There are gender differences in the use of internet. The potential and use of electronic conferencing: a study of women's involvement in a global context looks at steps that can be taken by e-conference organizers to promote greater participation by women in the south. The article starts from the premises that there is a link between information and empowerment, and women should not miss out on the benefits offered by the information revolution. The internet is seen as a male tool with opportunities for women to adapt it for their own uses and benefits. In one case girls involvement in classroom discussions was enhanced by using electronic media, as there was time for reflection and they could determine the pace of the discussion in spite of their more dominant and outspoken classmates.
The study looks at e-conferences in the field of water supply and sanitation in Kenya, Columbia, Russia, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, India and Ghana. 41% of women had subscribed to e-conferences but never sent messages, as compared to only 17% of men. On a positive note though, 3 women from South Africa felt that they enjoyed a greater degree of confidence online as compared to a physical forum. The hurddles were that women would be the last to be given access to the internet (physical access), women's percepton was that e-conferences were male dominated domains, and lack of confidence as e-conferences were seen as a large public arena. Technophobia was perceived more as a problem for women than for men.
So there is a potential strength in the medium of e-conferences to draw in women, but it needs careful attention, starting from the promotion stages. Female chairpersons and moderators may be of help as well as skillful facilitation by prompting women. I can also think of using smaller groups in which women may feel safer.