In the follow-up to the FWCW, the United Nations is continuing to provide information electronically on global women's issues, an effort which began during the Conference. It also is examining the various ways by which women and women's groups can expand their capacity to use the information superhighway to network with interested individuals and organizations around the world. A major initiative in this regard is WomenWatch, a joint project of the three entities in the United Nations system specifically mandated to focus on women's issues, i.e., the Division for the Advancement of Women, the United Nations Development Fund for Women and the International Training and Research Institute for Women. The purpose of the project is to make information and data on global women's issues widely available in a cost-effective manner. Not a substitute for other forms of communication, the project nevertheless aims to make effective and appropriate use of the new communications media in the follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women.
In June, an expert workshop on "Global Information through Computer Networking Technology in the Follow-up to the Fourth World Conference on Women" was convened by the cooperating partners in the joint WomenWatch project. The Workshop took place at United Nations Headquarters in New York. It resulted in recommendations for the development of WomenWatch and related electronic information networks on global women's issues. Forty-four Internet users and potential users from both developed and developing countries participated, including non-governmental organizations concerned with women's advocacy and United Nations partners in the use of computer networking technology. Participants held wide-ranging discussions on three broad themes: (a) experience and best practices with electronic computer networking technology and its use as a tool for follow-up to the FWCW and related conferences; (b) improving access, training and links with other communication tools and networks, and (c) principles for cooperation between NGOs and the United Nations in the conceptualization and implementation of the WomenWatch project. The discussions provided information and insights from the perspective of various regions, expertise and organizations represented at the workshop.
Noting that women, both as users and producers, were underrepresented in electronic communication networking, it was considered essential for women to develop strategies to use computer networking to their advantage. While noting the problems of access in many parts of the world, the workshop confirmed that the Internet was an important potential tool for making women's voices heard and for enabling women to disseminate and exchange information.
Experts stressed that global electronic communications tools were important for advocacy and mobilization and formed part of a broader advocacy programme to achieve the objective of women's empowerment. It was suggested that there were three priorities for WomenWatch: providing vital information, serving as an organizing tool and facilitating outreach activities. The importance of organizing the resource base for easy access and linking to other information resources was emphasized.
Participants underlined the value and potential of tools such as the WWW for raising awareness and educating users in the North, but emphasized that, given disparities in access across urban/rural, class, gender, age, ethnic and North/South lines, it was important to also consider off-line distribution strategies. These include repackaging strategies and E-mail query tools to access information available on the Web. In this regard, E- mail was recognized as the primary working tool for the majority of women users of electronic communication systems.
It was recommended that parallel and linked processes be established for envisioning and building a beyond-Beijing on-line initiative. Partners in WomenWatch should include the media, the private sector, NGOs, women's organizations, United Nations entities, Governments, academics, libraries, redistributors, funders and new users.
The experts attending the workshop concluded that the United Nations has an important role to play in promoting greater understanding and use of computer networks by women and in providing information about the FWCW and its implementation through electronic means.
Taking into consideration the recommendations of the Workshop, a key aspect of WomenWatch will be to define the need for and coordinate electronic conferencing and bulletin boards to facilitate interactive feedback with users. Internet query mechanisms will also be established for E-mail-only users. The information will be organized in an Internet-accessible database to allow users in developing countries who do not have direct access to all Internet tools to retrieve the information. WomenWatch will develop partnerships with various groups that repackage and redisseminate information to women's organizations and resource centres in locations with no Internet access. It will also work closely with organizations that provide training for women in the use of the new technologies.
The WomenWatch Committee will liaise with the United Nations Department of Public Information to develop and implement a strategy to publicize WomenWatch and coordinate with the development of the United Nations home page.
Participants at the recent United Nations workshop on computer networking technologies recommended, inter alia that there be a global women's conference on line in the year 2000 to review implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action. What do you think of this idea? Send your ideas to the UN Division for the Advancement of Women via Internet: email@example.com, or write: Division for the Advancement of Women, Room DC-2 1216, United Nations, New York, NY 10017.
For copies of the Report of the United Nations Workshop on Information Dissemination through Computer Networking Technologies in the Follow-up to the FWCW and of Women 2000, visit the DAW web site: http://www.un.org/dpcsd/daw/dawnew.htm or by E-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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