Rural people around the world, despite contributing immensely to the global economy, face greater obstacles to sustainable development and a decent quality of life than their urban counterparts. Rural women and girls in particular "lack equal access to productive resources and assets, public services, such as education and health care, and infrastructure", as well as access to internet and digital devices, and the skills needed to use them.
Today, the International Day of Rural Women, the U.N. draws attention to the fact that, "globally, with few exceptions, every gender and development indicator for which data are available reveals that rural women fare worse than rural men and urban women, and that they disproportionately experience poverty [and] exclusion", a situation that is also extends to tech access and skills. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) refers to this as a "triple divide: digital, rural and gender".
According to Dianova, a Spain-based NGO, in addition to tech access and skills, "literacy is also an insurmountable obstacle to being part of the digital arena, and two-thirds of the 700 million adults who are illiterate are women".
Yet, despite the systemic disadvantages faced by rural girls and women, they play a crucial role in "in ensuring the sustainability of rural households and communities, improving rural livelihoods and overall wellbeing, has been increasingly recognized". Women make up 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force worldwide (and as high as 50 per cent in parts of Africa and Asia), perform the majority of unpaid care work and help develop climate resilience in their communities.
Thus, providing women with access to and skills in tech will have multiple benefits: on the one hand, improving their quality of life and ability to, for example, stay connected to a midwife via mobile phone, send and receive money, and open bank accounts. At the same time, the "poorest smallholders and other households, whose livelihoods would benefit greatly from improved [agricultural] production, stronger market linkages and the opportunity to engage in agricultural value chains", which will in turn improve the lives of families, and individuals and communities rural areas will enjoy greater levels of their right to development.
The complexity of the issue of tech for rural women, however, means that multiple and intersecting solutions are needed. Based on its research, FAO shares suggestions for making ICTs more accessible to rural women; including adapting content to make it more useful for their needs, and providing them with access and tools for sharing — namely making it more affordable and accessible, as well as breaking down stereotypes that prevent them from making decisions about their digital usage, and providing the right blend of technologies. Mainstreaming gender when implementing programmes to get rural communities connected digitally is crucial to rectifying the imbalance between urban and rural, and male and female.
The EQUALS Global Partnership and Rural Connectivity
There are already initiatives that focus on connecting poor and rural women and girls to digital technologies, and many EQUALS partners are working with rural stakeholders. African Girls Can Code; founded by ITU, UN Women and the African Union Commission; is an initiative that works to teach girls throughout the continent basic coding skills. Both rural and urban girls benefit from being able to attend two-week long camps, learn marketable skills and develop an interest in coding. Americas Girls Can Code; part of the same initiative by ITU and UN Women, as well as national and local groups, government, private and civil society bodies; teaches coding skills to girls in the Americas.
Africa Code Week, a SAP initiative, works to instil "digital literacy and coding skills in the young generation, working closely with private, public and non-profit partners to drive sustainable learning impact across Africa". Africa Code Week pays special attention to teaching girls important digital skills and targeting rural areas.
ProMujer, a New York-headquartered women's rights NGO that works Latin America (Argentina, Bolivia, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua and Peru), also provides rural women — which most of their clients in Nicaragua are — with access to life-changing technology and skills, allowing them to build sustainable livelihoods.
Rural Women and Girls Building Climate Resilience
The 2019 theme for International Day of the Rural Woman is "Rural women and girls building climate resilience". Due to climate change, natural disasters now occur more frequently. Research from the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters shows that in 2017, nearly 10,000 people died and 95.6 million more were affected by natural disasters. Although people in the Global South and poor people contribute the least to climate change, they suffer the most from it. Women, especially those in rural areas, are more likely to die because of them.
Fulfilling Goal 5 of the SDGs, empowering all women and girls "Empowered women have greater capacity to respond to climate change; they play important roles in adopting low-carbon technologies, spreading knowledge about climate change, and urging action".
Improving women’s access to technologies can help raise their status in their communities, leading to greater autonomy and access to information, and the power to advocate for sustainable practices, and in turn, lower mortality rates during natural disasters.
Tech can be not only life-changing; it can be life-saving.
Read more about tech for rural women on the blog.
About the Author
Doreen Akiyo Yomoah joined the International Telecommunication Union in May, where she leads communications and outreach for the EQUALS Global Partnership. Prior to working at ITU, she spent four years at the United Nations Research Institute a Communications and Research Consultant working on social protection and gender.
Photo credit: UN Women via Flickr.