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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek technology

OCTOBER 1, 1999 VOL. 25 NO. 39

Politics.com: Women on the Web
With ingenuity and the Internet, cyber-feminism gains ground as a way to surmount social and physical barriers
By ALEXANDRA A. SENO

Why spend your Web time immersed in role-playing games when you can gather support, exchange knowledge, build networks and fight oppression? Especially when, because of your gender, the real world makes it hard to do those things. "For boys, the Internet is mostly a toy, but for us it has become so much more," says Irene Santiago. The Philippines-based feminist was executive director of the landmark 1995 international women's conference in Beijing. Now she is using the Net to put together a follow-up conference in Manila in January 2000: communicating with other organizers, finding resources, and publicizing the event through her website www.women-lead.org. "The Internet has been a great democratizing force," Santiago says. "And for our cause in Asia, it has made a big difference."

    ALSO IN ASIAWEEK
Cover Story: Done Deal
Peter Yip took china.com public. Now he must make it great

Living in the Future
A corporate vision of the all-digital home

Bid Bad Wolf
Don't get cheated at online auction sites

PULSE: Next-generation Sony Playstation, musical mobile phones, elephant chips, and mice with missing parts

POLITICS.COM: Feminism on the web

FACE OFF: Muscling in on mp3

PORTFOLIO: A tech-stock tune-up

E-VESTING: Digging for investment gold

TOOLBOX: Build-it-yourself web pages

B2B: Mixing televisions and the Internet for profit

WIRED EXEC: Net merchant Leroy Kung
Women in Asia are waking up to the possibilities of the Web - from fostering dialogue to doing business to advocacy. For the women of Afghanistan the Internet is making sure they are not forgotten. Since the ultra-conservative Islamist Taliban came to power three years ago, women have been banned from working and risk being stoned to death for accidentally exposing, say, an arm, in public. Their plight has inspired one of the most aggressive examples of feminist cyberactivism. At least a dozen organizations, like the Pakistan-based Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (www.rawa.org), maintain sites campaigning against the repression. Other groups like the U.S.-based Feminist Majority Foundation (www.feminist.org) have instituted e-mail-writing campaigns to keep up awareness and put pressure on governments and international bodies to continue economic sanctions.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are women in the region's more economically-advanced countries. There the issues may be less life-and-death and more breaking through old-boy networks. Or of getting around them. "Women do business differently than men," says Women-Connect-Asia.com publisher Rosemary Brisco, a recent Singapore resident who is now based in California. "It has been my experience that women like to do business with one another and are far more supportive of each other than men." Brisco builds online directories and sites for Asian women's organizations and companies. In the emerging new economy, some women do not think of their gender as much of a barrier at all. "There is no lack of opportunities for females where I live," says Vivien Chiam, the co-founder of the 200-strong interest group Singapore Women in Technology. "But we want to give Asian women a competitive advantage by introducing them to others who they can do business with." Chiam and a partner, Shelley Siu, will soon launch FemmE-net, an international business networking forum for female executives and entrepreneurs.

Even in places where women have a relatively high degree of freedom, many cultural, physical and political obstacles remain, such as the social pressure on Japanese women who marry to quit their jobs and start families. But ingenuity and the Internet are coming to their rescue. Cyber-feminist Okuyama Mitsumi established the Japanese-language Office Will (www.mac net.or.jp/co/o-will/ow-index.html) to link stay-at-home mothers with companies seeking to outsource tasks like translation, desktop publishing and data-entry. Says Rachel Howe, managing partner of Japan-specialist consultancy DSA Analytics: "The Internet is helping to meet the combined needs of Japan's restructuring economy - the need to cut costs - with the traditional need of Japanese women to be at home or the [modern] need to maintain skills to help them survive outside the home."

The promise of women's online economic power in the U.S. has sparked an explosion of female-oriented websites and mega hubs like iVillage.com. That may not happen here anytime soon (although Women.com is to launch a Japanese version), but the Web's near-borderless nature means Asian women can share in the information, much of it on such important but culturally sensitive topics as reproductive health, birth control or crimes against women. "In traditional Asian societies it is still difficult to find out about topics like these," says Leslie Kenny of Dotmedia, a Hong Kong-based web channel developer. "Women have long been a poorly served niche audience."

But the road ahead is long. Many sites require proficiency in English. And access to computers is not a given either. While in the U.S., about half the wired population is female, even in Japan, Web consultancy Nikkei NetBusiness estimates only 35.6% is. One study determined only 4% of Internet-users in West Asia are women. But as those numbers increase, so will the ranks of the virtually liberated.

Other sites for women:
www.dotlove.com
www.isiswomen.org
http://shoot.pacific.net.sg/herizon
www.women-of-asia.com
www.women.or.kr/english/index.html
www.webgrrls.com

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