The session about spreading science by reaching women and children was an emotional journey. First up was Jacqueline Ashby of the Rural Innovation Institute in Columbia, who presented via video link. Her presentation was pretty positive and discussed improvements made in food security and nutrition by working with women’s groups.
The next talk was far more depressing. A series of statistics on HIV and AIDS outlined the horrific situation worldwide was given by Annmaree O’Keefe – Australia’s Special Representative for HIV/AIDS. She says there is no silver bullet to kill this disease and no hope on the horizon. But, in Australia we know that targeting the at risk communities with prevention and behavioural change messages has resulted in a low infection rate so this approach should be used elsewhere. Elsewhere in the world we know which groups are most at risk, sex workers in China, in East Asia high levels of sexual violence and the low status of women and in Eastern Europe shared needles for drug use according to O’Keefe. Different groups should be focused upon in different regions but there is hope if these messages can get spread through the right networks, a lot of which involve women.
More positively, Subbiah Arunachalam of WS Swaminathan Research Foundation in India gave examples of successful projects in his region. Women are reached via local knowledge centres and a blend of old and new technologies is used depending on what is most appropriate for that group. Indeed some of the most successful programs are those based around the coasts where 98% of families rely on fishing. Traditionally men go to sea and women sell their catch. Now satellite technology is used to provide weather forecasts 36 hours in advance and these forecasts are printed and broadcast for the community. So the women will know the men aren’t going to sea and will get them to help with chores rather than running off to hang out with their friends. Any other places where this kind of technology could play a useful role? Answers on a postcard….