2017 was a year when the voice of women resonated around the world. Global women’s marches, hashtags such as #MeToo and #TimesUp, record numbers of women entering politics – all together a global call for action that signaled women were tired of not being heard.
It’s been a year that’s left many in the western world asking how we got here and how we can make sure we never go back. A big reason for this is because of what the Internet helps us do. We can reach further, speak louder, and come together like never before.
We know that women use the Internet to build opportunities for business, their communities, and for their families. But for the first time we are seeing how women are using it to collaborate, coordinate, and unite to make change happen.
But now is the time to ask questions.
The Internet’s future is one where new divides are emerging. It’s not just the binary fact of being on or offline – it’s who, how, and where. And, as the world’s political and financial leaders gathered in Davos, many wondered if technology is actually the answer when it comes to closing the gender gap.
In my time at the Internet Society, I find myself coming back to a fundamental question: What would be different about the Internet if everyone, everywhere could have a role in shaping it?
A friend once exclaimed if you don’t have a voice – you’re invisible.
I tend to think she’s right about that.
The International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations specialized agency for the harmonization of the global communications system, held an open stakeholder consultation on “Bridging the Digital Gender Divide.”
While there are many ways to do this, the Internet Society submitted four:
- Public and Private Sector Investment
- Inclusion of Women in Decision-Making Processes
- Power of Role Models
- Policy approaches that encourage the development of women as entrepreneurs and managers.
I tend to think the most pressing of is the second one – women need to be included in the decision making process.
When it comes to the governance of the Internet – no matter if its the policies that shape it, the technology that builds it, or the content that lives on it – women need to be at the table.
The good news is that in the Internet community, an inclusive approach runs deep. Gloria Steinem once famously said: “I believe that change comes from the bottom, not the top.” This is even more important in the context of the Internet. Because not only does the Internet provide for inclusion and collaboration, but it facilitates bottom up change in a way that no other technology or point in history have ever been able to make.
But even when women are included in the decision making process, we need to make sure we listen to not just the voices we rarely hear, but the voices we never hear:
Girls, young women, older women, queer women, trans people, and women from all backgrounds, cultures, and economies.
What’s more, the people in charge need to listen.
Not just hear – but know that perhaps what they understand to be true might not be.
We also need to take discussions about the Internet outside of traditional meetings halls and go to where these women are. Rural villages, urban cities, classrooms, places of worship, workplaces, and more.
We need to breathe new life into the processes that shape the Internet and continually ask if the people who need to be at the table are actually there.
To shape tomorrow and build a future where the Internet represents all people will be tough. It will be uncomfortable. It will take humility. It will mean acknowledging our shortcomings. It will include listening.
And it will open a world of opportunities we’ve never known before and a digital future where all voices are heard. It could represent the very best of us. We can get there.
As millions of women around the world are raising their voices it’s time to make sure we listen.
Want to make a difference? Join SIG Women, which is open to all people and aims to “promote a global neutral space that works towards the involvement of women in technology and contributes to reducing the gender gap in the field.”