Friday, August 31, 2018

APrIGF 2018 and Multistakeholder Engagement

Photo courtesy: Internet Society

As I set my journey to the Pacific Island for the very first time to attend APrIGF, I was stopped by an immigration officer in Tribhuvan International Airport. When inquired, they told me I had to wait because they were not sure where Vanuatu is located. After seeing my documents, making me wait for 10-15 minutes and asking me unnecesary questions they let me go and said ‘All the best baini (sister)!’. Thank you as I said and slightly irritated at first, I walked away with a smile and an immense excitement to be in Vanuatu, an untouched paradise.

Before I start sharing my experience, I  want to begin with what is IG and what is APrIGF for those who are not really familiar with the terms. Internet governance (IG) generally can be understood as the overall development, functioning, management and improvement of the internet. Likewise, the Asia Pacific Regional Internet Governance Forum (APrIGF) is a multi stakeholder space where people from government, business, private sector, civil society, and academia meet to discuss about public policy issues pertaining to the internet.

Although the Forum in Vanuatu was my second encounter with the APrIGF, it was my first experience as a fellow. Having being fortunate enough to attend the meeting in two different capacities, it is worth stating the differences that I have experienced. Comparatively, with the amount of engagement required, continuous support, mentoring and focus on capacity building of the fellows made the fellowship experience the best one for me. Being a fellow, you are expected to engage as much as possible to get the best out of the opportunity you have received; hence the fellowship programme was intended in such a way that gave maximum opportunity for the fellows to learn and takeaway the finest memories home from the picturesque Island of Vanuatu. 

The buddy groups assigned under the six sub- themes of this year was crucial in terms of how it facilitated the discussions among fellows for clarifying doubts, building team work and for contributing to the development of synthesis document. The afternoon one on one session with the MSG members, the evening social hours and even the informal conversations during the conference hours provided us a great platform for networking opportunities with people from different stakeholder groups. In fact, the commitments of fellows had begun even before they were headed to Vanuatu. The Online Learning Course, Pre- Conference Webinar and the online group discussions kept the fellows busy before the event.

Photo Courtesy: Monika Zalnieriute
 Therefore, as much as I would like to encourage others to apply next year, I would also put emphasis on the importance of knowing your key agenda for engaging in the process of internet governance. As a young woman who uses the internet for accessing information, exercising my freedom of expression, advocacy and lots of other things, my interest was in the intersection of gender and the internet. Being the only person from Nepal who was present at the conference physically, I cannot say influencing government and people in decision making positions was my motive (though I hope to fulfill that with the local IGF); the APrIGF for me was more about learning from best practices and sharing experiences from Nepal.  In the only session under the sub theme ‘Diversity’ moderated by one of my co-fellows, on the ‘Responsibilities of Internet Platforms for Tackling Online Abuse Against Women and Other Marginalized Groups’ I got to share about the examples from Nepal and some findings from the research conducted by LOOM highlighting the situation and challenges of dealing with online violence cases in Nepal and the need to recognize it as a manifestation of discrimination that has been existing in the offline world.  

Without undermining the invaluable learnings from the conference, I have to admit my disappointment with the comparatively less number of sessions on gender issues this year. Meanwhile, I believe it’s important to add here that the local IGF could be a good space for human rights, gender/ sexual rights activists, youths and other marginalised groups to intervene because it’s high time we should stop trivializing the discriminations that happens in the online space. It’s evident nowadays that it’s hard to view offline/online in isolation.  The disparities of the offline world are replicated on the internet with some alarming consequences. The dates for the Nepal IGF this year has been proposed for the first week of November. 

Lastly, I’m grateful for such a wonderful experience, memories and friends I made in the APrIGF. The two days’ journey to reach Vanuatu from South Asia definitely wasn’t that smooth; but, Vanuatu’s breathtaking views and lovely hospitality made it all worthwhile for me!

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