Imagine the Future: Rural Women In Latin America and the Caribbean
We are at a tipping point for our region’s future: technology is accelerating and converging, blasting through traditional paradigms and operational models. Placing women and girls at the core of that transformation offers tremendous opportunities for the future of rural development.
Flash Forward to 2030, to a possible future. Amoxtli Santos is a bio-entrepreneur and mother of three. As the morning sun slowly fills the room with a warm orange glow, Amoxtli checks her phone. It’s 7:00 a.m. and the power levels from the community’s wind and solar park are steady; the drip irrigation system is on schedule for the avocados and peppers; and the sensors track the free-range chickens’ preening. Everything is under control. Amoxtli wakes the children, prepares breakfast, and they walk together to the village school. On the way, she snaps a selfie in front of her fresh crops and uploads it to her site. Sales of her salsas and sauces are taking off, and customers can scan their barcodes on their phones and see the farm in real time. Amoxtli has become the face of her brand, marketing its wholesomeness and eco-friendly approach.
After greeting teachers, she and several parents sit in on a virtual eco-tourism class, as the community is seeking to capitalize on its ancestral culture and countryside. Amoxtli is hoping to open a bed-and-breakfast , and her neighbors want to expand their restaurant with culinary innovation using native ingredients.
What would it take to make this future a reality for the 18 million girls in our region currently under the age of 14? How can we empower the almost 60 million women who live in rural areas? By doing two things: 1) driving rural community development through innovation in agriculture and eco-tourism, and 2) radical inclusion of women as leaders and decision-makers in their own destinies.
56% of the region’s almost two million out-of-school children are girls . Working women in the region earn from 49 to 68 cents for every dollar a man makes. As the region continues to urbanize, depopulation of rural areas has become associated with many negatives—lack of education, jobs, and opportunities. But rapidly-evolving technology can improve the living and working conditions of rural communities . Cell phones, the internet, radio broadcasting, sensor networks, and stocking and analysis of data can support climate-smart, rural businesses. Technology can increase access to market prices and banking services, sharing of good practices, and control and monitoring of crops.
For the last 10,000 years, the region has evolved rich cultural traditions and deep ancestral knowledge. For most of that time, civilization was rural and fundamentally agricultural. Food and agricultural systems are now changing rapidly and modern agricultural value chains usually offer better pay and entrepreneurship opportunities than traditional agriculture (“soil to supper”). Governments in our region need to work with the private sector to identify key constraints to agriculture value chain development, adopt workable policies and regulations, and reform the relevant institutions to address these limits. For women to take advantage of these opportunities, they must be able to access relevant inputs and services, markets, information about prices and standards, and have the same freedoms and decision-making power as male market intermediaries.
There are five key indicators of how to spur rural community development through technology and innovation: broadband service, training workers in digital skills, including everyone in the community, support for innovation, and marketing the community to the rest of the world. Global consumers are becoming more conscious of how and where they source their food and how they travel. Communities that invest in connecting to the world can gain access to information and resources and market their advantages more compellingly—natural beauty, respect for tradition and culture, and greater awareness of the value of community.
In recent decades, tourism has represented one of the most dynamic industries at the global level. Much of the growth of rural tourism is based on “older ways of life and cultures that respond to the post-modern tourists’ quest for authenticity,” and women play a key role in preserving and transmitting such culture and traditions. The seasonal rhythms of agriculture and rural life, embedded in environmentally friendly practices, can be promoted for added value.
Governments play a vital role in identifying and promoting investment in rural communities. They can support and fund the development of digital infrastructure, distance learning, and STEM education. They can promote public-private partnerships to create virtual clusters of excellence, incentivize job creation, or help match entrepreneurs with investors, in person or virtually.
Yet innovative technology is only one part of the equation. It must be matched by radical inclusion of women and girls, which requires digital and financial inclusion as well as equal access to information and resources.
Studies have showed that women that earn money are more inclined than men to spend it into food for their families or children’s education. As such, they are the engine of sustainable community development. Women are responsible for between 60 and 80 percent of food production in developing countries and additional access (e.g., to land tenure and financing) could increase agricultural production and food security. Evidence shows that women’s land rights reduce domestic violence and enable women to better exit violent relationships. Rural women today face many barriers to achieving their full potential. Engaging them proactively could offer tremendous economic and social returns.
Women play a fundamental role in agricultural and rural production, yet they face a yawning digital gap, which exacerbates access to financing, information, and resources. Radical inclusion of women and girls must address those gaps, practically and quickly, if we are to stir dramatic growth in rural development in the next ten years.
The digital gap can be significant. In Brazil, the mobile ownership gender gap is 15% in rural areas and widens dramatically to 32% in rural areas for mobile internet usage. In Guatemala, the gaps are 8% and 13% respectively.
Technology can help advance women’s financial inclusion: lower transaction costs, access to capital, increased safety and convenience of savings, and less need to travel long distances. Farmers in Malawi who were offered digital direct deposits for cash crops saw a 21 percent increase in the value of their crop outputs . Enhancing access to digital payments provides women with safe tools for greater control over family finances, reduces the need for intermediaries, and improves economic opportunities.
Yet Latin America still lags in mobile money. Out of the 480 million adults in Latin America, only 15 million are registered mobile money users (only a 3% market penetration). Remittances play a key role for the income of many countries in the region yet barriers such as outdated payment systems, lack of interoperability and the regulatory framework increase cost and withhold usage of new mobile remittances platforms. Governments play a pivotal role in enabling policy and funding solutions that can drive growth, equity, and poverty reduction.
The BBVA Foundations offers interesting insights. Over one million female clients have assets, sales, and credit 20-30% lower than those of men, yet grow more rapidly and represent 80% of the BBVA entrepreneurs who have exited poverty since 2015. These women are the best evidence that they only need an opportunity in order to prosper.
What other obstacles are impeding the inclusion of women and girls? One is the lack of the correct government identification systems that are initially needed to set up a bank account; biometrics and blockchain (among other technologies) can offer a simple, secure and convenient authentication solution to bridge the gap to financial inclusion. For instance, fingerprint authentication or iris scans could link a person directly to their bank card without the need for traditional government identification. The World Food Program (WFP) has been especially innovative in using new technology to link aid to clients through biometric and other innovations.
Women and girls can and must play a vital role in taking advantage of our region’s potential. Let us dream, and work to give them the technology, access, and resources they need. Let us bring excitement back to rural areas and agriculture. Let us build on the potential for eco-tourism and innovation. Let us boldly advocate a gender transformative approach, where women and girls will BE the future.
1 A fictional name and character. Any resemblance to persons real or imagined is coincidence.
2 “The Farmer of 2030 – Big Changes are on the Way” https://oldmooresalmanac.com/the-farmer-of-2030/
3 UNESCO, Latin America and the Caribbean Regional Overview https://en.unesco.org/gem-report/sites/gem-report/files/laamcari.pdf
4 Baker McKenzie, Spotlight on the gender pay gap in Latin America https://en.unesco.org/gem-report/sites/gem-report/files/laamcari.pdf
5 Technology can help the region capitalize on its potential as a breadbasket for the world and as an engine for eco-friendly tourism.
6 Mame Khary, “How to reserve the interest of youth and women in migration or rural exodus toward agriculture and rural entrepreneurship?, UN Women, Expert Group Meeting, https://www.ngocsw.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/How-to-reverse-the-interest-of-youth-and-women-in-migration-or-rural-exodus-toward-agriculture-and-rural-entrepreneurship.pdf
7 Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities (MIRC) project, Robert Bell, co-founder of the Intelligent Community Forum (ICF), compiled key data on the five key indicators that the ICF knows are crucial to success. Bell’s analysis showed the 11 test communities made substantial progress, on average scores improved by 9.49%. Final report of the Minnesota Intelligent Rural Communities Program https://www.intelligentcommunity.org/mirc_report
8 As cited in Bogdan- Constantin Ibănescu*, Oana Mihaela Stoleriu, Alina Munteanu and Corneliu Iatu., “The Impact of Tourism on Sustainable Development of Rural Areas: Evidence from Romania”, Mutidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, 2018.
9 As Cited in Bogdan- Constantin Ibănescu*, Oana Mihaela Stoleriu, Alina Munteanu and Corneliu Iatu. Op. Cit
10 Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)
11 Yet they rarely own the land they are working on, have tenure security or control over the land. “Quick Guide to What and How: increasing women’s access to land”, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).
12 Closing the economic gender gap, particularly in access to resources and adequate compensation, has the potential to lead to an increase in productivity, reduction of poverty and the promotion of national economic growth through increased yields by 20–30%. Sinan Hatil, Anne Marie Moran and Grace Alexander, “Financial Inclusion Through Mobile Technology: Closing the Agricultural Gender Hap, January 2019, International Institute for Sustainable Development, (https://sdg.iisd.org/commentary/generation-2030/financial-inclusion-through-mobile-technology-closing-the-agricultural-gender-gap/).
13 The Mobile Gender Gap Report 2018, GSMA Intelligence (https://www.gsma.com/mobilefordevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/GSMA_The_Mobile_Gender_Gap_Report_2018_32pp_WEBv7.pdf).
14 Millions of unbanked women around the world receive wages or payments for the sales of agricultural goods in cash and pay school fees and utilities in cash. Dianna Fletschner and Lisa Kenny, “Rural women’s access to financial services: Credit, savings and insurance”, ESA Working Paper No. 11-07, March 2011, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, p. 12. (http://www.fao.org/3/a-am312e.pdf ).
15 “The Benefits of Digital Payments”, Better Than Cash Alliance https://www.betterthancash.org/why-digital-payments
16 Globally, 80 million unbanked women receive government wages or transfers in cash; 210 million unbanked women receive cash payments for the sale of agricultural goods; 585 million women pay for utilities in cash; and 225 million women pay school fees in cash. In Bolivia, Peru, and the Philippines, women who received “goal-specific” savings reminders for school fees and housing via text messages increased savings by 16 percent. “The Benefits of Digital Payments”, Op. Cit.
17 “Mobile Money in Latin America is a Hidden Goldmine”, Medici, February 2016. (https://gomedici.com/mobile-money-in-latin-america-is-a-hidden-goldmine/)
18 Sonia Plaza, “Remittances Market in Latin America: Will Mobile money facilitate financial inclusion?”, The World Bank, April 2016, (http://blogs.worldbank.org/peoplemove/remittances-market-latin-america-will-mobile-money-facilitate-financial-inclusion).
19 Research in Uganda shows women’s use of mobile phones is also increasing within farm households, resulting in positive outcomes for productivity and equity. A study on the impacts of M-PESA in Kenya on poverty and gender reveals that by providing a safe and accessible platform to manage transactions and accounts, it has lifted a significant 2% of the total Kenyan households out of poverty (SDG 1.1 and 1.2) and increased women’s financial resilience and savings by facilitating access to banking systems. Sinan Hatil, Anne Marie Moran and Grace Alexander, Op. Cit.
20 37% of women in the BBVA programs overcame the poverty line in their second year “FMBBVA ayuda a empoderar a las mujeres rurales de América Latina”, https://www.compromisorse.com/rse/2018/03/19/fmbbva-ayuda-a-empoderar-a-las-mujeres-rurales-de-america-latina/
21 SCOPE. WFP's Beneficiary and Management System http://stisolutions4sdgs.globalinnovationexchange.org/innovations/scope-wfps-beneficiary-and-management-system