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Rural women: Cultivating good food for all

16 October 2021 01:38 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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In most countries including Sri Lanka, rural women are often not given their proper place or the opportunity to play a key role they are known to be capable of. Instead, prominence is given to city and urban women in a multitude of areas ranging from education, enterprising skills and entertainment. Often, sometimes unknowingly we refer to rural people as women and city or urban people as ladies. 


It is in this context that the United Nations yesterday marked the International Day of Rural Women on the basis that they could play a key role in liberating the world from hunger and poverty. In a statement, the UN says achieving gender equality and empowering women is not only the right thing to do but is a critical ingredient in the fight against extreme poverty, hunger and malnutrition. On average, women make up more than 40% of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, ranging from 20% in Latin America to 50% or more in parts of Africa and Asia. Yet they face significant discrimination when it comes to land and livestock ownership, equal pay, participation in decision-making entities, and access to resources, credit and market for their farms to flourish.
According to the UN, giving women the same opportunities as men could lead to a rise in agricultural production by 2.5 to 4% in the poorest regions and the number of malnourished people could be reduced by 12 to 17%. This international day’s theme is “Rural women cultivating good food for all”. The UN says we need to recognize the work of these heroines in the food systems of the world, and provide equal opportunities for all.


Analysing the invaluable contribution of rural women to development, the UN says the crucial role that women and girls play in ensuring the sustainability of rural households and communities, improving rural livelihoods and overall wellbeing, has been increasingly recognized. Women account for a substantial proportion of the agricultural labour force, including informal work, and perform the bulk of unpaid care and domestic work within families and households in rural areas. They make significant contributions to agricultural production, food security and nutrition, land and natural resource management and building climate resilience.


Even so, in rural areas women and girls suffer disproportionately from multi-dimensional poverty. While extreme poverty has declined globally, the world’s one billion people, who continue to live in unacceptable conditions of poverty, are heavily concentrated in rural areas. In most regions the poverty rates are higher than those in urban areas. Yet smallholder agriculture produces nearly 80% of food in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa and supports the livelihoods of some 2.5 billion people. Female farmers may be as productive and enterprising as their male counterparts but are less able to access land, credit, agricultural inputs, markets, and high-value agri-food chains and obtain lower prices for their crops.


According to the UN, structural barriers and discriminatory social norms continue to constrain women’s decision-making power and political participation in rural households and communities. In rural areas, women and girls lack equal access to productive resources and assets, public services, such as education and healthcare and infrastructure, including water and sanitation, while much of their labour remains invisible and unpaid, even as their workloads become increasingly heavy due to the out-migration of men. Globally, with few exceptions, every gender and development indicator for which data are available reveals that rural women fare worse than rural men and urban women and that they disproportionately experience poverty, exclusion and the effects of climate change.


The International Labour Organization (ILO) decent work agenda offers an integrated framework for rural women’s empowerment, underpinned by international labour standards, social dialogue and the recognition that rural women play a key role in climate action. UN Women supports the leadership and participation of rural women in shaping laws, strategies, policies, and programmes on issues that affect their lives. Training equips them with the skills to pursue new livelihoods and adapt technology to their needs. 


In Sri Lanka, we have various State institutions including ministries and state ministries to uplift the status of rural women, recognize the vital role they play and bring them into the mainstream of society. But this is not happening in a proper way and Sri Lanka’s people are suffering more because of it. In Colombo and some of the main cities, women’s rights groups are playing a major role. They need to go to remote village areas and encourage rural women to campaign for equal rights and dignity.

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