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Empower Rural Women for Their Dignity and Future

A woman planting a shea tree in Ghana to protect riverbanks, and for her economic empowerment. Much still remains to be done to overcome the difficulties women – particularly rural women – face in terms of mobility and political participation. Credit: ©IFAD/Dela Sipitey

ROME, Mar 14 2015 (IPS) - Rural women make major contributions to rural economies by producing and processing food, feeding and caring for families, generating income and contributing to the overall well-being of their households – but, in many countries, they face discrimination in access to agricultural assets, education, healthcare and employment, among others, preventing them from fully enjoying their basic rights.

Gender equality is now widely recognised as an essential component for sustainable development goals in the post-2015 agenda, with empowerment of rural women vital to enabling poor people to improve their livelihoods and overcome poverty.

“To improve women’s social and economic status, we need more recognition for the vital role they play in the rural economy. Let us all work together to empower women to achieve food and nutrition security – for their sake, and the sake of their families and communities” – IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze

This year’s International Women’s Day, celebrated worldwide on Mar. 8, marked the 20th anniversary of the landmark Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing (1995), which called on governments, the international community and civil society from all over the world to empower women and girls by taking action in 12 critical areas: poverty, education and training, health, violence, armed conflict, the economy, power and decision-making, institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women, human rights, the media, the environment and the girl child.

Despite that call, much still remains to be done to overcome the difficulties women – particularly rural women – face in terms of mobility and political participation.

“Too often, rural women are doing the backbreaking work,” Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), said on the occasion. “To improve women’s social and economic status, we need more recognition for the vital role they play in the rural economy. Let us all work together to empower women to achieve food and nutrition security – for their sake, and the sake of their families and communities.”

This year, the three Rome-based U.N. agencies – the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP) and IFAD – along with journalists and students from Rome’s LUISS, John Cabot and La Sapienza universities met to share testimonials of innovative interventions aimed at empowering rural women in four key areas: nutrition, community mobilisation, livestock and land rights.

A large body of research indicates that putting more income into the hands of women translates into improved child nutrition health and education in all developing regions of the world.

Explaining why women and men need to be involved together to move forward on nutrition, Britta Schumacher, a WFP Programme Policy Officer, described how the Renewed Efforts Against Child Hunger and Undernutrition (REACH) programme had been able to tackle malnutrition and health problems using an approach based on positive gender-oriented objectives.

The REACH programme – a joint initiative of FAO, the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), WFP and the World Health Organisation (WHO) – is based on the human right to nutrition security and seeks to transform the way governments and donors approach investment in nutrition to leverage existing investments most effectively and systematically identify priorities for additional investments needed to scale up.

Noting that “the long girls stay at school, the better is their health” because “lack of awareness represents a concrete obstacle to good practices,” Schumacher said that in Bangladesh activities had been carried out under the REACH programme to transfer knowledge within and between members of communities and local authorities, boost rural women’s access to services and strengthen their self-esteem. 

Stressing the need for community mobilisation, Andrea Sanchez Enciso, Gender and Participatory Communication Specialist with FAO, illustrated one of the achievements of FAO’s Dimitra project, a participatory information and communication project which contributes to improving the visibility of rural populations, women in particular.

In Niger, she said, “the Dimitra project encouraged the inclusion of a gender perspective in communication for development initiatives in rural areas … taking greater account of the specificities, needs and aspirations of men and women” and “creating participatory spaces for discussion between men and women, access to information and collective actions in their communities.”

Leading a two-year small livestock project in Afghanistan during the Taliban period, Antonio Riota, Lead Technical Specialist in IFAD’s Livestock, Policy and Technical Advisory Division, said that the project was developed and implemented in a context in which 90 percent of village chickens were managed by women and poultry was the only source of income for the entire community.

According to Riota, the project showed how small livestock can make a difference in rural women’s lives because one of its major results has been that “now women can walk all together” whereas previously they were accused of prostitution if they did so. “Some 75,000 women benefitted from the project and profitability increased by 91 percent,” he added.

Meanwhile, Mino Ramaroson, Africa Regional Coordinator at the International Land Coalition, described two African experiences of women’s networks – the National Federation of Rural Women in Madagascar and the Kilimanjaro Initiative – advocating for their rights to land and natural resources.

In Madagascar, the National Federation of Rural Women, which aims to promote rural women’s rights, improve members’ livelihoods and increase their resilience to external and internal shocks, has been joined by more than 450 rural women’s groups from the country’s six provinces.

The Kilimanjaro Initiative, initiated by rural women in 2012 and supported by the International Land Coalition, uses women’s rights to land and productive resources as an entry point for the mobilisation of rural women from across Africa to define the future they want, claim lives of dignity they deserve and identify and overcome the challenges that hold them back.

Edited by Phil Harris   

 
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