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Leveraging the Power of ICTs for Rural Women and Girls at the 62nd Commission for the Status of Wome

Participants from Liberia and Malawi at the end of a six-month solar engineering course in March 2012. Photo Credit: UN Women/Gaganjit Singh

On 20 March, 2018, a side event of the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women entitled “Leveraging the Power of ICTs for Rural Women and Girls” was held at UN Headquarters in New York. The session, held in support of the EQUALS Global Partnership, was a collaboration between the ITU, FAO ( Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN), GSMA (Global Mobile Industry Association), the ITC (International Trade Centre), and the Permanent Missions of Mali and Thailand to the UN.

The event highlighted the potential of ICTs to improve lives and communities in rural areas, and the need to prioritize ICT access and use, particularly among rural women and girls. Panellists discussed studies that demonstrate the persistent gender gap among rural women and girls and highlighted the risks of excluding this population from the digital revolution. These risks include increased poverty and inequalities and unsustainable growth.

During the discussion, panellists shared examples of successful initiatives that leverage ICTs to improve the lives of rural women and girls, including those offering financial and agricultural services. Session attendees obtained a list of examples from around the world illustrating how ICTs are being successfully leveraged to empower rural women and girls.

Below is the compiled list of initiatives employing ICTs to bridge the gender digital divide for rural women and girls

  • Agritech using ICTs”, ITU’s capacity building efforts in Thailand: As part of ITU’s International Girls in ICT Day last year, the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society of Thailand, in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Microsoft (Thailand), Cisco (Thailand) and ITU, launched a capacity building programme aimed at imparting digital skills to female students in Thailand. More than 200 female students and other community members built skills and awareness to help them use ICTs for farming. The students were trained to use mobile devices for farm applications, as well as raise awareness on use of unmanned aerial vehicles and drone technology as it relates to the development of agricultural and natural resources.

  • SheTrades: It is a platform launched by the International Trade Centre (ITC) for connecting women-owned businesses with sourcing companies, including multinationals. Through SheTrades, women-owned businesses get to connect to markets and internationalize, and are able to share information about their companies, products and services, and connect with buyers all over the world.

  • FAO Dimitra Clubs: By combining traditional communication channels and information and communication technologies, the Dimitra Clubs are stepping stones for transforming gender relations and empowering women and men in rural communities of sub-Saharan Africa (Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Mali, Niger and Senegal). The clubs are groups of rural women, men and young people – mixed or not – who voluntarily meet to discuss the challenges they face in their daily lives and take collective action to improve their livelihoods. ICTs (such as solar-powered radios and mobile phones with freeware instant messaging) and community radio stations act as a relay and a means to access knowledge, share information and ideas, facilitate exchange and increase self-confidence.

  • Sula Batsu (Costa Rica): TIC-as is a project led by Sulá Batsú with the financial support of the UN-Women Fund for Gender Equality. The main objective of TIC-as is to create conditions of employment and work for rural women in the digital technologies sector of Costa Rica. In addition, it seeks to create optimal spaces for the insertion of women in the digital economy and to promote the development of women's enterprises aimed at solving community social problems.

  • Next 3B: This is an initiative that seeks to empower women through smartphones and mobile applications. A pilot has been initiated in Odisha, India where women participated in a workshop to discover how a smartphone could help them in their day-to-day lives.

  • Bangladesh Women in Technology: The initiative helps women integrate their businesses into the supply chain. It has helped 3000 IT based women-owned businesses in every union in rural Bangladesh.

  • Microbank in Papua New Guinea: Nationwide Microbank (NMB) delivers financial training to potential new female MM customers in rural villages and plantations. At the end of the training, women are given the opportunity to open a MiCash MM account. ‘Active’ female MiCash users are employed to teach other female non-users about MiCash.

  • Women and the Web Alliance: Aims to bridge the gender digital gap in Kenya and Nigeria. This is done through digital literacy training, generating relevant content to sustain women and girls’ interest in the Internet, creating online networks to support women and girls in overcoming challenges.

  • Kutch Mahila Vikas Sangathan (KMVS): Using mobile technology in rural India to increase grassroots women’s IT literacy and skills to generate information on issues of concern in their communities, and to strengthen local elected women's capacities as decision-makers and evoke gender responsiveness in their panchayats. This initiative is part of the KMVS programme ‘Making women's voices and votes count – An ICT-based intervention in India’, supported by the UN Women Fund for Gender Equality, for enabling the representation of excluded women's concerns in local governance processes.

  • Vodafone Sakhi: Many Indian women are reluctant to share their mobile numbers with retailers/ agents for top-up for fear of subsequent harassment. Vodafone has launched this innovative service through which subscribers can recharge anonymously using an OTP code instead of their mobile numbers. The objective is to attract more female customers, especially in rural areas, and increase women’s use of data/ voice. Vodafone estimates that around 80% of the customers are rural.

  • Tigo Chad: Group mobile money wallet product that aims to provide a secure, transparent savings option. There has been a high level of interest from various types of women’s groups (e.g. health groups, farming co-ops). In 2017 Tigo Chad and CELIAF (an association of female savings groups) launched a training session for women leaders of savings groups to help them train other members to use Tigo Cash.

  • Her Farm Radio: This is an initiative of Farm Radio International, a Canada-based international non-profit organization working to fight poverty and food insecurity across African countries. The initiative highlights projects that place particular focus on the voice and knowledge needs of women farmers across Africa. The projects focus on interventions with specific benefits to women, establish women-only community listening groups and MP3 radios to enhance access for women, engage women in audience research to ensure that radio programs meet their specific needs, etc.

  • ITC Market Analysis Tools: Trade intelligence to help rural women make business decisions: The International Trade Centre has developed a suite of online tools to make global trade more transparent, helping women identify challenges and opportunities in international markets for their products and services.

Trade Map: Online access to one of the world’s largest trade databases and, in the form of tables, graphs and maps, presents indicators on export performance, international demand, alternative markets.

Market Access Map: Tool to understand, compare and contrast the market access conditions your product faces in different countries: tariffs, quotas, trade remedies, rules of origin.

Procurement Map: Database of +150,000 business opportunities from governments around the world. Tool to help small and medium-sized enterprises, especially women-owned businesses, bid for government business.

Sustainability Map: Helps businesses, including women-owned businesses, regardless of their position in the value chain, chart their path to more sustainable trade by better understanding sustainability initiatives and by connecting with business partners.

  • CGIAR Collaborative Platform for Gender Research: Aims to increase the visibility and impact of gender research undertaken across CGIAR. The Platform supports priority setting for gender research, strategic partnerships, capacity development, and collaboration between and among CGIAR programs, Centers, and partners, building on the work of system-wide gender network established in 2011.

  • Farming First: Is a global coalition for sustainable agricultural development. Initiated the #FillTheGap campaign highlighting the gender gap facing women working in agriculture.

  • Feed the Future: The U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative. Has piloted the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI) in three countries (Bangladesh, Guatemala and Uganda). The index is used to monitor program performance and track changes in women's empowerment that occur as a direct or indirect result of Feed the Future interventions.

  • 1nita initiative of the Malaysian Government: Project 1nita is an e-business platform for women-led SMEs and entrepreneurs to enhance their capabilities and skills in ICT while providing them with a platform to conduct business online. It is intended to help women market their products to a wider audience. It runs in two cycles: The program is run in two cycles for each location. In the first cycle, the participants chosen are given some talks on topics like internet marketing and language in advertising. In the second cycle, which is usually after a gap of about a week, they are given, some lessons on photographic technique as well as talks and demonstrations on payment method online.

  • Tulaa: a mobile commerce platform for rural consumers and producers in Africa. It uses mobile technology and mobile money to enable farmers to save and borrow to purchase inputs, receive tailored agronomic advice, and market their crops at harvest time.

Note: The examples are provided for learning purposes only to illustrate the scope of how ICTs are being used to empower rural women and girls, and their inclusion in the note is not intended to constitute an endorsement of the specific examples.

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