Like any other women in India, I have faced my set of gender biases, however, that has never deterred me from doing what I believe in.
Over the years at a personal and professional level I have been fortunate to have had many friends, well-wishers, and mentors both men and women who helped in this journey. There have been several women (both young and old) I have come across and been associated with, who have left an indelible mark on me. What I have learnt from them and still adhere to is the need to be consistent, genuine while engaging with the community, importance of building capacity of others and helping each other. You grow when others around you grow! In my opinion for us women it is truer -if we want other women to be empowered and rise, we need to help each other.
The power of the Internet, especially to empower people, has always fascinated me ever since the very first time I used it. Therefore, meaningful access to the Internet for all has always been something I have been passionate about.
My initial years working in Sify Technologies gave me an opportunity to learn the nuances of the access part of the Internet especially through public Internet access points and home broadband.
One of the aims behind starting Cyber Café Association of India (CCAOI) over a decade and a half back was to promote access of the Internet to the have nots even in remote areas of India by strengthening the public internet access points (Cybercafés/CSC’s/ Kiosk providers) that provided the much-needed assisted Internet services to them. The aim was also to represent their interests and develop the community by creating awareness amongst them about the laws, regulations, best practices, etc., and thereby mobilizing them in a direction to transform this sector into a growth. Promoting digital literacy and skills has always been one of our missions. One such example was Project Gyan where we promoted digital literacy and safe surfing programs in 6 Indian languages among women from rural and tier 3 cities training over 20,000 individuals. Based on my interaction with these women and their inputs, we constantly improvised this program to suit their needs.
Today through CCAOI we represent the interests of different stakeholders (Public Internet access points, service, and content providers, connected and unconnected users in India). Our work now steers more towards digital and Internet Governance issues with focus on capacity building, outreach activities, research, and advocacy. Access to the internet, gender rights online and creating a safe space for women, LGBTQI and minority communities is one such area of focus.
Realizing the importance of ensuring global south voices especially women in the global Internet Governance (IG) discussions and policy making processes, I am actively engaged in the I* platforms such as ICANN (through APRALO), IGF (as UN IGF MAG member), Internet Society, APrIGF and APNIC. While much of my volunteer work in these fora take up a significant amount of my time, I enjoy it. It has helped me to learn, respect diverse views and opinions, given me a global perspective, as well as an opportunity to advocate the global south and gender perspective.
Another capacity building initiative I am proud of cofounding is the India School of Internet Governance (inSIG). Through this annual capacity building initiative, which is now in its eighth edition, we have created an alumni of over 350 professionals from India and overseas. Many of our alumni have become significant and visible ambassadors, contributing to the tech policy discussions both within and outside the country.
In the end to summarize I would say it has been an interesting and educative journey so far and hope it continues!
Amrita Choudhury is the Director of CCAOI, serves as UN IGF MAG, Chair Internet Governance Forum Support Association (IGFSA), Chair APRALO at ICANN, President of Internet Society India Delhi Chapter.