7 success factors to empowering rural women through ICTs

Using technology to transform lives

Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) improve the lives of smallholder farmers in many ways, from monitoring crops to tracking market prices. While women play a fundamental role in agricultural production, they tend to have less access to ICTs, leaving them and their families at a disadvantage. ©FAO

The digital revolution has changed the way we work, access information and connect with each other. It offers opportunities to those who can use the new technologies, but also presents new challenges for those who are left behind.

Often referred to collectively as Information and Communications Technologies or ICTs, these technologies are any method of electronically sharing or storing data: telephones, mobile broadband, the internet, broadcasting, sensor networks, data storage and analytics, and more. ICTs improve the lives of small farmers in a myriad of ways, from monitoring crops to tracking market prices and from spreading good practices to facilitating access to banking services. The list goes on.

Yet much of this potential remains untapped, particularly in the case of women, who play a fundamental role in agricultural production but also face a triple divide: digital, rural and gender. They often tend to have less access to ICTs, leaving them and their families at a disadvantage.  Here are seven critical factors for success when making ICTs available and accessible to rural communities, especially women.

1. Adapt content so that it is meaningful for them.

While ICTs can deliver large amounts of information, this does not imply effective use of it. Adaptation of content to local needs, languages and contexts often remains a challenge. Hence, content should be adapted to local languages and repackaged to suit formats that meet the different information needs.

2. Create a safe environment for them to share and learn.

Illiteracy, and limited skills in using complex devices to search for information and cultural issues, remain barriers to effectively receiving and using information delivered via ICTs. For example, illiterate and older farmers often have less developed digital skills, and are therefore generally less likely to adopt ICTs.

Digital literacy in rural institutions and communities should be developed and enhanced, taking into consideration local needs and constraints by providing appropriate learning opportunities for men, women, youth and people with disabilities, which will enhance individual and collective decision-making skills.

Social norms, lack of connectivity and poverty are some of the reasons that rural women have less access to ICTs. Digital inclusion policies should take gender into account to enable men and women to access ICTs equally.
Left: ©FAO / Right: ©Shutterstock

3. Be gender sensitive.

Gender inequalities remain a serious issue in the digital economy, as does the gap between urban and rural populations. Access and opportunities for women, youth, older farmers and people living in the most remote areas is hindered by the price of access to ICTs, and by persistent inequalities.

Many of the factors that constrain male farmers in adopting more sustainable and productive practices restrict women to an even greater extent. Specific gender barriers further limit women farmers’ capacity to innovate and become more productive. Gender, youth and diversity should be systematically addressed in the planning phase of project design and during the whole project cycle.

4. Provide them with access and tools for sharing.

Rural women have less access to ICTs – the phones, the laptops, the Wi-Fi – because they are confronted with social norms, because they are living in unconnected areas, and because they are usually poor. The price of access to ICTs can be very high in some countries. Pricing of broadband or mobile services is a significant barrier for most vulnerable groups, such as women, youth, older farmers and people living in the most remote areas. Digital inclusion policies with gender perspectives should be promoted to enable men and women to access and use ICTs equally.

5. Build partnerships.

Small, local private companies, local producer organizations and community-based non-governmental organizations (NGOs) often have the social capital to provide trusted information and good quality services. Diverse advisory and extension services offered by different types of providers are more likely to meet the various needs of farmers, as there is no single type of service that can fit all circumstances.

Gender inequalities remain a serious issue in the digital economy, as does the gap between urban and rural populations. Identifying the right mix of technologies and strategies that are gender-sensitive and suited to local needs is critical to increasing farm efficiency and revenues.
©Chris Steele-Perkins/Magnum Photos for FAO

6. Provide the right blend of technologies

Identifying the right mix of technologies that are suited to local needs and contexts is often a challenge, in spite of – or because of – the rapid increase in mobile telephone penetration in rural areas. Blended approaches, such as a combination of radio and telephone, and locally relevant technologies selected on the basis of in-depth analysis of local needs and existing information systems, should be adopted to increase the efficiency of initiatives for ICT in agriculture, and better serve different users and contexts.

7. Ensure sustainability.

The digital divide is not only concerned with technological infrastructure and connectivity. It is critical that ICT initiatives target both women and men, as well as the larger family unit and the community to ensure long-term sustainability. An inclusive approach to ICT initiatives will help to generate widespread recognition that it is important for women to be able to use ICTs.

ICTs offer valuable opportunities for agricultural and rural development, increasing sustainable output, farm and agribusiness efficiency and revenues for a wide range of players.  Access of women to information and education can also increase acceptance for sending both daughters and sons to school, which will have a greater impact, and increase the chances of reducing poverty and achieving a world without hunger.

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