ROME/KAMPALA, 19 July 2002 -- A few days before the opening in Kampala (Uganda) of the Know How Conference 2002 on the collection and dissemination of information relevant to women (23-27 July) the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has denounced the limited access by rural women to the new information technologies.

There are numerous reasons for these constraints on information access, particularly the inadequacy of infrastructure facilities and financial resources, the high illiteracy among rural women, the lack of training in the use of technologies and the small percentage of women working in the media, according to FAO.

Yet the new information technologies hold out a unique opportunity for women in the developing countries to speak out, and to be more visible and less isolated. Women also contribute towards expanding political, social and economic participation once they can encourage access to and the sharing of knowledge, establishing networks and strengthening decision-making power.

Sophie Treinen, Information Officer at the FAO Gender and Population Division, says that "the new information technologies are not a luxury but an essential tool for sustainable development." She considers that appropriate and durable telecommunications infrastructure must be implemented, and messages must be designed that meet the needs identified by the rural communities themselves, while respecting the social and cultural diversity of these communities.

The availability of appropriate information technologies, both modern (computers, the Internet, e-mail) and traditional (rural radio, press, posters, etc.) and the design of creative messages are essential to any successful communications strategy.

More than 70 percent of the world's Internet users live in Europe or North America, where over 90 percent of the data on Africa are stored. Similar discrepancies exist between the urban and rural zones, and between men and women, and this is particularly true in the developing countries. In China and in South Africa, for example, women only account for 7 percent and 17 percent, respectively, of the total Internet users.

In 1999, at the High-Level Consultation on Rural Women and Information, FAO drafted a strategy for action entitled "Gender and Food Security - the Role of Information" which stressed the importance of the role of the media in bridging the gap between the rural world and the urban world. Under this strategy, a more accurate picture of the respective contributions made by rural women and men to agriculture and the rural economy should be disseminated. Access by the rural populations to information and communication technologies should also be facilitated.

In order to take up this challenge FAO has put in place the Dimitra Project which uses the new information technologies and the traditional media to collect, disseminate and exchange information on the experiences of NGOs, other organisations of civil society and research centres that are working with and for rural women. The work undertaken within the framework of Dimitra will be presented to the Kampala Conference, particularly the database on the projects and publications on the valuable contribution being made by rural women to development and food security.

Dimitra is based on a network of local partners who collect and disseminate information in their own countries and sub-regions. One of these, Enda-Pronat, the partner for French-speaking West Africa, has created the first national Network of rural women in Senegal and will share its experience at the Kampala Know How Conference 2002.

The conference is being held in the framework of the 8th International Interdisciplinary Conference on Women (Women's Worlds 2002 Congress) organised by the Ugandan University of Makerere on 21-26 July 2002. It provides a forum at which researchers, practitioners, political decision-makers and communications specialists canexchange their ideas and experiences on collecting and disseminating information relevant to women.

The Kampala Conference is expected to produce a number of final recommendations. FAO will submit them to the second Consultation on the Management of Agricultural Information which will be held in Rome on 23-25 September 2002. At that Consultation, a parallel event will be organised on the theme: Gender and Information.