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Investing in rural women’s connectivity will improve the world

While many of us no longer know how to live without being connected to email and social networks or watching thousands of videos, photos and applications on the phone, 32% of people in Latin America and the Caribbean do not have access to the Internet. The greatest disconnection occurs in rural populations and the most affected are women, according to new studies promoted by the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).

Digitizing the countryside could improve everyday life and economic activity like good roads do. Elvia Monzón did not have the opportunity to study when she was a child and has fought all her life to guarantee that possibility to her children. He worked his parents’ land and later his own to feed and care for his family. He grew up in San Antonio Huista, a rural town near the border with Mexico, 360 kilometers from Guatemala City, the country’s capital.

In 2001, her husband emigrated alone to the United States, leaving her with four minor children, ages 12, 10, 5, and 3. Having telephone coverage and Internet signal allowed her to train, access institutional support, associate with other farmers and together create a coffee cooperative in her community, which she now runs. Elvira now has 20 beehives on her land, which has brought him up to six quintals of honey, raises rabbits and, as part of the diversification of crops in his coffee plantation, plants avocado trees and has sold around 1,800 of their fruits.

A 1% increase in the digital ecosystem development index, that is, there is access to quality mobile Internet coverage, results in an expansion of 0.13% of GDP per capita, with its consequent positive impacts, according to research Rural Connectivity in Latin America and the Caribbean – A bridge to sustainable development in times of pandemic, Presented on October 29 by IICA, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and Microsoft.

Digitizing the countryside could improve everyday life and economic activity like good roads do.

“It is essential to spread connectivity for the development of rural life, community and productive life. It is necessary to correct the rural connection gaps quickly because there is a disadvantage in rural territories compared to the urban context ”, explained Sandra Ziegler, the IICA researcher who led the preparation of the study. “The spread of covid-19 aggravates the magnitude of the problem of marginalization of almost a third of the Latin American and Caribbean population in the use of the Internet,” Ziegler warned.

The study, which concentrated its work on 24 Latin American and Caribbean countries and offers a complete overview of the situation of rural connectivity in the region, reveals that 71% of this urban population has options, compared to less than 37% in rurality. “A gap of 34 percentage points that undermines an immense social, economic and productive potential,” says the publication.

Furthermore, the research found that only 50% of the countries in the region have specific measurements on connectivity in rural areas. To alleviate these gaps, IICA, the IDB and Microsoft developed an index to measure its quality in rural areas. Based on this index, the greatest rural connectivity occurs in the Bahamas, Barbados, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica and Panama. And in these countries, between 53% and 63% of about 43 million people still do not access significant connection services. The countries with a medium level are: Argentina, Ecuador, Mexico, Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad and Tobago and Uruguay. The lowest are: Belize, Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Peru and Venezuela.

“Our goal is to radically reduce the gaps that hinder development. The rural-urban connectivity gap is one of those that requires the most attention ”, Manuel Otero, IICA Director General, said on the day of the presentation. “Its lack not only imposes a technological barrier. It also constitutes a barrier in access to health, education, social services, work and the economy in general. If we do not close it, that barrier will be higher and higher and will make the region that is already the most unequal in the world even more unequal, ”said Marcelo Cabrol, manager of the IDB’s Social Area.

More internet for rural women

Rural women with low schooling are the least connected group and the greater the gender gap in the possession of a telephone, the worse the labor insertion, according to the results of another study published in October with support from IICA and signed by the University of Oxford, with support also from the Inter-American Development Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Social scientist Valentina Rotondi was clear: “I think it has become clear during the pandemic that people with Internet access can continue with their studies and those who do not, cannot,” she said when presenting the research, coordinated by her with data from the Gallup World Poll, information from 23 countries and traces of the social network Facebook.

Chile and Argentina are the only two countries in the region where more women have cell phones than men. Gender and place of residence interact producing several disadvantages for those who live in rural territories, the study says, something that aggravated the coronavirus pandemic. The differences are even on issues as vital as the prevention of sexist violence: “Women with cell phones are more willing to report abuse in their partner,” added Rotondi. “For many people, mobile devices are cheap, easy-to-use and efficient computers, with which they can communicate, access information and access vital services linked to health, education and the economy or sell their production,” he said.

The study concluded that, in general, the smaller the gender gap in the possession of cell phones, the better the prospects for the insertion of women in the labor market and the smaller the disparities between the genders in vulnerable jobs and unemployment youth.

The promoters of the research, IICA, IDB and IFAD, add some recommendations to improve this uneven panorama. Some, more obvious, involve disseminating digital technologies in the agricultural environment, training activities to enhance their use and promote public policies that encourage States to invest in the construction of the necessary infrastructure. It is also considered opportune to bet on subsidies, public-private partnerships, tax incentives and universal access funds, as well as infrastructure maps to be able to identify current failures.

And others such as expanding the use of TVWS technology as a secondary service or as free use in the UHF band for rural areas where there has been greater difficulty, guaranteeing internet access (this technology takes advantage of the radioelectric spectrum between 470MHz and 698MHz, which has been assigned to television broadcasters and has been freed with the transition from analog to digital television and can provide high-speed Internet access in the most remote areas of Latin America and the Caribbean with an investment minimum in infrastructure). There are plenty of ideas, the only thing missing is governments that apply them.

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