Women must get online now and take advantage of opportunities the technology offers, says visiting American Web pioneer Aliza Sherman.
Sherman, founder of Cybergrrl online media company and Webgrrl women's networks, was in New Zealand this week to speak at the APEC Women Leaders' Network Meeting and to visit the local chapter of Webgrrls.
"This is an important time for women," she says. "We've entered the technological age and the Web will be a key tool for economic power. Women have been relegated for too long to 'women's tools' - typewriters, sewing machines and the like. This is the first real opportunity we've had to start using the same tools. If we don't grab it we'll carry on being taken advantage of and earning less money."
Sherman has become known internationally for her work in encouraging women to get online and use the technology available to them. She set up Cybergrrl in 1995 as a way to make her own money.
"I had been using the Internet since 1989 as a hobby after work. I was working as a secretary for a computer company and my boss asked if I wanted to learn - so I did. Originally, I had bought my computer just to type up my manuscripts," she says
"But then my interest in the Internet became a fun activity that I was doing every night."
She began creating online forums and hosting mailing lists for women on the Internet. However, it took a terrifying experience - being held up and kidnapped at gunpoint with a friend - and a move to Santa Fe to recover from the experience, for her to make the move into using the Web. "While I was in California I saw an advert for classes in designing Web pages and got into it there."
When Sherman moved back to New York later that year she didn't want to work for anyone else, "and the only thing I knew how to do, really, was use the Internet. That's not the way you're meant to start a business. But I realised I probably knew more than anyone else in New York, so I did it."
Cybergrrl, the original site and business set up by Sherman, now provides Web design, consultancy services and marketing advice for companies targeting women and girls.
While some of her clients - such as cosmetic companies - aren't obviously related to empowering women or technology, "if we can get women to access a cosmetics site, then we can take them on from there with links to training, health and other areas".
Sherman has published one book: Cybergrrl: A Woman's Guide to the World Wide Web and is at the moment working on two more.
At the women's conference in Wellington, she she met a needlepoint artist who is setting up a Web site. "For someone from such a non-technical background to be doing that is great."
And if you go to the official Cybergrrl Web site, make sure you spell grrl correctly: Cybergirl.com is a pornography site. Sherman has been fighting to have the site closed, "but we don't have the money and they do. We're trying to do something worthwhile for women and they're making money from our name [as we set up our