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Rural Women Embrace The Internet

19 February, 2001

Studies on the development of the worldwide web show that men have embraced the Internet more readily than women. Apparent male dominance of the web has been the subject of study by media analysts.

But when it comes to rural New Zealand, the reverse appears to be the case.

As the Internet and e-commerce makes in-roads in farms and households throughout the country, it is women that are embracing the technology, becoming the early adaptors to new ways of doing business.

The significance of this role-reversal is not lost on Neal Murphy, chief executive officer of New Zealand’s biggest rural portal RD1.COM.

“It partly reflects the fact that women are true partners in farming enterprises in New Zealand, with a crucially-important part of running a farm,” says Mr Murphy. “They’re very often the book-keeper, administrator and researcher for the business, as well as the thousand and one other tasks women perform in the home and on the farm.”

“Women have always been central to decision-making on many farms. Anecdotal evidence also points to women being the greater user of the web for decision support, at this stage in the development of the web at least.”

As RD1.COM expands its membership into rural New Zealand – the portal now has around 8,000 registered users – it is discovering that it is more often than not the women on farms that are embracing the technology and using it to help their husbands decide on their work plans.

Services like highly-localised and up-to-the-minute weather mapping, or immediate data on spore counts in milk collected, mean farmers can quickly adjust work schedules to respond to changing conditions.

More often than not, while the men are out on the farm bike, the women farmer is taking care of running the business, ordering supplies, and, increasingly, going onto the web to check weather, and do research into issues facing the farm.

“Many women also are very active in the physical work of the farm,” said Mr Murphy, “but they appear to be the early adoptors when it comes to Internet-based farm management technologies.”

He said that men on farms tended to be more easily put off by the frustrations associated with the Internet, including falling offline, or slow download speeds.

He said New Zealand’s rural culture was full of images of men out on the land, but lacked a widespread appreciation of the immense contribution played by rural women to the rural economy and society.

RD1.COM which holds regular rural chat forums where subscribers can go online and ask questions of an expert panel, is to hold a series of chat forums on the subject of rural women, running from February 19 – 21, 2001.

The programme is as follows:

February 19: ‘GlobalCo’s turbulent times – a perspective from inside the dairy industry’. Host will be Hillary Webber, former New Zealand Dairy Group Director, and also a director of Mighty River Power and Ag Research.

February 20: ‘New to the web’, featuring Barbara Hungerford, a dairy farmer with many years training and Internet experience and Bev Harris, dairy farmer and new Internet user.

February 21: ‘The Big Picture and some alternatives’, featuring Charmaine Pountney, educator and now organic farmer challenging the farming establishment, and dairy farmer Christina Baldwin from Rural Women NZ, member of the NZDG Supplier Council.

These Chat Time events are the fourth in a successful series of industry forums. Previous guests include industry leaders fielding questions on the dairy mega merger and other events and issues facing the farming sector.

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