October 15th, 2017 marked the International Day of Rural Women, which was initiated 22 years ago by the United Nations Conference on Women. This year’s theme was the “challenges and opportunities in climate-resilient agriculture for gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls,” which was designed to highlight the importance women have in sustaining rural households and communities.
Smallholder farms produce nearly 80 percent of food in Asia and parts of Africa, feeding over 2.5 billion people. Women make up 43 percent of the agriculture workforce globally, which is nearly half! Their duties 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.
“Women farmers are just as productive and enterprising as their male counterparts, yet are not always able to obtain comparable prices for their crops. Nor do they have equal access to the land, credit, agricultural inputs, markets and high-value agrifood chains that are essential to their livelihoods,” said Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, the executive director of UN Women. “In all this, governments play a vital role.”
Governments can help by “providing the social and physical infrastructure that enables rural women’s participation in sustainable, climate-resilient agricultural production, processing, transport, and marketing.”
Climate change is being stressed, in particular, due to the way it impacts access to natural resources and affects the assets and well-being of both men and women. Climate change is thought to affect women more than men regarding work in agricultural fields due to pre-existing struggles to secure resources and engage in trade in sexist agricultural communities.
According to the UN, “women tend to make decisions about resource use and investments in the interest and welfare of their children, families, and communities,” and can also “influence policies and institutions towards greater provision of public goods, such as energy, water and sanitation, and social infrastructure.”
It has been found that closing the gender gap could potentially increase food output by 20 percent. The UN is working to do close that gap through training and skill development for women and girls in rural communities.
However, Mlambo Ngcuka stressed that the fact that girls are raised in a rural community should not automatically mean that they are to stay in that setting and work in agriculture.
“Rural girls have an equal right to their urban peers to a good education, careers in STEM and a thriving role in the digital revolution,” said Mlambo Ngcuka. “Being born a girl should not automatically lead to a future of unpaid caring for family members.”
The UN is striving to provide the opportunity for every woman and girl to choose their own fate. Once the inequalities in our world are leveled, women and girls – both rural and urban – should be able to contribute to the growth of a better future for themselves and the world.
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