October 15 is recognized by the United Nations as the International Day of Rural Women.
“Rural women are the backbone of sustainable livelihoods and provide food security for their families and communities,” according to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
“By investing in rural women and climate-resilient agriculture,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, “we have an unparalleled opportunity and commitment to end poverty and hunger, achieve food and nutrition security, and guarantee sustainable livelihoods.”
According to the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Rural Women, rural women do the necessary work that keeps families functioning—yet often this care work is unpaid and underreported to state agencies. The inequalities experienced by women around the world are accentuated in rural settings, where access to education, credit, infrastructure, and healthcare is often dismal in comparison to urban centers. A long history of denying women access to land and capital has perpetuated these inequalities; namely, less than 20 percent of landholders are women.
As the threats of climate change ever intensify, rural women are disproportionately affected, since their livelihoods are more dependent on natural resources and consistent growing seasons, according to the U.N. Women Watch compilation on Women, Gender Equality and Climate Change.
Around the world, women ensure the sustainability of rural societies, which are increasingly precarious in an age of rapid urbanization. The U.N. acknowledges that rural and indigenous women, in particular, maintain indispensable working knowledge of biodiversity and crop varieties, as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) recognizes.
Rural women are also responsible for the majority of agricultural labor, usually for the purpose of household nourishment instead of cash crop production. For example, in East Africa, cash crops like tobacco conflict with the production of basic food crops like millet, sorghum, and vegetables for home consumption, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) report on the role of women in agriculture.
The Millennium development agenda highlighted gender equality and women’s empowerment; likewise, the Post-2015 agenda clarifies that rural women are critical to the achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
As global partnerships are forming to accomplish the SDGs, countless organizations, agencies, and coalitions are working on behalf of rural women, especially women farmers.
- Rural women are climbing the tallest peak in Africa, Mt. Kilimanjaro, to complete their ascent and assembly on October 15. These women, supported by International Land Coalition, ActionAid, Tanzania Gender Networking Program, and Oxfam, aim to literally take “the issues of rural women farmers to the top,” especially highlighting land and natural resource rights in a charter of demands to present to the African Union.
- In Mexico, the organization Anam is empowering rural women to cultivate Moringato generate more income, improve family nutrition, and increase local biodiversity. A social enterprise, the aim is to produce, process, and sell moringa based products in rural Mexican communities.
- The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and SEWA (Self Employed Women’s Association) recently announced a partnership to join forces and broaden the scope of their efforts to expand opportunities for rural women in countries beyond India. SEWA already represents 1.9 million self-employed women in India, and this partnership will escalate their collective capacity to identify and disseminate best practices to empower women.
- In Australia, the National Rural Women’s Coalition (NRWC) is opening up opportunities for rural women to gain funding and support for their endeavors—anything from starting horticultural projects to changing local laws. According tothe NRWC President, Dr. Pat Hamilton, “rural women are very, very resilient. We don’t have problems—we just have challenges.”
- Organizations like Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF) are ensuring that publications keep women at the forefront of discussion—for example, in Ghana—and fostering a culture of respect for women’s rights, linking laws with development goals.