Q&A: Women, information access and rural development
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CTA. 2004. Q&A: Women, information access and rural development. ICT Update Issue 21. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands
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Helen Hambly Odame argues that the provision of information to women is less important than ensuring equitable access to information.
How can women participate in and influence rural development policy in the information society? Women must be leaders at many different levels of society. In their own homes they influence the direction and pace of rural development by educating their daughters and sons. Women stress the importance of education, and often devote most, if not all of their incomes to their children´s school fees. This priority-setting among women has had a measurable impact in rural societies around the world. Governments and society in general must ensure that the efforts of ordinary women to educate their children are not in vain. What kind of information services should be provided to rural women? The provision of information to women is less important than ensuring equitable access to information. The vast majority of non-literate people are women who live in rural and remote areas of the world. Most information services do not reach rural women, and those that do are driven by an agenda that rural women have not had a hand in defining. Information in written form and unfamiliar languages is not accessible to them. Face-to-face communication through women´s organizations and radio, especially through radio listening groups, are two of the most successful sources of information for rural women. What are the most appropriate public access points for women? Culture will determine the best public access points for women in a particular society. In Kenya, for instance, health clinics, churches and women´s self-help groups have historically been important information access points. In Jamaica, adult learning centres and women´s business associations have been successful in responding to women´s information needs. Community radio stations that broadcast specific programmes in local languages have been successful in countries such as Ghana. It is also very important that information access points are supplemented by programmes that offer learning opportunities for women, such as literacy courses, mother/child health care programmes or business support. How can women´s traditional and indigenous knowledge contribute to content development efforts? There are many ways in which women´s indigenous knowledge can contribute to efforts to develop content for information and communication programmes. One good example is the series of radio programmes in Ghana. Each month the programme focuses on a different indigenous food and discusses with women its production, processing, nutritional advantages and marketing possibilities. Another interesting example comes from India, where the Honey Bee Network (see www.sristi.org/index.php) is compiling local farmers´ innovations in an online database, ensuring to some extent the preservation and dissemination of local knowledge. There is some doubt, however, that women´s participation in content development will be enough to ensure that women actually benefit. In Namibia, for instance, a new hybrid variety of millet was named after the leader of the women´s group that participated in the plant breeding and who shared the local germplasm with scientists. Yet it is questionable whether this has truly ´empowered´ the women. Did the women gain financially or in any other way from this exchange of their indigenous know-how? Women´s organizations are now arguing that they must not lose the power associated with their indigenous knowledge and risk its appropriation. This is one reason why the example of the Honey Bee Network in India will likely be championed in other parts of the world. mailto:email@example.com Helen Hambly Odame has more than 12 years´ experience in international R&D programmes in Africa and Latin America. She is currently Assistant Professor in Rural Extensions Studies at the School of Environmental Design & Rural Development (SEDRD) at the University of Guelph, Canada.
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