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.)


How do you solve a problem like IANA?

Tracking where the fallout will be in the wake of NTIA’s announcement

NTIA couldn’t have timed their big news announcement about IANA better if they’d tried.

People had just received their NETmundial confirmations (or not). Those who’d decided that NETmundial was probably going to be a waste of time were suddenly kicking themselves for not applying.

Those who decided not to include material about IANA in their NETmundial submissions were kicking themselves for not mentioning it.

Those who had included IANA-related material were kicking themselves that they hadn’t included more concrete details.

Every organization that considered itself an important part of the Internet governance ecosystem rushed to get out their own official statement reflecting on the news.

Nobody had a relaxing weekend.

But this is only the start. Despite the NTIA’s insistence that it won’t release IANA out into the world unless it’s sure it can be free of oversight by any single government or an intergovernmental mechanism, this isn’t going to stop some governments and likeminded stakeholders from arguing that an intergovernmental framework is what really needs to happen.

We already had a busy Internet governance year lined up. All those Internet-governance related events on the calendar are now likely to have some IANA-related content included or contain some IANA-related fallout of some description.

If you have long thought that the Internet governance world largely consists of the same people travelling around the world to discuss the same issues in what could really be the same set of gloomy conference rooms, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Below is my initial analysis of where I think we will probably see IANA-related discussions. I also suspect that the same debates will play out in many of the venues.

Where IANA-related effects may be seen in the 2014 Internet governance calendar

These aren’t in date order:

1. ICANN meetings, 23-28 March, 22-26 June, and 12-16 October

Obviously. Suddenly, the NCUC‘s apparent coup in nabbing Larry Strickling as a keynote speaker at Friday’s ICANN 49 pre-event makes perfect sense.

2. Informal consultations on the overall review of the WSIS, ending 30 March

Some States want there to be a repeat of the whole World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) process from 2003-2005, including preparatory meetings. The fact some governments now may perceive it to be a realistic option that IANA can finally have overview by all 193 States, equally, may give them added impetus to support a full review and rewrite of key WSIS outcomes, including the Tunis Agenda. Such a rewrite, they may hope, could include more concrete text on the way forward for IANA.

3. NETmundial, 23-24 April

There are 62 submissions containing proposals related to IANA and ICANN governance mechanisms. If the NTIA announcement had happened earlier, we would have had double that number. NETmundial submissions don’t come from many of the governments most critical of the current ICANN and IANA oversight mechanisms. It’s unlikely that such governments will want to submit submissions now, as they generally would have issues with the pro-multistakeholder focus of the meeting. Those who have already submitted contributions, however, may want to amend their documents to include more concrete material on IANA’s future. It’s not clear how NETmundial organizers plan to handle this. Whether or not updated proposals are accepted, however, in reality, when we’re all onsite in Sao Paolo, the late night drafting groups that are likely to be convened to develop the final outcome documents will probably be informal ways to inject new IANA-related material into the mix.

4. ITU World Telecommunications Development Conference (WTDC-14), 30 March – 10 April

This meeting is before NETmundial, so it will be interesting what the wider selection of developing countries that aren’t engaging in NETmundial will have to say. Here, we could see a “think of the developing countries” slant on the path forward for IANA. I doubt it would be a significant component of the meeting, but there could be some language inserted into a resolution or two. Possible existing resolutions that might be appropriate venues for this are:

5. WSIS+10 High Level Event, 10-13 June

Discussions on ICANN-related issues were deferred at the last preparatory meeting in February. They are meant to be discussed at the upcoming preparatory meeting in April. No doubt, this will include a very large portion of IANA-related debates. There is also a final preparatory meeting in May, where the discussions could continue. The texts that the High Level Event will produce are:

  • WSIS+10 Statement on the Implementation of WSIS Outcomes
  • WSIS+10 Vision for WSIS Beyond 2015

The most recent versions of these documents are available here. It is conceivable that there will be some parties wishing to add explicit mention of IANA in the WSIS+10 Vision document.

6. The additional CSTD Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation (WGEC) meeting, 30 April – 2 May

The IANA is one of the holy grails for governments wanting a greater and equal-between-governments role in the decision-making processes of Internet governance. WGEC’s final meeting was supposed to be in February, but it was unable to find consensus on the intractable issue of enhanced cooperation. The discussions at the extra April/May meeting added to try and finalize the WG’s work is likely to be further enlivened by some WG members’ desire to inject specific IANA-related recommendations. This could mean that the WG finds itself unable to reach consensus, again, and it needs to go back to CSTD and ask them to decide whether an extension of the WG’s mandate is needed.

7. 17th Session of the CSTD, 12-16 May and ECOSOC, 23 June – 18 July

The CSTD session could be in for a bumpy ride. This is because it is at the centre of a perfect storm:

  • CSTD is the focal point in the system-wide follow-up review and assessment of progress made in implementing the outcomes of WSIS.
  • The Tunis Agenda enhanced cooperation text about governments participating on an equal footing can be read as diplomatic speak for “all governments to oversee IANA – not just the USA”.
  • The 2014 CSTD session is a key point in the lead-up to the UN-wide overall review of the WSIS process in 2015, writing the draft ECOSOC resolution on WSIS.

The drafting group working on the draft WSIS resolution may, once again, end up finishing their work early on the Saturday morning, well after the CSTD Session has officially ended. ECOSOC is unlikely to care that much about IANA, but if the CSTD debate is inconclusive, it could spill into its space as well.

8. ITU Plenipotentiary Conference 2014 (PP-14), 20 October – 7 November

So many Internet-related proposals, so many opportunities to include text about IANA:

9. IGF, 2-5 September, and regional and national IGFs

Many, many opportunities to discuss IANA. More reasons for people to want IGFs to produce more concrete outcomes. Expect many IANA-related workshops to be submitted in response to the recent call for workshop proposals.

What does this all mean?

I suspect that the large number of venues discussing what to do with IANA and the even larger number of stakeholders who will want a say in how IANA goes forward will mean it’s nowhere near realistic to think that a solution can be reached in time for the September 2015 of the current IANA contract with the US government. I think it is probably more realistic to see the current IANA contract being renewed, with the timeline for IANA’s future taking at least two years or more.

If you think I’m being overly pessimistic, consider the new gLTD policy development process, which is another significant process in the ICANN space. The policy development process was begun in 2005, and it’s only this year that the resulting new gTLDs are actually being deployed.

A long timeline isn’t a bad thing, however. While it is plainly clear that the IANA needs to transition out of US government oversight, it is better to take the transition process slowly, and get it right in the long-term, than to rush into it and end up with a different but still problematic management of IANA.

The important thing is to make sure all stakeholders are involved in ernest and that we don’t end up developing a solution by merely letting the usual globe-trotting participants out-talk less resourced stakeholders with equally legimate views on the way forward.

NETmundial submissions on IANA and ICANN

Given the announcement late on 14 March 2014 (US time) by NTIA that it intends to transition key Internet domain name functions to the global multistakeholder community, I’ve created a PDF that collates all IANA and ICANN-related material from the submissions to NETmundial in Sao Paolo next month.

The good news is that it is substantially shorter than the total of 302,000 words contained in the full set of 186 submissions. The bad news is that the excerpts from the 62 IANA and ICANN-related submissions still add up to a rather epic 33,500 words.

I’ve included all IANA and ICANN related submissions, even those that seem to be outliers on the spectrum of “well-thought out” to “somewhere west of planet Pluto”. I have not included excerpts from submissions that merely mention ICANN in passing.

netmundial-submissions-on-ianaCompilation of excerpts from submissions to NETmundial that include material on how IANA and ICANN should be transformed [1.9 MB]

If you spot any obvious errors in the complilation, please let me know via this contact form.

Looking back at ICANN 47

Why am I writing this? I’ve been told that I haven’t written anything amusing lately. There are much better summaries of ICANN 47 out on the Web, so what I’m presenting here, a week after ICANN 47 has ended, is…

…A not-so-serious commentary on a completely arbitrary selection of ICANN 47 events

The first new registry and registrar agreements were signed during the Opening Ceremony.
I was hoping the Opening Ceremony photo op would outdo the laying of hands on the giant HAL computer (remember 2001, the movie?) that happened at ICANN 46 in Beijing.

HAL at ICANN 46. Photo credit: ICANN

HAL makes a celebrity appearance at ICANN 46. Photo credit: ICANN

Or outdo the giant Canada goose that stalked ICANN CEO, Fadi Chehadé, in Toronto.

It looked less scary in InDesign... Giant Canada goose stalks Chehadé. Photo credit: ICANN

It looked less scary in InDesign… Giant Canada goose stalks Chehadé. Photo credit: ICANN

But I had to settle for this less visually interesting, but more historically significant, event.

There's a non-white man in there. No women though. Photo credit: ICANN

Many white men, reflecting geographic distribution of new gTLD applications. One man from Africa. No women. Photo credit: ICANN

New gTLD applicants were cranky with the GAC’s advice and the Board’s new gTLD committee said the GAC’s advice was not implementable.
The GAC’s Category 1 safeguards from Beijing didn’t go down well with applicants. The Board’s New gTLD Program Committee (NGPC) questioned how well thought out the advice was, suggesting that there was no way it could actually be implemented.

The NGPC said they weren’t rejecting the GAC’s advice outright, but hoped they could work with the GAC to find a way to achieve the GAC’s aims. The GAC explained that the advice was meant to be an early draft for comment by the wider ICANN community and not a final position. The NGPC seemed mollified by this. New gTLD applicants weren’t so happy, and spent a lot of time at the microphone during the Open Forum expressing their displeasure.

Amazon was particularly cranky with the GAC.
It was surprisingly dramatic when, one by one, many of the GAC members expressed their support for Brazil’s objection to Amazon Inc.’s .amazon application in their Tuesday morning GAC session. Amazon Inc. wasn’t in the room on Tuesday, but they were certainly at the microphone during the Public Forum on Thursday to express their strong objection to the GAC’s Durban advice on .amazon. Stay tuned for more on the .amazon issue in coming months.

The GAC stayed up well past midnight developing a Communiqué text that all GAC members could live with, if not actually be happy about.
Unsurprisingly, the cause of the long drafting session was debate about new gTLD strings. .wine and .vin were the main culprits. No doubt, many of the GAC members were desperate for a glass or two of .wine to drown their sorrows when the marathon drafting session finally ended.

Those who have followed ITU for any length of time may be interested to learn that it was Kavouss Arasteh, the Iranian representative to the GAC, who played mediator between opposing parties in the late night negotiations. Arasteh is the man who initiated the infamous vote during WCIT. After that vote, you may remember, things went seriously downhill.

Arasteh is very excited to vote at WCIT. Other participants? Not so much. Photo credit: ITU

Arasteh is very excited to vote at WCIT. Other participants? Not so much. Photo credit: ITU

Arasteh seems to be redeeming himself by acting as elder statesman at ICANN GAC meetings. Durban was only his second ever ICANN meeting too. Keep an eye on Arasteh, folks. It’ll be interesting to see how he progresses as he learns even more about ICANN-related activities.

The GNSO went around telling anyone who’d listen that the GNSO Policy Development Process (PDP) wasn’t as broken as everyone had been saying it was.
The general message was that, yes, the PDP can take two to three years before something comes out the other end, but that other processes, including those by IETF and ccNSO, can take even longer. Even Chehadé called for less criticism of the GNSO PDP and more celebration of its achievements.

ALAC and the GAC agreed that working together would be useful.
Unfortunately, they couldn’t think of any current projects that they could work together on, and momentarily discussed if they could create some new joint projects. Because people in the ICANN community don’t already have enough on their plates. We definitely all need more projects to fill in that time we currently squander on sleep.

The ccNSO celebrated turning 10 years old by showing a video mash-up of ccTLD community members dancing in ways that only geeks can.
Perhaps “half-hearted wiggling” would be more accurate than “dancing”, but anyhow… That little gem has now been uploaded to YouTube for all to enjoy. Skip through to 3:20 to go straight to the dancing.

The ccNSO celebration dinner also marked itself out as possibly the only time in ICANN’s history that an entire Supporting Organization tried to escape the ICANN CEO. As Chehadé arrived to schmooze the room, the last remnants of the ccNSO party goers were escaping via the lifts. Chehadé, not to be defeated, invited himself onto the homeward bound bus, helping out the bus driver by calling out the names of conference hotels on the route.

The Internet Governance update discussed WCIT. Again.
In Costa Rica, we discussed WCIT. In Prague, we discussed WCIT. As we got closer to WCIT, we discussed it a bit more in Toronto. Then WCIT was held in December. In April, in Beijing, we looked back at what happened at WCIT. And in Durban, because we all can’t get enough of that warm WCIT feeling, we discussed WCIT again.

Please. ICANN. No more WCIT. Really. Stop.

There’s enough happening in the crowded Internet governance calendar to fill the Internet Governance Update session. We don’t need to revisit the same event at each meeting.

ICANN fellows were really active.
Whatever ICANN is doing to support ICANN fellows and newcomers, keep doing it. It was fantastic to see so many new faces speaking so confidently at the microphone in a wide assortment of ICANN sessions. I didn’t feel completely comfortable at ICANN meetings for a long time, so it’s great to see ICANN is working so hard to make today’s newcomers feel valued from the moment they step foot into the conference venue.