The United Nations’ International Day of Rural Women celebrates and honors the role of rural women on October 15 each year. It is a day that recognizes “the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security, and eradicating rural poverty.”
The theme for 2017 is “challenges and opportunities in climate-resilient agriculture for gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls.”
Women make significant contributions to agricultural and rural economies across the world, particularly in developing countries where women represent approximately 43 percent of the agricultural labor force. Their activities typically include sowing and harvesting crops, caring for livestock, processing and preparing food, collecting fuel and water, engaging in trade and marketing, and caring for family members’ nutritional needs. They make significant contributions to agricultural production, food security and nutrition, land and natural resource management, and building resilience to climate change.
According to U.N. Women, there is growing recognition of the differential and disproportionate impact of climate change on rural women. Climate change affects women’s and men’s assets and well-being differently regarding agricultural production, food security, health, water and energy resources, climate-induced migration, and safety. For example, when traditional food sources become unpredictable and scarce due to climate-related natural disasters, women and girls are more likely to be malnourished and suffer a greater decline in health than men.
However, as this year’s theme affirms, rural women are not only vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, they are also effective actors in both climate mitigation and adaptation.
According to the United Nations, “women often have a strong body of knowledge and expertise that can be used in climate change mitigation, disaster reduction, and adaptation strategies. Furthermore, women’s responsibilities in households and communities, as stewards of natural and household resources, positions them well to contribute to livelihood strategies adapted to changing environmental realities.”
U.N. Women are supporting several initiatives that promote the leadership of rural women in shaping laws, policies, and strategies on all issues that affect their lives, including climate change, food security, and better rural livelihoods. Their recently launched flagship program initiatives combine the topics of gender equality and climate action by bringing women’s leadership to the forefront of climate solutions. These programs include women’s empowerment through climate-smart agriculture, women’s entrepreneurship in renewable energy, and addressing the gender inequality of risk in a changing climate.
Reflecting the 2017 International Day of Rural Women theme, U.N. Women has called on governments and climate actors to “ensure an inclusive environment which puts gender equality considerations and the voice and agency of women at the center of climate management and investments. That is the only viable way forward to achieving the climate-resilient future we want.”