD)

These resolutions use the previous year’s ECOSOC resolutions as starting points. ECOSOC has the ability to amend the resolutions when they consider them during their annual sessions, but in reality, it tends to rubber stamp what the Commission has submitted.

Please note that this blog post focuses on the WSIS implementation resolution as it is the set of negotiations that I followed last week.

Participation in the CSTD: its 43 Member States are not the whole story

The CSTD has 43 Member States. These Member States are chosen by the 54 Member States of ECOSOC. The UN General Assembly has 193 Member States. Therefore, the ECOSOC resolutions on science and technology and WSIS implementation are developed by a UN agency that contains just over one-fifth of all UN Member States. In practice, though, any Member State can participate in the CSTD’s development of the draft resolutions. CSTD membership only matters if things need to go to a vote. And the general feeling is that if things need to go to the vote, it basically means the process has failed. So, to date, there has never been a vote on CSTD’s draft resolutions.

As well as all UN Member States, the CSTD allows a number of non-governmental entities to participate in its work, including those with WSIS accreditation or ECOSOC accreditation. At the 19th Session, representatives from ITU, UNESCO, UN Women and UN DESA, staff members from ICC BASIS, ICANN, ISOC, and APC were present, as well as a researcher from the University of Essex and a small business operator (mCADE LLC). I attended under the ARIN banner. There were also some other faces present that I did not recognize.mics

Non-Member States have gradually been able to participate more fully in the drafting negotiations over the past few years, at the discretion of the chair of the negotiations. This year, the chair of the WSIS-related negotiations (Canada) was very receptive to the inputs of non-government participants and regularly called on any non-government participant who raised their flag (what you and I would call a large “tent card” if we weren’t in a UN meeting). In addition, rather than making the non-government participants trudge around the corridors in the breaks, hoping to find a Member State willing to “adopt” their proposed text as their own (and therefore making it possible to appear as part of the official compilation draft), the Chair, after a non-government representative had presented their idea, would ask, on the spot, if any government in the room was willing to sponsor/adopt the proposal.

The starting point: the 2015 ECOSOC WSIS resolution

Last year’s WSIS implementation resolution was adopted by plenary at the unusually early hour of 6:40 pm on May 10. Previous years had dragged on well past midnight, and on at least one occasion ending at 2:30 am on the Saturday morning. Usually, the Internet-related parts of the resolution were the biggest sticking points. The only reason that the CSTD’s draft of the 2015 WSIS resolution was adopted so early was that it had become very clear that there would be no agreement to proposed changes to the resolution. At issue was the fact that some Member States had wanted to add forward looking text to the resolution, looking beyond the WSIS+10 anniversary toward the next phase of implementation, while others believed it was premature to make decisions before the UN General Assembly had completed its 10-year review of the WSIS (in December 2015). Late on the Friday afternoon, it was very clear that there was not going to be any possibility of compromise between those two positions.

The only possible solution – other than to not have a resolution at all – was to stick with the 2014 resolution, just with updated dates and names/numbers of annual meetings and resolutions referenced in the resolution. Everyone agreed that substantive changes would be deferred until after the WSIS+10 UN General Assembly (UNGA) had been decided.

Optimism in action: 2016 zero draft assumes WSIS+10 and SDGs will be reflected in the 2016 resolution

The zero draft sent to Member States highlighted sections of the text that may have been useful to consider updating in the wake of the WSIS+10 resolution at UNGA (December 2015) and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (September 2015) being adopted.

However, in hindsight, it was perhaps a little ambitious in its expectations that Member States would want to overhaul the complicated, often redundant, text that had built up over many years of compromises that allowed the resolutions to be passed, if not to make particular sense to anyone who hadn’t been in the room at the time.

States are divided on the way forward

Pro-overhaul parties

The Western European and Others Group (WEOG) were keen to start afresh and streamline the resolution and make the issues it contained clearer and more succinct. For WEOG states, the resolution had become overly complicated and unreadable. Because of the difficulties in previous years’ negotiations, it had built up a considerable amount of text about events and activities that had long since been held or begun. For the WEOG states, it was more important to focus on the future, particularly since they viewed the WSIS+10 UNGA resolution as a kind of “reset” button on WSIS activities.

Pro-“keep existing text” parties

Many of the developing countries were suspicious of WEOG proposals to delete paragraphs and replace them with merged, shorter text on the same issues. For those developing countries, there was consternation that the deletions seemed overwhelmingly related to text aimed at the challenges faced by developing countries and that deletion of this text would disadvantage them. In addition, for governments who felt that the existing resolution was to their advantage, deletion of text from that resolution would mean risking their ability to maintain an advantage in the new text. Finally, some states were concerned that there was not enough time to update the text. It is certainly true that unlike other UN bodies and processes, where governments submit their proposed changes weeks or months in advance, CSTD’s process is very truncated, with governments only submitting their edits the week of the CSTD session, leaving a maximum of 2.5 days to negotiate together on the text. However, it is also symptomatic of UN glacial slowness that the UN can pass two major resolutions that set the way forward for development and ICT for the next 10-15 years but one of its subordinate bodies chooses not to incorporate those big changes in a resolution designed to monitor the implementation of one of those processes.

Key areas of difference

As usual, Internet governance was a big area of contention.

Enhanced cooperation

The composition of the second Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation (WGEC 2.0), announced during the WSIS Forum 2016, particularly problematic. Developing countries felt that their interests were being sidelined in the final lineup of the working group. The overwhelming majority of the intergovernmental and international organizations and the technical and academic community representatives were from the developed north. In addition, for the CSTD regional groups that had had a very difficult time in nominating only four states to represent them on the WGEC, it was hard to accept that the WEOG and African Group had five members each (WEOG had such a hard time that the Chair of the CSTD, Peter Major of Hungary, had to choose the final member). The fifth member of those two groups was a result of Switzerland (CSTD membership ends 2016) and Tunisia (not a CSTD member) being the hosts of the WSIS process, 2003-2005. However, if you were a state that had missed out because you weren’t a CSTD member now, or wouldn’t be a CSTD member for the entire life of the WGEC, the inclusion of these two states could be seen as a bit of an insult. Therefore, there was a big push to allow all UN 193 Member States to be able to participate on an equal footing, should they wish to participate, in the working group. There was an equally big push, however, from the other side, which pointed out that the WSIS+10 resolution had left it up to the WGEC itself to decide its modalities – not the CSTD.

IGF

IGF supporters wanted to add text that mentioned some of the progress made in improving the IGF, such as the inter-sessional work on policy options to connect the next billion, the Best Practice Forums and Dynamic Coalitions. Those less supportive of IGF thought that this was unnecessary detail for the ECOSOC resolution.

Development was also a big issue.

Activities aimed at addressing the needs of developing countries

WEOG states had tried to consolidate various sections of the past resolution so that all development-related material would be shorter, less distributed throughout different parts of the text, and easier for people to understand. However, many states from the developing world felt that the proposals to consolidate the text were removing subtle, but important, nuances in the development oriented text. WEOG states said they had no intention of deleting anything important and, during the negotiations, had been working to update their proposed texts to incorporate elements that the developing states had said were vital to them. However, with the limited time available, there just wasn’t the time to complete this exercise to everyone’s satisfaction.

A war of attrition: Member States and observers start leaving the room

late-night-negotiationsOnce 6 pm hit on Friday night, gradually, a number of the Member State representatives and some of the observers started leaving. Partially, this was because a number of the Member States were represented by their mission staff who were only there to observe, rather than be active participants. After 6 pm, for Member States who weren’t actively invested in the outcomes of the draft resolution, there really was no point in staying. Other Member States had multiple representatives in the room, and so didn’t need to have all their representatives stay on. Others simply had prioritized their lives over being stuck in small room eating vending machine supplies for dinner and had booked flights out of Geneva on Friday night. This meant that only the incredibly committed (and possibly certifiably insane) stayed on to the end.

Trying to find a consensus text on a Friday 13th, with a full moon, while exhausted and subsisting on caffeine and sugar

The nuclear option is proposed: Let’s dump it all

At around 1 am, one of the governments suggested that given the massive amounts of text left to work on, and the late hour, there needed to a decision to either hold a resumed session in a few weeks or to produce a massively truncated text that basically recalled the WSIS+10 and SDG resolutions and reaffirmed a commitment to implement the goals. Then, next year, the government representative said, we could embark on a longer preparatory process that could consider the various ways to develop a post-WSIS+10 resolution that met everyone’s needs.

The Chair proposes an alternative option: Tread water

In response to the nuclear option, the chair of the drafting group suggested that the group could adopt a different type of barebones resolution: this one would recall the 2015 ECOSOC resolution on WSIS (the one that was the 2014 ECOSOC resolution, just with updated dates and resolution and meeting references) as well as recall the SDG resolution, the WSIS+10 resolution, and request the Secretary General to submit his report to ECOSOC.

At this point, the chair of the drafting group called for a break while he consulted with various delegations about how to proceed.

A compromise solution: When all else fails, try a facilitator’s text

After a break that lasted just over an hour, the chair of the drafting group resumed the meeting with a new proposed way forward: a facilitator’s text. In the event that participants are having so much trouble reaching any form of consensus, a facilitator’s text can be the best way forward. The idea is that the facilitator/chair of the drafting negotiations could put together his/her own compromise version of a resolution based on her/his sense of what could gain consensus in the room.

This is how the WSIS+10 resolution at the UN General Assembly was drafted during the preparatory process last year in New York. Recognizing how very difficult the topic was, the two co-facilitators, United Arab Emirates and Latvia, “held the pen” throughout the drafting process, even though there were some attempts by some of the Member States to have direct control over the drafting.

In this CSTD case, the chair of the negotiations noted that the facilitator’s text would be based on:

  • Development language proposed by WEOG that had been largely agreed to already plus existing resolution language (but no other additions)
  • WSIS Action Lines text proposed by Russia (not yet looked at by the room at this point, but there had been agreement for Russia to go away and consolidate various proposals and existing texts on Action Lines and the WSIS Forum. This compilation text was truncated significantly by the facilitator, not because there was anything wrong with it, but simply to ensure that this section on Action Lines didn’t form the majority of the text of the resolution (given all other sections were reduced significantly as part of the general compromise)
  • Compromise text on enhanced cooperation developed by Brazil, which had facilitated informal discussions on that section on Thursday night.
  • Existing language on Internet governance, including the IGF (proposed new language had not been agreed to)

Text on the reporting mechanism from the CSTD to the ECOSOC High Level Political Forum would be deleted (many hours had been devoted to trying to understand what exactly CSTD reports consisted on and whether or not Member States could change the format of the reports that were sent to this particular High Level Political Forum).

Some other bits of text that had not had complete consensus were, in the spirit of compromise, were either kept in or deleted.

Finally, we get to go home, at 2:55 am on Saturday 14 May, all knowing we’ll probably repeat the experience next year

Not everyone in the room was happy with the resulting text, but there was widespread recognition that possibly, via this facilitator’s draft, everyone would be less unhappy than if we had continued with everyone’s hand on the drafting pen. One state – not a CSTD member – was particularly unhappy and made their position very clear. When the chair of the negotiations asked if all governments could accept the facilitator’s compromise text, all but that one state was willing to adopt the text. The state insisted that their reservation be included in the report of the meeting, which was agreed to.

In many ways, the fact that a non-CSTD Member State was able to have so much influence on the process and have their objection included in the outcomes of the meeting report shows how open the CSTD is to the participation of all Member States.

A number of non-CSTD Member States were at the meeting and did participate. Belarus, for example, was a non-CSTD member that was active in the WSIS negotiations as was Saudi Arabia. Australia was also present, but less active, given it is currently in caretaker mode (federal elections are at the start of July). The inclusion of more UN Member States, and of other accredited entities, in the CSTD’s work can only make its deliberations richer and more representative of the wider needs and requirements of those who are the purpose for the CSTD’s work to draft ECOSOC resolutions in the first place.

As one Member State repeatedly intervened to note during the WSIS negotiations, trying to reach consensus on the draft resolutions in less than a week is clearly an impossible task. As the issues of sustainable development and the role of ICTs become more and more politically important to the world, the process of drafting associated resolutions becomes more complicated and delicate. It remains to be seen if the CSTD changes its approach to drafting the 2017 ECOSOC resolution on WSIS implementation. CSTD only meets twice a year for a total time of less than two weeks. It also has a very streamlined secretariat provided by UNCTAD. Because of these factors, there is very little focus on the CSTD’s work for most of the year, and most governments do not assign specific liaisons to follow the CSTD’s work on WSIS. Instead, it’s the local mission-based staff who are sent. Or whoever has been assigned to work on ICTs and WSIS issues at ITU. This means that each time the CSTD meets to develop its WSIS resolution, it’s pretty much starting from scratch. Many of the participants don’t know each other and there is no thread of ongoing CSTD work throughout the year that binds people together. Unless ways to overcome these barriers are developed, we are likely to see similarly difficult negotiations in the WSIS implementation drafting in May 2017.

IGF 2015 on fire!

IGF 2015 in João Pessoa got off to a red-hot start, literally and figuratively. The first shuttle buses of the day at 7:45 am were filled to capacity, with the informal Day Zero of IGF now no less important than the rest of the week. 21 sessions were held on Monday, 9 November, on topics as diverse as Italy’s Internet Bill of Rights, gender and the Internet, and the United Nation’s 10-year review of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS+10).  Many sessions were so crowded that it was standing room only. Despite this, the corridors of the IGF venue were filled with yet more participants catching up, meeting for the first time, and debating topics on a more personal level.

IGF has even fired up the residents of João Pessoa, with taxi drivers now adding a new topic of conversation to their repertoire. After a conversation about the importance of the Internet, one taxi driver paused thoughtfully before asking an IGF participant, “Is IGF important at a global level?”  Well, clearly the 1800 or so people who’ve descended on João Pessoa over the last couple of days think it is.

Putting out a small fire caused by an overheated light.

Local host staff put out a small fire caused by an overheated light.

Day Zero ended with a literal fire, when a light became overheated. The local host staff quickly and calmly evacuated the building. Sometimes, it really does take an actual fire to stop Internet governance enthusiasts from talking all night.

Everyone is back again tomorrow to continue the heated discussions on a variety of topics.