Empowering women with technology, not UN negotiations

March 4, 2008 at 1:49 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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This week 3,000 women are in town in New York for the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.   They come from all ends of the earth, Liberia, Mauritius, India, Poland.  They cram into conference rooms and scramble to lobby their government representatives about negotiated documents about gender equality.  It is one of the few times every year that the world shows up on the UN doorstep to remind it what it is here for.  It is a beautiful, if not frustrating, chaos.  

This year I find myself wanting to pull these women out into a quiet office and show them just what the internet has to offer.  Instead of hosting a workshop on preparing for the Doha development round I feel like hosting a meeting on how to use WordPress.   I could call it “how to build a free website in thirty minutes.”  I think it would be a huge hit.  You can check out a professional looking website I did using a wordpress template for the Ecumenical Women coalition.  

 As a recent student of digital communications, I am discovering an entirely new internet.   You can learn anything on free webinars and blogs, you just know how to look.   At Eslgold you can take free web tutorials to learn english,  at Shuffweb you can teach yourself photoshop and simple design.   Need to get some people power?  How about having an international meeting over MSN chat, or learn how to organize people with SMS text messages using MobileActiv.   A woman’s peace group could watch the Security Council debate Sudan on a UN webcast, or I could listen to an entire plenary of conferences I could not attend, such as AWID’s conference on money and movements last year in Mexico.   Through the Global Youth Coalition on AIDS, I could take an online course on fundraising for youth projects.  

When I realize how much self-teaching is possible on the internet, I feel even more urgently concerned that only 20% of the world has access.   It makes me want to design a sort of development toolbox browser.   Many websites might think they are doing that, but I argue they are bogged down with information, and that the people who need them the most don’t know they exist.    

 Half the battle is changing attitudes and promoting web literacy.  Many people use the web in the same way every day; they are not going to pick up their free Skype phone until they see someone else doing it.  But even if my dream toolbox existed, it would still be a struggle to get the word out.  When analysts track reasons people in Global South use the web, they find that they go to websites to read about celebrities, send messages to their friends, or play games.   

But the UN CSW would be a good place to start.  We have to take the webtools to where the women are.  They are not going to come to a technology conference.  But they will come to a women’s rights conference, and we should meet them there.  

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