The Beijing Plus Ten conference ends Friday. The UN sponsored meeting in New York is a follow-up to the historic 1995 International Women’s Conference in Beijing, China. To make the gathering more accessible to women in developing countries, cyber dialogues are taking place over the Internet. How successful has the effort been?
This is believed to be the first time such an effort has been used to increase participation at UN conferences. And organizers are encouraged by the results. Since Beijing Plus Ten opened on February 28th, about 30 people a day have taken part in on-line discussions. Women from Africa, Latin America, Asia and North America have taken part.
Colleen Lowe Morna - founder of the South African group Gender Links – is one of the leading organizers.
She says, "Well, the dialogues are actually structured around themes. There are seven dialogues and we took the twelve critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform for Action as well as the UN’s Millennium development Goals. And we sort of merged them into seven themes."
Those themes have included women’s rights, sustainable development, gender and governance and HIV/AIDS.
While 30 participants a day in the cyber dialogues may not sound like a large number, Ms. Lowe Morna says it’s quite an accomplishment.
"This concept is completely new. I don’t think it’s ever been done at any UN conference. And remember this is being done by a very small ngo from the south that just had an idea and then contacted different networks around the world. And I think what is encouraging, is that I would say at least two thirds if not more of our participation is from developing countries. So that’s great. We’re particularly pleased by the response from Africa. Obviously, that’s where we made our biggest push to get participation," she says.
As part of the daily cyber dialogues officials from the United Nations and elsewhere visit UNIFEM’s offices in New York, headquarters for the project.
Ms. Lowe Morna says, "I think for all these people what is great for them, as experienced as they are this technology is completely new. They have no concept of how it would work until they actually sit here and answer questions. And when they see it and how it works they can see the enormous potential of it."
For example, some see the cyber dialogues as a means of increasing advocacy across Sub-Saharan Africa.
But what about those who can’t type? After all, a keyboard must be used to ask questions or make a statement.
"Well, in a couple of instances where that has been the case – and of course ironically usually the higher you go the less likely people are able to type, especially with the more senior people. And we found when we did this in South Africa that actually privately that was one of the deterrents for our ministers to come and participate because they didn’t want to expose the fact that they couldn’t type. But, no, we’ve dealt with that by making clear that if anyone needs that kind of help or support we will provide it," she says.
The program could be used again in September when the United Nations holds a follow-up conference on its 2000 Millennium Development Goals.
For those still wishing to take part in the Beijing Plus Ten cyber dialogues, go to www.cyberdialogues.org.