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In September 1995, 50,000 women gathered in Beijing, China at the United Nations (UN) Fourth World Conference on Women and the parallel Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) Forum of Women. Out of these meetings came the Beijing Platform for Action (PFA), a global policy document, which identified 12 Critical Areas of Concern for women. One critical area, Section J, focused on women and media, specifically the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication, and to promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

Hillary Clinton speaks to the women assembled at the United Nations on the occasion of the Special Session "Women 2000," New York, June 2000"
(click to enlarge)

This book had, as its starting point, the opportunity provided by the UN to review progress made in the implementation of the PFA by convening a Special Session of the General Assembly. The review process, known as Beijing+5, included two preparatory committees (PrepComs) — March 1999 and 2000 — as well as meetings in every world region involving both government delegates and NGOs. Officially, the UN wanted to know if member-states had lived up to the promises outlined in the PFA. Unofficially, and, with a clearer sense of urgency, women of the world wanted to know what both the UN and governments had achieved, and the pressure was on to develop ways of monitoring and reporting on this from an NGO perspective.

The book is an assessment of the progress made in implementing the actions outlined in Section J of the PFA, the section on women and the media. It is the end result of work undertaken by a creative, highly-motivated group of media women from all regions of the world who are part of the WomenAction 2000 coalition. As an outcome of this coalition, it exemplifies a process by which a far-flung group of professionals can work together to achieve a common goal.

WomenAction 2000 was the name given to a remarkable project that grew out of a series of meetings, which took place in March 1999 during the first UN PrepCom for Beijing+5 in New York. While the official delegates to the PrepCom met in the spacious UN conference halls, NGOs gathered in rather more confined parallel meeting rooms to discuss a) an overall framework for Beijing+5; b) NGO access and participation problems; and c) the development of NGO alternative or shadow reports to those being prepared by member-states on the implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action.

Almost immediately, it was clear that there was a need for an expanded, more diversified communications structure to be developed by, for and with NGOs worldwide. Women representatives of NGOs from every world region spoke out on the need for information that would enable them to participate fully in the Beijing+5 review process.

In response to this call for action, representatives of women's media networks, both global and regional, began meeting as a global communications forum with many other NGOs, mainly to discuss ways in which women could remain in touch once they returned home to their regions and countries, and how they could receive up-to-date information and documentation on the progress of plans and preparations for Beijing+5. Out of this forum came the initial plans for the WomenAction 2000 network.

In the following weeks and months, the airwaves were ablaze with e-mails between the media women who had met at the Global Communications Forum in New York, and the growing numbers of women's media groups who quickly endorsed the basic goals formulated at the forum. A broad strategy began to develop toward the building of a global communications network, which would enable women in every world region to participate more fully in the Beijing+5 review process. It was a communications and information-sharing strategy that involved 1) training and supporting of regional information facilitators; 2) Web-site construction and maintenance training; 3) the development of a global Web site, which would serve as a central site for the collection, sharing and linking of information on the review process; 4) the building of strategic alliances with women's radio, video and print media networks to repackage and disseminate alternative information, national and shadow reports and electronic dialogues on the review process; 5) the building of bridges between media groups and mainstream print and electronic media by providing the latter with information and analysis on developments since 1995; and 6) the documentation of the proceedings of Beijing+5 activities in print and electronic form to serve as archival material as well as to be made available to mainstream media

The energy generated during the following months was exhilarating, exhausting, and contagious. Relying completely on e-mail communications, we gave our project a name — WomenAction 2000 — and set up working groups in the following areas: development of global and regional Web sites; development of a review of Section J: Women and Media; fundraising; and media and outreach strategies. Most importantly, an agreement was reached between all groups that WomenAction 2000 would co-operate and build on existing networks and collaborative partnerships. Along with our own media organizations, the following were of prime importance: WomenWatch (the UN Web portal for all matters relevant to women's rights); CONGO/Committee on the Status of Women and Beijing+5 Coordinating Committee; and emerging regional and national Beijing+5 review networks.

During an intense, action-packed 18 months, WomenAction 2000 held a global training workshop, followed by regional training workshops in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe. A global Web site and four regional Web sites were built and fed with a steady stream of information to ensure women had ready access to the information that they needed to participate fully in the Beijing+5 process. Regional coordinators were identified to work closely with women's organizations.

At the time of the June 2000 UN Special Session, WomenAction 2000 undertook an impressive array of media activities that not only kept participants informed on each day's progress and activities, but also provided the means by which they could share this information with their colleagues at home and with mainstream media worldwide. Activities undertaken included Web radio and TV interviews; two daily newspapers; an Internet café; daily streaming of UN meetings via computer feed from Web sites; and hands-on training/sharing on coverage of a UN meeting with an international team of women journalists.

The book you have before you is an amazing example of what is possible when women worldwide join together in the planning and implementation of a structured and collaborative information-gathering, -sharing and -dissemination process. It is an integral part of the overall WomenAction 2000 programme, and provides both a gender analysis of the media in each world region, and a longer-lasting picture of the vision and growth of women's media activities worldwide. It is an in-depth look at the part played by women's media in building bridges between the informal and mainstream media sectors, and in disseminating the reality of women's lives and concerns, usually not covered in any other media network.

Anne S. Walker

International Women's Tribune Centre