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4. Sources of gender-responsive technology and related support services

The research sought to identify the modalities through which government organizations; academic institutions, NGOs and community-based organizations (CBOs) provide gender responsive technology support and services to enhance rural women’s access to technology. Access here is defined as right, affordability, and the capacity to use technology resources and knowledge.

Technology access is viewed as comprising of right, affordability and the capacity to use technology resources and knowledge.

4.1 Role of government organizations in technology transfer

Government organizations at both the central and regional level play an important role in the provision of technology, and information and knowledge services in rural areas. Central-level administrative departments make policy, operational and budgetary decisions that affect the structure, functions and performance of lower-level organizations. The stakeholder survey found that provincial, district and sub-district organizations play a key role in the delivery of information and technical support services aimed at improving rural livelihoods and living standards. However, because most of these organizations have a traditional view of women’s roles in the community, the services directed towards rural women usually relate to traditional female roles.

In recent years, decentralization has attempted to shift greater responsibility for programming and planning to lower administrative levels in order to respond to local needs more accurately. However, weak coordination, institutional constraints and the lack of a holistic policy framework for gender and technology at the central level have hampered progress. Ministries have generally continued to formulate and implement policies from the top down, limiting opportunities for a bottom-up approach. Overlapping sector plans and weak coordination between different government organizations - horizontally as well as vertically - has resulted in duplication of services. Moreover, once priorities and budgetary allocations have been rigidly structured through centrally managed planning process, it is impossible for administrative organizations at the implementation level to adjust them in response to local needs or special circumstances.

At lower administrative levels, awareness about and support for gender-responsive technology planning and delivery remains weak. Most of these organizations also have limited capacity to identify gender-differentiated needs and to plan the operational and budgetary aspects of new projects. For instance, district and sub-district organizations often lack adequate access to the information, which they need to effectively serve rural households and women. In addition, some district-level organizations (for instance, the fishery department has only one district-level official) simply lack the personnel required to identify gender-differentiated needs in their area.

Prevailing social perspectives, common bias and practices in technology transfer, specialised educational and experience pattern among the agents of change and institutional constraints are barriers to participatory planning and technology transfer approaches that are also gender responsive.

The PRA exercises and key informant interviews also demonstrated that “participation” - defined as an opportunity for rural men and women and government agents to learn and work together - is not a familiar concept to district-level officials. Educated as experts in their technical fields, the officers are used to occupying a position of power in the community and some government officials seem concerned that participation would take from them the control of the development management process. The notion that woman’s perspectives should be given equal importance in the identification and selection of technology complicates the situation further. Indeed, scepticism about gender and related issues among government officials was regularly encountered during the research. While participation may be a familiar concept among villagers, in practice, full participation in development planning and decision-making processes is rare. As the research has shown, women are reticent to express their technology needs and opinions in the midst of male-dominated groups where other members - male villagers and government officials - are perceived to be more educated and better informed.

4.2 Role of Agricultural Technology Transfer Centres

In line with the decentralization process, the Government has encouraged the establishment of Agricultural Technology Transfer Centres (TTCs) to provide one-stop service centres for farmers and communities in the areas of agricultural development, agricultural production, market development, and natural resources management. Located close to rural communities, these centres bring together national and local government organizations, and local people. They aim to accelerate farmer education, facilitate technology transfer and technological development, develop agricultural labour skills, and continuously enhance the learning process for all farmers, thus increasing their earnings and professional capacities.

The SPPD research found that inadequate information and technology support represents a real barrier to the ability of the TTCs to serve the needs of their clients - both male and female. It was also found that these centres lack gender-disaggregated data and that the staff are not trained in gender analysis, which obstructs their ability to serve rural women in equal terms with men. As such, the staff members do not always recognize women as farmers with various work responsibilities that include but are not restricted to care-giving activities in the household.

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are expected to play a key role in building the capacity of these centres by providing a means for them to access the information required to effectively plan and deliver customer-driven technology. However, discussions with staff of the TTCs found that most lack good computer skills, as well as the knowledge about how to use IT as a tool for information management and planning.

At this time, a barrier to use ICTs to be effective tools in technology transfer for local information management in the TTC, is the lack of good knowledge of IT applications and computer use skills among the staff.

4.3 Role of NGOs in technology transfer

Local, regional and national NGOs - some of which receive the patronage of the Thai Royal Family - play an important role in agricultural development and rural poverty alleviation in Thailand. In recent years, decentralization has widened the space for NGOs to play a greater role in development processes, and encouraged government organizations to involve NGOs in policy and planning processes, as well as service delivery in local areas. Consequently, NGOs now play a greater role in policy- and decision-making processes at the national level. At the local level, NGOs are often involved in planning activities with local government organizations, and in coordinating, monitoring and evaluating their activities.

In comparison to the specialist services (such as plant breeding) offered by government organizations, NGOs tend to offer a holistic approach, integrating technology change with nutrition, education, marketing, processing, and so on. Given their social proximity to the communities they serve, NGOs also tend to be more knowledgeable about, and place greater emphasis on, indigenous knowledge, local culture and community values. However, NGOs generally lack financial, human and research resources, which can affect the scope and credibility of their work in the area of technology transfer.

NGOs relative to Government agencies demonstrate lesser involvement in technology transfers in rural areas. But unlike Government agencies that take a specialised approach of technology transfer efforts, NGOs take a broader multi-technology transfer approach. Given their social proximity to the communities they serve, NGOs also tend to be more knowledgeable about, and place greater emphasis on, indigenous knowledge, local culture and community values. However, NGOs generally lack financial, human and research resources, which can affect the scope and credibility of their work in the area of technology transfer.

Research in the six study villages found that a small number of NGOs are engaged in the provision of gender responsive technology and information support in the following ways:

4.4 Role of community-based organizations in technology transfer

Community-based organizations (CBOs) assist their members to access and manage technology and resources, and build self-reliance. Some CBOs are established on the initiative of local people to respond to a specific problem or opportunity (such as the need to mobilize external resources or manage internally available resources). In other cases, external institutions are instrumental in the establishment and/or development of CBOs. Indeed, government organizations appear to play a major role in the formation of community groups, reflecting national policy to encourage the mobilization and participation of local people in development.

Local needs strongly shape the role and activities of CBOs in each of the villages studied. In this context, CBOs in different villages perform different kinds of functions. For instance, in Nan Province community groups are active in a variety of areas including conservation of rivers and streams, forest rehabilitation, integrated and sustainable agriculture, community enterprises and public health. The CBOs in the villages studied differed in terms of goals and objectives, membership size, scope of activities, size of target area, and rules and procedures. The research found that the sustainability of CBOs depends on their capacity to mobilise and manage resources. It also found that groups specifically targeted at or mainly comprised of women are generally weak in the areas of management, resource mobilization and technical knowledge.

Given their limited resources and scope, most CBOs work with relevant government organizations to solve problems or respond to particular needs. However, limited information exchange and insufficient collaboration between government organizations often hamper the efforts of CBOs to mobilise resources. For instance, a particular government organization may be unable to meet the specific technology needs identified by a CBO, yet it is unlikely that it will direct the CBO’s request to another provincial, district or sub-district organization that would be able to meet its needs.

CBOs are either formed through community’s internal initiative or due to external agencies’ agenda and involvement to mobilisation of people. Local needs strongly shape the role and activities of CBOs in the villages and thus there is a tremendous diversity among them. The sustainability of CBOs depends on their capacity to mobilise and manage resources. Prevailing constraints to share information among the CBOs and Government and development agencies pose barriers for fostering an effective process of technology support service by the CBOs.

4.5 Role of academic institutions in technology transfer

The findings of study document that academic institutions have several roles in community development based on their technical expertise. In some cases, academic institutes provide expert consultancy services to village development committees. In other cases, they help to undertake research, develop and implement science and technology projects and programmes. Focus group discussions showed that although academic institutions are recognized as a source of technology and technical information, they are generally perceived as being inaccessible to villagers. Villagers indicated that they lack the knowledge about how to contact academic institutions and access the services they provide, and are also uncertain if their technology demands could be met through this channel.

Thai rural people recognized that academic institutions are centres of research and technology development. But rural community members are uncertain if their technology demands could be met by the academic institutions and additionally they lack the know-how to contact academic institutions and access their services.

4.6 Rural woman’s access to sources of information and technology

The field research found that people in rural communities access information and technology support through two main channels:

The widespread availability of mass media (such as television and radio) in rural households, coupled with the fact that they are easy to access - in terms of operating and listening while working - makes them particularly relevant and useful for rural women. By comparison, in spite of the progress achieved by Thailand in the commercial IT sector, the vast majority of rural communities remain isolated from and ignorant about information technology. While offering great potential, the use of ICTs to deliver information to rural women is still limited due to a number of constraints - particularly lack of access, limited skills and cultural barriers. Rural women are still very unfamiliar with IT, and most lag behind men in terms of IT knowledge and experience.

The research found that local people most often learn about new technology and get information at village meetings. Training courses, extension demonstrations, local planning meetings, community learning centres and TTCs are also important sources of information in rural areas. Institutions that target women - including housewives groups, livestock groups and farmer’s groups as well as some government organizations and NGOs - are particularly important for female villagers. Women also sometimes obtain access to information and knowledge through contacts with village leaders and government officials, especially where they are female or sensitive to women’s concerns.

However, the findings highlighted that rural women lack equal access to institutional sources of technical information and technology services due to the existence of a number of barriers including:

Traditional communication means such, as television is an important source of information. In general new generation information technology has not become common technology among rural residents. In relative terms men are more aware of IT than women. The common forum for raising technology demands is the village meeting. But women tend to participate less in these meetings and in the planning process due to various social reasons.

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