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Bridging the digital gender divide, empowering rural women
Inclusive access to digital technologies and education is crucial to reducing gender inequalities and empowering rural women and girls. This was the message three United Nations’ Agencies, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP), announced on the occasion of their joint event marking International Women’s Day 2023 on the 8th March. Digitalisation on its own cannot solve all the gender-related disadvantages women face. But if provided with equal access to digital technology and education, women could have a more active and effective role in our agrifood systems.
“Admittedly, it is discouraging to celebrate International Women’s Day in a time when we are going backwards on gender equality and are seeing widening gender gaps in science, technology and innovation,” said FAO Deputy Director-General Beth Bechdol, adding: “When we invest in rural women, we invest in resilience, in the future of our communities and in creating a more inclusive and equitable world – one where no one is left behind.”
“Food security for households and communities is in the hands of the women. It is only through women’s empowerment that we can build a world where no one goes to sleep hungry,” said WFP’s Deputy Executive Director, Valerie Guarnieri. Transfer of knowledge and skills including digital literacy could help these women realise their full potential.
Despite the rapid proliferation of digital tools and services, women continue to face systemic and structural barriers in accessing and adopting new technologies, the organisations state. They say that globally, 69 per cent of men are using the Internet – compared with 63 per cent of women. In low- and middle income countries (LMICs), women are 16 per cent less likely to use mobile internet than men. And recent statistics show that this contrast is even starker in rural areas. As a consequence of constraints such as affordability, illiteracy, user capabilities, and discriminatory social norms rural women are particularly disadvantaged in terms of access to information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and less likely to engage with ICT solutions. The organisations add that surveys have revealed that the ICT sector is both urban- and male-centric, ranging from the design of ICTs to the gender of sector employees and decision-makers.
The FAO has launched various initiatives to promote digital technologies which also specifically support women. Examples include the International Platform for Digital Food and Agriculture, the E-Agriculture Community of Practice and the 1,000 Digital Village Initiative. The Global Network on Digital Agriculture and Innovation Hubs aims to support its members to foster innovation within their digital agriculture ecosystem, with a special focus on women and young agripreneurs.
By assisting women with digital and financial literacy trainings and working with community champions, WFP aims to help them to open their own banking, mobile money or other digital accounts, bringing economic benefits including food security to these women and, in turn, to their families and communities.