In Namibia, a women’s rights advocate working to reform her country’s domestic violence laws gets legal advice from a criminal law expert in Canada. Activists from Finland and the United States compare strategies for changing violent patterns among husbands who batter their wives. And in Malaysia, a law enforcement trainer discusses ways to educate local police forces about victims’ rights with colleagues in Bulgaria, Lebanon, and Australia.
These international advocates for women’s rights came together last year via the End-violence Virtual Working Group, an Internet discussion list sponsored by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), the World Bank, and the Global Knowledge Partnership, and developed and moderated by EDC’s International Development Division (IDD). During the course of the year, more than 2,500 people from every region of the world participated in a dynamic discussion, using e-mail to share experiences, resources, and ideas about what works in the effort to end violence against women. In the process, they established an unprecedented global network of human rights workers.
“It is inconceivable that a physical gathering could bring together as many people, from as wide a geographic spectrum, for an interactive discussion lasting many months, at so small a cost,” explained EDC’s Janice Brodman, who established and moderated the discussion list. “For many in developing countries and ‘bypassed’ areas of industrialized countries, the working group offers access to information, links with others, and a sense of participation in a global effort to end violence against women, which would otherwise be impossible.”
“A life of its own”
End-violence began as a modest forerunner to UNIFEM’s international videoconference, “A World Free of Violence Against Women,” part of its global campaign to end violence against women. Aired on March 8, 1999, the last International Women’s Day of the 20th century, the videoconference linked the U. N. General Assembly in New York with sites in Nairobi, New Delhi, Mexico City, and the European Parliament in Strasbourg and was broadcast via satellite all over the world. Conference participants celebrated successful strategies and discussed future challenges in the global effort to end violence against women.
In anticipation of the event, Brodman and her colleagues at UNIFEM designed the End-violence Virtual Working Group as an opportunity for UNIFEM to hear directly from the many local groups working to reduce gender-based violence in their own countries, and to gain their input into the videoconference. But the discussion soon took on “a life of its own,” according to Noeleen Heyzer, executive director of UNIFEM. Within two months of its inception, the working group had attracted more than 1,000 subscribers, and fostered a vital exchange of ideas and information.
“We heard from many of the participants that they felt isolated and alone in their work,” says Brodman. “End-violence made them part of a larger effort. In the United States it’s hard for us to understand the value for developing countries of even relatively low-tech technologies like e-mail because we have access to so much information through libraries, universities, and the media. But for people in developing countries, it is very hard to get and share information and to have your own knowledge validated.”
Indeed, the most striking feature of the working group was the inclusiveness of its membership: Participants joined from more than 120 countries, representing all regions of the world. And while most Internet discussion lists attract fewer than 5 percent of their subscribers from the developing world, more than one-third of the members of the working group were from developing countries. Participants came from a wide range of institutions, including human rights organizations, governmental agencies, health care organizations, universities, and the media.
Sharing best practices, information, and news
Through carefully moderated exchanges, working group members discussed best practices in areas such as law enforcement training, education, law reform, and advocacy. They also shared resources such as reports, websites, educational materials, and news, much of which would have been difficult to acquire from more traditional sources. For instance, a subscriber from the Ukraine received a copy of a bill on domestic violence from a subscriber in Turkey, which assisted efforts to introduce a law on violence against women into the Ukrainian criminal code.
Exchanges like these demonstrated the possibility of establishing new, interactive relationships between local organizations around the world, and between smaller local efforts and large international organizations like UNIFEM—relationships that allow a multidirectional exchange of information and knowledge. “Someone recently said to me, ‘It’s easy to find out what experts think—they publish papers, write reports, and present at conferences. What’s difficult is learning what a women’s group in south India knows and thinks,’” says Brodman. “That’s the challenge.”
Brodman and her colleagues at UNIFEM are currently developing an End-violence website which will continue the international conversation and provide a larger gateway to services and resources for people in the field.
Originally published on April 30, 2001