Association for Progressive Communications (Radloff), University of Guelph (Hambly Odame)
This document discusses the work of the Gender, Agriculture and Rural Development in the Information Society (GenARDIS) small grants fund, which was initiated in 2002 to support work on gender-related issues in information and communications technologies (ICTs) for the African, Caribbean, and Pacific regions. The small grants fund was disbursed to diverse projects in order to counter barriers to women living in rural areas. This document records the process and results, and is intended to contribute to more gender-aware ICT policy advocacy.
As stated here, women play a key role in agricultural production and food security, but are often disadvantaged by gender discrimination. Thus, a gender-sensitive approach to the design and implementation of ICT initiatives can improve the lives of rural women and men. "By demonstrating in tangible ways women’s huge contribution to agriculture and household income and the positive increase in livelihoods, gender relations are improved and women’s role in communities more valued."
The document includes a history of GenARDIS grant making and case studies of both individuals and organisations that have received funding or accessed technology through funded programmes. In September 2002, participants in a meeting referred to as an “observatory” convened by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) formed GenARDIS to empower those addressing a gender-related information and knowledge sharing gap, basing their efforts, in part, on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women - Article 14.
In 2009, fifteen organisations received €7,000 each to implement ICT projects to empower rural women. Strategies and communication tools used for these projects include the following:
- In fishing areas of Benin, ICTs, including video, television, and mobile phones, were used by women to learn new conservation techniques, contact buyers, and purchase supplies.
- In Burkina Faso, farmers' federation women members with training in technology use were able to engage in policy advocacy at the provincial level in order to promote alternative solutions such as solar energy to power the ICTs.
- In Cameroon, using mobile phones, women were able to search off-line content on farming techniques specific to their crops and conditions and became focal points of information dissemination, resulting in a 3% increase in farm revenue, allowing the ordering of more modern tools - also through their mobile phones.
- In Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), women used computers to obtain better seeds, allowing them a voice among male farmers in their communities. They researched crop pest management and used mobile phones to contact buyers. A weekly radio show (“The Voice of the Woman Farmer”) was also created, on which topics related to gender and agriculture were addressed.
- In Dominican Republic, older women who had lost their role in society were trained to use computers to enhance the work of their cooperative. They also met with Uruguayan counterparts both through a teleconference and in person to share experiences.
- In Ethiopia, women were trained in technologies like the internet, mobile phones, and digital cameras in order to help them seek employment.
- In Ghana, an ICT centre organised group trainings for female shea butter producers in the evenings, some of whom developed their own ICT businesses where women and girls are comfortable with learning and using technology. Another centre trains women and girls in the use of ICTs and improving their general livelihood through discussions, forums, and training. "One method was using radio discussions with experts who address issues that women are often too scared to talk about. They also work with people with functional literacy, such as high school teachers who want to learn how to use mobile phones, computers, and the internet."
- In Nigeria, “the African Radio Drama Association (ARDA) has been working in Nigeria’s rural communities... using theatre as a means of communicating important messages, but they have now taken it further through the use of ICTs. First, they set up a radio station and a radio programme called Farm Radio; ...then they purchased one telephone for the women of the local Bagi tribe and trained them on it.” Women in the area started their own literacy school as a result of interest in ICTs. In another community, after ICT training, particularly in mobile phone use, women school teachers from the village were able to create a market information exchange network among rural women farmers, bulk buyers, transporters, traders, and retailers of agricultural produce.
- In Togo, an association of rural women’s organisations focuses on women’s property rights and increasing their incomes through a value chain approach. Mobile phones were used to obtain market prices.
- In Zambia, women were trained on free and open source software (FOSS) programmes and can now track their sales and make brochures and posters to expand the market for their crops. "Women also took the initiative themselves to form their own ICT cooperative, where they learned to use the internet, create email accounts, produce different types of text documents, etc....They are also hoping to launch the content that they collected and created in the provincial local language and then nationwide, and hope to forge strategic partnerships to create an agricultural information service database."
Lessons learned include the following:
- Support for projects and women participants from families, particularly husbands, is important.
- Infrastructure is key, including mobile phone signals, transportation, and electricity.
- Education, particularly literacy, is important both for the understanding of benefits of ICT access and for succeeding in the training to use them.
- Building capacities around gender and project formulation on what a gender perspective means is needed for organisations receiving grants. (In order to respond to these concerns, Round III of GenARDIS began with a kick-off workshop. Representatives from twenty short-listed projects got together in September 2008 for training in project formulation, gender issues - through APC’s Gender Evaluation Methodology (GEM), and for creating a space where participants could learn from each other.)
Recommendations for policymakers include:
- Improve and expand rural infrastructure by focusing on public shared access facilities, with special focus on wireless technologies and required electrical power sources.
- Invest in and promote community shared access (e.g., telecentres) for rural areas.
- Develop and implement an education campaign focused on gender equality and women’s rights within the context of ICT for development.
- Promote and support the development of local content in local languages.
- Support adult literacy programmes in rural areas.
- Promote and facilitate the establishment of public-private partnerships in the implementation of rural projects.
- Develop a programme where parliamentarians and government institutions sponsor rural ICT projects to promote their successes and gain political support.
Association for Progressive Communications (APC) website, February 16 2011 and March 30 2012.