In the current millennium the Asia and Pacific region needs to be prepared to focus on pathways for development in a world marked by forces of globalization, agriculture transformation and the explosion of information and communications driven economies. In these exciting times of new opportunities, the region still has to steer its energies to meet the persisting problems of poverty, feminization of agriculture and uneven food security. While the emerging technologies are heralded as drivers of growth, labelling the transformation as information economy and knowledge society, the persisting rural and urban divide in sharing the prosperity should not be overlooked. In the region, there has been documented evidence on the unequal access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) both among the countries and within the countries between rural and urban residents. While it is widely acknowledged that these technologies can expand the options for better life, it should also be recognized that the prevailing imbalance in access to ICTs could amplify rural disparities in economic and social participation opportunities.
In this milieu of transformation in the global economic and social development driven by the information and communication technologies, rural communities, particularly rural women, face both risks and opportunities for economic and social advancement. FAO recognizes the importance of ICTs as tools that could serve the rural community by improving access, quality and relevance of information to support livelihood and food security strategies. Hence, FAO Gender and Development service has a technical focus on harnessing ICTs for the advancement of rural women. In the context of World Summit for Information Society (WSIS), Gender and Development Program of FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific has organized a regional consultation on rural women in knowledge society. The primary purpose of the consultation was to examine with development stakeholders, the value of ICTs for every segment of global society. Stakeholders exploration was done in particular reference to those who have been marginalized in the previous phases of technological revolutions, namely rural communities, illiterate rural women and populations living in resource poor environments and isolated areas.
The institutional partners for organizing the regional consultation were FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics-India, and Commonwealth of Learning, Canada. The consultation brought together key actors from Asia, drawn from government agencies, private sector, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and international agencies. The participants represented the following countries and region: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Canada, China, India, China-Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region, Malaysia, the Philippines, Republic of Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Viet Nam and the United Kingdom.
The FAO Asia-Pacific report of the consultation on rural women in knowledge society presents an overview of the stakeholders deliberations and recommendations as relevant to ICTs and rural women, and distance education and rural women. These recommendations will feed into various processes that design the Plan of Action for WSIS to improve the effectives of ICTs in development to address the persisting problems of gender inequality, poverty and food insecurity.
I also take this opportunity to thank the instituitional partners who collaborated with FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific in bringing out this publication.
Assistant Director General and
FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific