UN agencies in Rome to mark International Women’s Day
The role of information communication technologies (ICT) in supporting rural women’s economic empowerment, voice and status, will be the focus of discussions at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) on 8 March, International Women’s Day.
IFAD, together with United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), will highlight the role that innovations in ICT can play in expanding rural women’s opportunities in value chains and enterprise development, while increasing their access to education and information.
Many women, particularly young rural women, lack access to productive resources such as land, credit and technology. Women lag behind in terms of their access to ICTs, with only 41% of women in low and middle income countries owning mobile phones compared to 46% for males. Nearly two-thirds of women living in the South Asia and East Asia and Pacific sub-regions do not own a mobile phone. Rural women regularly lack access to healthcare, education, decent work and social protection. As a consequence, they are more likely to be poor and they are vulnerable to economic and climatic shocks.
ICT can go a long way to boosting economic opportunities for rural women. Mobile and smartphones, for example, provide access to real time information on prices in different markets and allow more informed choices about where and when to buy and sell. Studies indicate that when women earn money, they are more likely than men to spend it on food for their families and the education of their children.
Gilbert F. Houngbo, President of IFAD, will open the 8 March event hosted by IFAD, by highlighting how the empowerment of women and greater equality are inseparable from achieving sustainable development. “At IFAD we have seen how information communications technologies can be powerful catalysts for political and social empowerment of women, and the promotion of gender equality if rightly designed, accessible and usable,” Houngbo said.
FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said: “The global rise of information has deeply affected rural women in poor countries, who often find themselves on the wrong side of the digital divide: because they live in developing countries, in rural areas, and because they are women.
“If the interests and needs of rural women and girls are addressed, there is significant potential for information and communication technology to foster gender equality and the improvement of rural livelihoods.”
Meanwhile, David Beasley, WFP executive director, said: “Digital technology can transform lives if we get it into the hands of the people who need it, and that’s why we’re working hard every day to help increase access for rural women. And every time one of those women farmers uses a WFP app to sell her crops, the prosperity of her family and her community improves and we’re another step closer to gender equity.”
The event will include interactive sessions focussed on sharing knowledge and experiences about how innovative tools and technologies can contribute to the empowerment of women and girls. Danielle Nierenberg, President of Food Tank and a keynote speaker, will highlight how rural women can overcome exclusion patterns and actively participate in the economy using ICTs. In addition, the event will provide an opportunity to discuss policies and enabling legal frameworks that can facilitate access to, and good use of, ICTs in rural development.
In Mozambique and Tanzania for instance, IFAD supports a project that provides financial education and technological tools training for farmer groups – more than 50% run by women – to help them move from cash to electronic payment management. In doing so, these farmers not only gain entry into the formal financial sector, but become better informed about market prices to increase profits and build their savings
FAO, through the Dimitra Clubs initiative is boosting collective action and the participation in development activities of villagers, particularly women, in remote communities across the Democratic Republic of Congo and Niger. By combining traditional communication channels and ICTs, and collaborating with community radio stations, the clubs have become powerful agents of change in agriculture but also in other aspects of society, taking on sensitive issues such as gender-based violence, HIV/AIDS, and early marriage.
WFP’s digital beneficiary management platform, SCOPE, with 26 million beneficiaries enrolled, helps ensure the right assistance goes to the right person in the best way. In Bangladesh, among Myanmar refugees, it is the most senior woman in each household who receives a monthly allowance to buy rice, lentils, and vegetables from WFP-contracted retailers close by. This helps keep women and girls safer and means they have lighter loads to carry home.