Access to gender and development information by rural women in the Tanga region, Tanzania.
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Rural women play significant roles in both food and cash crop production, however, the majority of them lack access to productive resources, including information. To enhance the process of development and to ensure that rural women participate in and benefit from rural development processes, it is important that productive resources such as land, technology and information are made accessible to them. The purpose of this study was to examine the extent to which rural women access gender and development information. It therefore investigated how the rural information delivery system is organised and operates in order to gain an understanding of the factors which hamper the accessibility of information to the majority of rural women. This understanding will enable rural development planners and information professionals to design and implement information services which are accessible to all members of the rural community. In conducting this study in the Tanga region of Tanzania, a sample of 773 households was drawn from an estimated 155,863 households to acquire a sample of rural women. A structured interview protocol was used to collect data from the rural women. A total of 64 human information providers out of a total of 90 targeted to be included in the study, was interviewed. Data was also collected through document reviews and informal discussion with key informants at regional and district levels as well as through personal observations during field work. The findings of the study indicate that at least 40 percent of rural women are still functionally illiterate and at least 30 percent head rural households. Tt:1e majority of them still live in poverty with limited incomes. On the other hand the information providers are predominantly male, constituting a male/female ratio of 3: 1. The information needs of rural women are practical and strategic in nature. Information providers used are mainly friends and relatives, village leaders, health extension workers and hospitals and clinics. The communications used in information exchange processes are oral in nature with face to face communication being the main channel used. Formal sources of information such as printed and audio-visual sources are rarely used. Furthermore, this study has shown that socio-economic factors impact on levels of access and use of information providers. Information made accessible to women is mainly health information, followed by community affairs which is mainly about community problems discussed at village meetings. Very few women benefit from rural training programmes and information on development projects because these are limited to specific project areas. Information delivered is therefore not adequate to satisfy rural women's needs whereas information accessed is moderately relevant as far as their health information needs are concerned. The main barriers to rural women's access to information include: workload, attitudes of information providers, customs and traditions and non availability of other sources such as printed and audio-visual sources, as well as low income and relatively low education levels of women. This study has identified several weaknesses in the rural information delivery system which need to be addressed. It is therefore recommended that in order to make information readily accessible to the majority of women, there is a need (i) to formulate gender sensitive policies and institute mechanisms for implementation, which should include the training of information providers in gender issues in services-provision; (ii) to make available adequate financial resources to support rural information seryices; (iii) to use a variety of sources of information to cater for ; the heterogenous needs of users; (iv) to have a political will not only to address gender issues but also to sensitize entire rural communities to gender issues.
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