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Wednesday, 31 October, 2001, 10:32 GMT
Asian women unite on the web
Women using the internet in the Philippines, BBC
The net is popular among young Philippine women
By BBC News Online's Alfred Hermida

"The internet has been a boon in breaking women's isolation, creating networks that crisscross national borders, spanning the whole world," says Chat Garcia Ramilo.

As project manager for an international women's organisation based in the Philippine capital, Manila, she relies on the internet every day.

The web is making it possible for her and other women spread across the region to work together via the Association for Progressive Communications Women's Networking Support Programme.

"We hold meetings online, work on projects via email, co-ordinate work through online workgroups and run a lots and lots of mailing lists.

"I'd say that 70% of our operation is run virtually. We even have a virtual staff room where we check-in every Monday to let co-workers know what we are doing that week."

Overcoming prejudice

The web also plays a pivotal role in another group in which Chat is involved: the Asian Women's Resource Exchange.

The Exchange is an umbrella organisation for women's groups across the region, using technology to share information and advice.

Chat Garcia Ramilo, BBC
Chat: Internet opens up a new world
In the last two years, it has trained almost 100 women from across Asia and the Pacific to use net technology.

But this is just a small step towards overcoming decades of prejudice, says Chat.

"As it is, women are still marginalised from technology and have been for a long time," she says.

"There are still far more men in the science and technology field than women. While more girls are doing science education courses, very few have crossed the line towards hardware and other fields that are more traditionally done by men."

She believes women should take a leading role in shaping and designing new technologies.

"There could be many directions of technological innovation that can help empower women. But mostly, not much attention is being paid to fulfil such a need."

Common barriers

Women as well as men in developing countries face common barriers, such as the high cost of computers, the lack of phone lines and illiteracy.

Women are using the internet to provide vital information about where to get help when threatened by violence - whether it is domestic violence, rape or political persecution

Chat Garcia Ramilo
Like in most developing countries, access to the internet in the Philippines is largely limited to the cities.

In these urban centres, access has increased very quickly in the last couple of years with the growth of internet service providers and internet cafes.

But a government plan to wire the country within five years, and develop it as an e-hub in the region has faltered.

For women, there often is an additional obstacle - men themselves.

Chat recalls what happened when one of their organisation's members opened an internet centre in Ecuador.

"The information the women found in the internet opened up a new world for them," says Chat.

"The training sessions they had became a venue for them to talk about their problems and soon the women transformed the centre as a space where they collectively provided support for each other."

This is when the problems started to arise.

"This evoked uneasiness and hostility from the men in the community. When the community's leadership changed hands, the centre was closed down by the leaders who were mostly the senior men in the community," says Chat.

Despite the obstacles, she is positive that technology can help to improve women's lives.

"Women are using the internet to provide vital information about where to get help when threatened by violence - whether it is domestic violence, rape or political persecution."

See also:

27 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: The Philippines
06 Oct 00 | Africa
Empowering African women
03 Aug 01 | Asia-Pacific
Timeline: The Philippines
16 Jul 01 | Sci/Tech
Wired up for wealth
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