From February 28th to March 11th, the Beijing Plus Ten Conference will be held in New York. It’s a look back at progress on gender equality in the ten years since the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing, China. With the rapid growth in technology, many women unable to travel to the conference will still be able to participate through what are called cyber dialogues.
The aim is to use the Internet to give voice to women from developing countries, especially those in Africa. The cyber dialogues are a series of seven on-line chats that organizers say “will turn the digital divide on its head.”
The discussions will focus on the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and the Millennium Development Goals. The platform is a plan to achieve gender equality. While the Millennium Development Goals of 2000 seek, among other things, to eradicate poverty, reduce child mortality and achieve universal primary education.
Colleen Lowe Morna is the director of the South African group, Gender Links. She’s helping lead the effort for women’s use of Internet technology at Beijing Plus Ten.
Ms. Lowe Morna says the idea is based on Internet link-ups set up during last year’s Sixteen Days of Activism on Gender Violence.
She says, "The sixteen days of activism stretches from the 25th of November, which is the International Day of No Violence Against Women, to the 10th of December, which is International Human Rights Day -the practice that began in Latin America and certainly in Africa and other parts of the globe. This period is increasingly recognized as a period of intensive activism around gender violence."
The Internet links between communities across South Africa provided a forum for women to discuss – not only gender violence – but also other important issues. The effort attracted the attention of UNIFEM Executive Director Noeleen Heyzer, who suggested the format be used for Beijing Plus 10.
"It’s the cheapest way we have at the moment for people to talk to each other across long distances. Of course, when they think about women from the South and especially from Africa, usually the last thing that comes to your mind is cyberspace. Because of the fact that connectivity remains so low and that is a challenge that we face. But I think what we’re saying is we have to use what we’ve got to work toward the situation where women and more women are connected and can make use of the technology. And there’s no better way to start than just to start," she says.
For Beijing Plus ten, the base for the cyber dialogues will be at UNIFEM headquarters in New York.
"We will get guest panelists, experts, from various countries to come in at 8 o’clock each morning, from 8 o’clock to 10 o’clock. I know that’s very early in the US, but of course for other parts of the globe, in Africa that’s afternoon or in Asia it’s evening. And we have a website, cyberdialogues.org. And it has a chat room facility," she says.
That website again is www.cyberdialogues.org. Once you log into the site, look for the Beijing Plus Ten chat room link.
Organizers say over 50 networks and institutions are involved in the project, including the World Bank and Microsoft.
Ms. Lowe Morna calls the 1995 World Conference on Women in Beijing a “watershed” for gender rights. But she says the ten-year follow-up – Beijing Plus Ten – should be a bigger event.
"I think that many of us who participated in that conference are very disappointed at the extent to which the ten-year review has sort of been downgraded to just a special meeting at the UN," she says.
Nevertheless, she says Civil Society will give Beijing Plus Ten “the prominence it deserves” with the help of the Internet.