WebWomen is a group of women living on the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia, Canada, who feel strongly that women must not be left behind on this next electronic wave and they're doing something about it. We want to thank Lynn Hauka and Heather Gordon who very generously provided this information about the growth of their Women's Centre and hope their achievements will assist other women in developing similiar projects in their own communities.
WebWomen began in November of 1995, originally as one of the chapters of Webgrrls (www.webgrrls.com), but elected early in '96 to go solo.
WebWomen meets monthly at their Centre on the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia and have about 15-20 regular attendees (and always, at each meeting so far, at least one new attendee) of varying skill levels. They concentrate on teaching basic Internet and computer skills. Since they now have a core of women with "beyond basic" skills, they plan to begin holding two meetings in one: basic and intermediate groups; one in each section of the Centre so they can accomodate as many women as possible.
They began working toward a project in August '96 that went live on December 1st. The first step was development of an interactive training tool, which led to the purchase of a new Pentium computer ( through funding from HRDC) and networking it with their 486 and an old donated 386. (According to Heather, she is such an old dame that they need to upgrade her soon or else find a way to enjoy snoring.)
The purpose of their project is to research ways in which this new wave can enhance employment opportunities for women in rural locations; ie telecommuting, contract, temp, tech support etc. and the ways in which women can access these surf-related jobs, ie co-op loans to purchase a computer, a telecommute centre etc.
So the birth pangs are over and they're now in the process of getting to know the new kid -- a LAN is another degree of fun and fiddling!
This project is a logical outcome of the intense interest the Internet has generated for local women since they went online over a year ago. Their group is very popular and has resulted in many other women turning to them for computer info. They feel that there's something about their "No question is a stupid one because we were all beginners once." philosophy, which they take pains to point out over and over again, that makes them approachable. That, and the fact that they don't have men at their meetings because, while their centre does have activities that include men and they won't stand for male bashing, they acknowledge that women are intimidated by men in an electronic learning situation.
The WebWomen group financed, through their own generous donations, the installation of a second phone line so that women can surf whenever the drop-in area is open -- they are the only free public access point on the Sunshine Coast.
Heather Gordon, the Centre's Coordinator, expresses her commitment to this project:
"I feel passionate about women getting on-line and becoming "net literate". This women's centre does a number of things that have nothing to do with computers, but it's clear that we can most help the cause of poverty in this community by helping women find work. That work can, and should, be in well paying jobs; some of which are Internet related and do-able wholly or in part from the Sunshine Coast."
Support Public Access
Free public access is critical because it puts the Net into the hands of a wider strata of society, which is essential for inclusive community development. No longer, then, is the Internet a tool only for people who can afford a computer and Net access. The printing press needed the library to provide access to books for many more people. Likewise, free public access to the explosion of information available on the Internet must be readily available for all.
Employment in this Coastal area is dismal and WebWomen sees Internet telecommuting enterprises as an area to explore. Training and job-finding for the women on the Coast are on the agenda for this winter. Around this issue, they've had a very positive meeting with a potential funder for a formal Internet Employment Training program and are hot on the trail of other funding for training and wage subsidies to kickstart this initiative.
Part of the group's vision included a 3-4 computer LAN located in the Centre, hooked up to the Net. Eventually, they want to develop this as a self-supporting business and their ultimate goal is to grow a computing centre with a combination of public drop-in space and private offices and, of course, fantastic synergy!
These women are also pondering the question of how they can make the Net accessible to small businesses run by women (can they list and host their basic sites, the making of which becomes a training ground for other women?)
The Sunshine Coast has been chosen as the site for an annually held Community Development Institute, which is a week of workshops put on and attended by people from all over BC. They are one of the local host organizations and will push for Internet as a solution to rural employment and as a community development tool to be looked at in workshops.
The monthly meetings, where newbies and more experienced members of the Group share their frustrations and solutions, generally
have a theme and include handouts to take away and help women along their way. These handouts are now available on the WebWomen site.
WebWomen have also been doing weekly CyberCafes one day a week to give the totally mystified an opportunity to come and surf for several hours with a trained volunteer. That was in part to avoid tying up our one phone line but their Group "passed the purse" and were able to order up a second line. That means that the "I dunno - let's look on the Net." " Gee THAT"S what surfing is!" door can be open during all our drop-in hours. We've long since lost track of the total number of women we've taken anywhere from "Are you sure it won't blow up?" to "How do I FTP my site up?"
Another area WebWomen is currently exploring is getting teen women to hop on the Information Highway, and they're hoping to open the centre for CyberChats on school pro-days and other neat things. The message they're hearing is that the girls are, once again, intimidated by the boys in the classroom setting and aren't using the Internet much. So this Group senses that we need to provide young women a female-friendly on-ramp.
Isn't this a great idea! Please respond in the Guest Book if you have any ideas on how to interest teen women.
Three women from APIKRI , an Indonesian craftspersons marketing co-op, visited WebWomen for 2 weeks in November '95, on a project the Women's Group has titled "An Alternative Trade Exploration".
One of the things WebWomen did was to use this visit as an incentive to get on-line themselves so they could show these women from APIKRI the Internet at the end of their visit. One of the visitors was the executive in charge of marketing. As they were shown a site with an Indonesian mask coming down the screen, her culture-shocked and exhaustion-drooped eyes flew wide open! According to Lynn and Heather, you could see the instant of recognition that this was a tool they could use to huge advantage. That was a very satisfying moment of International Women's Development. And a project that continues. WebWomen are now working with APIKRI to host their site as the costs in Indonesia are much higher than in North America. You will eventually hear more as the Group goes to the next stage of helping them market to women's groups in this part of the world.
A quote from Lynn Hauka:
It's amazing what can be accomplished with almost zero money but lots of commitment to start. We just stumbled, plowed along, kept looking, and it grew from there with our terrific group!"
What do you think? We'd like to hear your response
*Lynn and her partner have just created the following software that you might be interested in:
Nicheware Internet Solutions Inc.
Siteline(tm): track your website visitors without needing server logs [email protected] ~ http://www.nicheware.com/siteline/
Fax: 1-888-886-4243 (Toll Free from the U.S. and Canada) or +1-604-886-1251
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