Women's Networking Support Program of APC has recently conducted a survey
on women's experiences with electronic networking.
Early results are from 30 countries in Africa (Cameroon, Nigeria,
Senegal, Tanzania, Zimbabwe), Asia and the Pacific (Australia, India,
Japan, Malaysia, Philippines), Eastern Europe (Croatia, Russia Federation,
Ukraine), Western Europe (Austria, Belgium, France, Ireland, Italy,
Netherlands, Switzerland, UK), Latin America (Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador,
Mexico, Peru, Uruguay), Western Asia (Jordan) and North America (Canada
and United States).
Initial findings indicated that women are increasingly active in
using electronic communications, and that many tools such as E-mail have
become a routine part of their day-to-day communications activity.
Increasingly, women are experimenting with on-line conferences,
mailing lists and web sites.
At the same time, the survey showed that women continue to face
barriers in using the information superhighway, such as lack of training
and the high cost of equipment and, in some places, of getting connected.
has been recognized by female scholars as a tool for women's empowerment,
and women have taken to the Net to create a "cyberspace of their
In many places, women writers, editors, news directors and
lobbyists are not only surfing the Net, but have become active in
establishing numerous sites of special interest to women on the WWW.
Women's sites cover subjects such as gender and sexuality,
feminism, women's heath, women in computer science, engineering, women's
studies, women in academia and women in industry.
carried out for the UN Division for the Advancement of Women found that
women were initially less present on the electronic networks (less willing
or less motivated to use the technology) than men, and that, not surprisingly, certain circles have developed on the Internet (particularly
in the U.S., where electronic networking is most developed) that are
characterized by a male-dominated and patriarchal on-line culture which
discriminates against women or treats them negatively.
But women face two particular challenges in their use of computer
first is to master access tools so they can make the best use of CNTs.
second is to use the new Internet publishing tools to develop their own
publishing and media activities on the networks as paradigms of gender
sensitive media products.
discussion of women and electronic communications cannot ignore the
lessons learned from the experience of women's role and portrayal in the
traditional media, public and private, and the efforts made to make these
media hospitable to women.
women's movement has long been critical of mass media, charging that they
are deeply implicated in reinforcing patterns of discrimination against
women in society.
An analysis of sex roles and stereotypes indicates that few reports deal with issues of special concern to
women or reflect a gender perspective.
relation to CNTs, this is a crucial moment.
The rules of the game are still in formulation.
Women, therefore, need to discuss the need for gender-sensitive
information; participate in decision-making on network development and
evolve alternative and gender-sensitive practices.
Women need to decide whether they will create their own closed
spaces on the Internet or assert their presence in mixed spaces.
And once again, the answer is, surely, both.
Without this kind of action, we can expect that the new medium will
increasingly be yet another means to perpetuate negative stereotypes, or
another male enclave where women are discriminated against and
have increasingly created alternative communications outside the
mainstream media to counteract discrimination and stereotyping.
Independent alternative media, video, film, radio broadcasting and,
increasingly, the CNTs.
Women have created and used alternative communication channels to
support their efforts, defend their rights, diffuse their own forms of
representation and question dominant models of mainstream culture.
With the advent of the CNTs, women are also finding ways to use
them to support their advocacy efforts.
For example, women's groups in Mexico have found that electronic
networking have facilitated their work in fighting NAFTA.
Groups are also appearing that help women gain access and training.
For example, WON, the Women's ON-LINE Network, is an on-line
advocacy and action group which is sponsored by various women's groups.
are taking new steps and increasingly moving in new directions by
networking electronically ... these days it is not unusual to see women's
networks and organisations making the most of new information and
communication tools to get their message out and make their voices
Tribune, a women and development quarterly,
International Women's Tribune Centre, Newsletter 55, September 1996
new media are a logical extension of alternative forms of media previously
used by women.
They have characteristics similar to those of the alternative
media, and suited to the needs of women's networks because of their
decentralized and horizontal nature.
The essential difference from the mainstream media is their
relation to space.
The challenge is to maintain the Internet as an open communication
system with democratic access to information and not as a centrally
For women's organisations, this may mean establishing and defining
their own spaces or influencing the character of on-line culture in favour
of gender balance and non discrimination.
networking is being discovered by women as a useful medium for gaining
access to information globally and for interacting quickly with people in
many parts of the world, something which was not possible just a few years
networking is viewed as a tool for feminist empowerment.
Clearly, however, the cost of equipment, lack of training and the
hazards and irritation that some women have encountered on line, as well
as the limitations women face in allocating time to networking activities,
are obstacles yet to be overcome in many parts of the world.
information revolution offers both opportunities and challenges to women.
Lessons from efforts to make the traditional media more
gender-sensitive offer some lessons for women in order for them to
participate actively in the development of the new communication
If used effectively, these new technologies have the potential to
help women step out of their isolation and to support the growing
globalization of the women's movement.
bodies in the United Nations system are continuing efforts to study the
impact of the information revolution, taking into account the results of
recent global conferences, including the Beijing Conference, and to make
effective use of the new technologies for monitoring follow-up to these
The System-Wide Medium-Term Plan for
the Advancement of Women, 1996 - 2001 is one tool being used by the
UN system to support implementation of the PfA adopted at Beijing.
Commission on the Status of Women and the Economic and Social Council of
the goals of the PfA in 1998 and 2000.
Along with governments, women's groups and the media, the United
Nations is seeking to take advantage of the information superhighway to
increase awareness of the global agenda as agreed at these conferences and
to stimulate discussion and action on a global scale.
UN, Division of the Advancement of Women