Sitting in an office in Indonesia years ago, a few of us were talking of wedding traditions. ‘Because I am a Muslim, we do this…’ ‘Because I am a Christian, we do this…’ These were phrases often used. And yet, because I had had the privilege of travelling the world, I could share stories from other countries and cultures where Muslims and Christians did very different things.
Culture is a form of bias that is hard to recognise. Culture is often hard to separate from religion, social norms and ideas.
And it is not just weddings, we see this in other areas too, including consent in the digital space. Consent is viewed as individual. It is derived from European philosophy and US-centric writing, which is very individualistic in its framing. And so when we write it into our code, our websites, are we evangelising our cultural norms and thinking?
Consent often is very individualistic. How do we engage with communities who prioritise the consent of community leaders or the head of family – usually men – over the voluntary and free consent of the individual? How does ‘communal’ notions of consent interact with human rights? ‘Asking a believer of the Ubuntu philosophy for informed consent to participate in a clinical trial without informing other members of the community in advance would be considered unethical.‘
What is individual and what is communal? Tricky lines to define. And yet important lines for global organisations.