Illustration by Sonaksha. Source:

It was a beautiful night with the moonlight pouring onto the earth in Arua City away from the usually busy and noisy city of Kampala in late September 2021. That night, I was navigating the internet as usual after a long day of work and I received a rejection email for an opportunity I had applied for. I read the rejection email and said to myself, “Oh well, it is not yet your time, Sandie, perhaps another day or time.” I looked into the mirror in my hotel room and smiled unusually and said to myself, “Girl, it is just a bad day and not a bad life.”

I immediately forgot about the rejection email and returned to checking my email messages again, and got a pop-up email notification with the subject “Congratulations…” Little did I know it was for the African School on Internet Governance (AfriSIG), yay! I instantly replied to confirm my participation and knew this was another opportunity to learn, relearn and unlearn issues around human rights, women’s rights and internet governance across the African continent. I honestly deserved to be selected among the 40 amazing digital rights advocates and researchers from across Africa (haha…).

During my application process, my application form got lost three times, One…Two…Three. I almost gave up and remembered the journey to voicing women’s issues in internet governance spaces is still here, and I reapplied. Thanks to Koliwe Majama who was available to answer the hard questions via emails as to the reasons for the disappearance of my application form during the application process, haha…!

During the different sessions, a lot was shared. However, there were still limited occasions on which concerns on women’s issues where raised.

As Marwa Azelmat said, While women’s participation is welcome at internet governance institutions, they are expected to not bring up women’s issues.”

Attending AfriSIG was eye-opening, but the message conveyed by Marwa Azelmat’s statement above became a reality. It kept popping up. I was trying so hard to ask questions about women’s rights online… because that was my number one reason to join AfriSIG.

There have been baby steps to include women’s issues, but a lot is still expected from women’s rights movements and the adaptation of principles, frameworks, declarations, etc., such as principles 10 and 13 of the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms (AfDec) and the Feminist Principles of the Internet to enable this happen. Adopting a democratic multistakeholder approach in internet governance strongly requires a focus on AfDec’s principles 10 (Marginalised Groups and Groups at Risks) and 13 (Gender Equality). But there is still work ahead of us all, because issues of structurally silenced groups, especially women, need to be considered.

During the review of the African Union’s Digital Transformation Strategy for Africa by different fellows during the practicum sessions, it was fulfilling for me to be given the role to act as the Community Liaison Officer at the Association for Polygamous Marriage Rights in Africa under civil society to provide analysis on the strategy based on this role. Providing analysis to policies, laws, etc. is fun, especially ensuring that women’s online rights issues are being integrated. But at first, it was threatening. It felt hard to be in the position of someone else and give concise and meaningful analysis. But you know, it was an opportunity to include women’s online rights issues. So, we did it.

Being a part of the AfriSIG class of 2021 was a fun experience. I learned a lot during the school, including that:

  • Internet service providers (ISPs) in Africa go directly to AFRINIC for their IP address space allocation and they do not need any national intermediaries.
  • Common law is the part of English law that is derived from custom and judicial precedent rather than statutes.
  • An internet intermediary is an entity that provides services that enable people to use the internet. There are many different kinds of internet intermediaries which fall into two broad categories: “conduits” and “hosts”. “Conduits” are technical providers of internet access or transmission services. Conduits do not interfere with the content they are transmitting other than for automatic, intermediate or transient storage needed for transmission. “Hosts” are providers of content services – for instance, online platforms and storage services.
  • There is a working group on gender at the global Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

A lot was unlearned, and I wish I could pen them all down, but I have nothing but gratitude to the AfriSIG facilitators and organisers. Knowing that I learned just a few new words, a new perspective, formed new digital rights networks, and knowing I now have someone I can easily talk with to promote women’s rights online, feels delightful.

After the two weeks’ learnings at AfriSIG, I celebrated. I drank a lot of wine, as one should always be drunk to celebrate. I tried to drink from every cup and accepted the knowledge I had acquired from AfriSIG. It was a win for me, for the women and men that I mentor to be better, and for the digital rights community I serve.

I was happy with the new space I earned. The space to be able to voice concerns on human rights and women’s rights online issues. I feel action-packed. This means we all WON.

As a result of AfriSIG, female fellows created a separate WhatsApp group to talk freely and more, share ideas, and share stories about what is happening in different African countries on digital rights and women’s rights issues online. This is already the first step. A baby step towards working on something amazing together as women on internet governance.

We hope that in 2022, many female digital rights advocates will join AfriSIG to bring and voice women’s issues clearly as in 2021.

Sandra Aceng is a gender and ICT researcher, policy analyst, writer and Wikimedian. She is an outspoken and energetic woman human rights defender who advocates for the integration of gender perspectives in ICT policy and analyses threats to free expression in Africa introduced by regulatory initiatives. Sandra is a Global Voices contributor, a 2020 Global Network Initiative / Internews Fellow, associate editor at Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), a volunteer at the Wikimedia Community User Group, and a 2021 OPTIMA Data-Driven Activism Fellow at Internews. She is fond of wine, travelling, music, social media, sleeping, and trying out new things. Sandra never gives up! She is here to live!

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