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Dimitra/CTA On-line Forum

On-line discussion for rural women: Strengthening rural women’s networks with regard to information and communication and to combat HIV/AIDS in rural areas

From January to June 2006, the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) hosted an online discussion on the theme "Strengthening rural women’s networks with regard to information and communication and to combat HIV/AIDS in rural areas". Participants highlighted the contribution made by women’s networks in information, skills and resource sharing in rural areas. They also noted that effective information and communication strategies combining technology and social networks and using widely available ICT tools such as rural radio networks have a crucial role to play in containing HIV/AIDS.

The on-line discussion was one of the results of a workshop organised from 13-17 June 2005 in Brussels for partner organisations of the Dimitra Project and the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA), with the goal to strengthen and energize networks working for rural women in the South. The e-discussion was supported by Dimitra and CTA and was conducted by WOUGNET in collaboration with ENDA-Pronat (Senegal) and the Pacific Islands Energy Gender Network.

Among the objectives for the electronic discussion were:

  • to maintain and strengthen links created between organisations participating in the 2005 workshop and to create links with other networks;
  • to share information on how organisations can build on achievements and ensure the development and sustainability of their networks;
  • to explore ways of cooperating to attract funds and develop strategies to strengthen one another;
  • to share experiences on the opportunities and constraints faced while working to fight HIV/AIDS in rural areas.

The discussion was hosted in English and French, and was divided in two main themes:

  1. Sustainability of the Dimitra and CTA networks; and
  2. Impact of HIV/AIDS.

Subthemes were: experiences from networks; funding mechanisms; identification of shared problems; and information and communication strategies. Each discussion was guided by, but not restricted to, a number of questions.

The crucial role of communication and information

The discussion raised important issues regarding the sustainability of rural women’s networks and the impact of HIV/AIDS. A significant conclusion was that information and communication can lead to the empowerment of women, enabling them to take control of their lives and participate as equals with men in promoting food security, combating HIV/AIDS and driving rural development in general. By bringing people together to explore synergies and encouraging exchange of experiences, networks have become a powerful force for social change.

Also significant was that radio is still a powerful medium for rural communication and information sharing, especially by using participatory communication approaches.

The discussion also noted that HIV/AIDS is affecting a majority of households in Africa, and is hence impacting negatively on food security and income levels for most families. Culture and poverty still play a big part in escalating the spread and effects of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Effective information and communication strategies such as use of multiple channels, combining technology and social networks, and exploiting the fairly wide availability of communication technology tools like radios in rural areas, are vital to the efforts to reduce the spread and contain the effects of HIV/AIDS in rural areas.

Funding issues 

It also transpired that rural women networks need guidance on how they can access the available funds from relevant supporting agencies, and that a guidebook on fundraising strategies and funding sources adapted to such networks would be extremely useful. In this context, there is also need to sensitize development partners and funding institutions to include the funding of projects of rural women’s networks in their priorities. An action point of the online discussion was that individual rural women’s networks could merge into regional groups to form entities which would stand better chances of being successful in obtaining funding when applying jointly.

Improving the e-discussion tool

Overall, the contribution from participants to the e-discussion was fairly low. A problem identified by some was the lack of Internet/ e-mail access by some members of the rural women’s networks. In Senegal, an alternative method was used to involve participants from rural areas. Face-to-face meetings were organised in which their views were gathered, which were then shared on the discussion list. It was suggested by participants that this method should be encouraged in future e-discussions, and that regular face-to-face meetings are also needed as a way to bond and plan future actions together. Two such meeting took place in February 2007, in Senegal and Uganda respectively. These meetings were organised by Dimitra's partners in these countries and supported financially by CTA. Read more about the national meetings

Read the report of the on-line discussion (also available in French)