Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls
Women for Water Partnership has co-signed below calls of its members Soroptimist International and the International Federation of Business and Professional Women (IFBPW) on gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls, to support this important theme being put prominently on the agenda for the 2018 UN Commission of Status of Women (CSW62) meeting in New York, March next year:
For the empowerment of rural women and girls to be realised through sustainable development, there needs to be more than a superficial commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals. There must be concerted action across all countries and communities. Approaching gender equality (Sustainable Development Goal 5) as a crosscutting issue requires gender to be included at all stages of policy development, means of implementation, monitoring and accountability. This is enhanced by the need to recognise that rural women and girls suffer many identified discriminations to a stronger degree, and are therefore in danger of being left behind as we strive to achieve the targets for 2030. By women, we mean women of all ages - including older women.
Soroptimist International declared for CSW56 in 2012, that we are hopeful that we truly are on the precipice of a global paradigm shift. This was our introduction to the written statement for that session which considered the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges. Unfortunately, our hope was not well founded since that meeting of the Commission was unable to reach agreement, and the challenges and opportunities identified for rural women and girls to achieve gender equality and empowerment remain to be addressed in the 2030 agenda. This is particularly brutal for elderly widows.
The need for a cross-cutting, inclusive and gender-sensitive approach is clear: without this approach the global transformation envisaged by the Sustainable Development Goals will not be achieved. Rural women and girls are crucial contributors, implementers and beneficiaries of sustainable development. Their empowerment is fundamental to the achievement of the full 2030 Development Agenda.
Rural women have a vital role in environmental management and development, in agricultural development and achievement of food security, in ensuring the health and well- being of families and communities. And let’s not forgot the women in rural areas that are not farmers, live in rural areas in developed countries and are confronted with numerous cuts on infrastructure and facilities. Their full participation is therefore essential to achieve sustainable development as defined in Principle 20 of the 1992 Rio Declaration and subsequent reviews. With increased feminization of agriculture, 43% of the world’s agricultural labour force and more than 60% in developing countries are women, therefore contributing to an important engine of growth and poverty reduction in the rural economy. Rural women play a vital role in agricultural production, a critical component of food security; however, they are unable to reach their full potential due to discriminatory norms, policies and laws. For example, if women farmers were to have the same access as men to fertilizers and other inputs, maize yields would increase by almost one sixth in Malawi and Ghana. Furthermore, women are less likely to own their own land, property laws discriminate against women inheriting family property, particularly widows. Custom and patriarchal traditions deprive rural widows of land ownership, threatening their food security, forcing them, to migrate to urban areas searching for other livelihoods. Discriminatory laws and policies which prevent women from controlling their productive resources lock them in a cycle of poverty and prevent them from being economically empowered.
Investing in small-scale farming, particularly through women, is a vital step towards meeting the challenges of food production in the future. Women are the agents of change in their families, typically investing 90% of their earnings into their families and communities compared to 35% by men, thus more likely to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty. Governments are not living up to their international commitment to protect women from discrimination, as the gap between de jure and de facto discrimination persists.
Rural women still find it more difficult to get access to basic education and vocational (secondary) education provision; as girls they are expected to assist with family routines such as fetching and carrying fuel and water. According to the UNESCO 2016 Global Education Monitoring Report some 63% of women have not attained even minimal literacy skills. They live in rural areas in sub-Saharan Africa, the Arab States and in South and West Asia. Education provides a major key to lifting women and girls out of poverty and enabling them to achieve their true potential. Recognition must be given to infrastructure changes such as the provision of safe drinking water and sanitation. This would lower the necessity for time spent by girls and women collecting water in rural localities and combat diseases resulting from unsafe sanitation.
Women and Girls as Agents of Change toward Women’s Empowerment
Women and girls in rural areas comprise the majority of people living in poverty, and experience multidimensional inequalities. Persistent and chronic underinvestment in gender equality and women’s empowerment has exacerbated development limitations. These mistakes must not be repeated. Therefore, sustainable development initiatives must reinforce the consideration that rural women and girls are at a higher risk of being left behind. The voices and perspectives of rural women and girls must be included in policy development, implementation and monitoring on all issues – reaching goal 5 as well as cross-cutting all Sustainable Development Goals. This approach would promote the inclusion of women and girls as leaders and decision makers. How resources are mobilised and how programmes are implemented have clear implications for women’s empowerment and the achievement of gender equality. Gender budgeting can be a very useful tool to achieve better choices on where and to whom receive direct funding. Extension of access to facilities such as education, water and sanitation, maternal and other health care; technologies which support these will enable women and girls to contribute more fully to the development of local economies.
To mainstream the involvement of women and girls in rural sustainable development demands a change in attitudes and behaviour towards women and girls across all levels. For women and girls to be agents of change their input must be considered as equal and valuable contributors to sustainable development; they should not merely be thought of as ‘beneficiaries’ or ‘vulnerable’. Rural women and girls can increase community capacity at the grassroots level, by leading effective community-based sustainable development actions that contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. These actions reveal grassroots expertise that women and girls possess to better their lives whether it be through agriculture, environment, water and sanitation or health.
Accountability and Monitoring
Global initiatives designed to benefit the daily lives of people everywhere risk not being implemented appropriately, if at all, unless they are regularly monitored and accountable. To know whether rural women and girls benefit from sustainable development efforts, it is critical to have accurate and reliable information through qualitative and quantitative indicators, including citizen generated and private sector data.
For knowledge about the status of rural women and girls to be accurate, it is important that gender-differentiated statistics and indicators are collected nationally, regionally and globally in order to measure gender gaps and adjust development programmes to rectify inequalities, At a minimum, data should be disaggregated on the basis of age, sex, marital status, geography, income, disability, race and ethnicity and other factors relevant to monitoring inequalities (including multiple inequalities experienced by women and girls) as stated in Sustainable Development Goal17.18. Although some indicators are measured by household (not by individual) it is still important that the data collected for those indicators is disaggregated – it is important to know how the household is comprised. Without this information it will be difficult to properly and fully identify the gaps and challenges facing women and girls’ empowerment as part of sustainable development.
Without mandated and obligatory follow-up and review processes there is a risk that the voices of women and girls will go unheard. The voluntary nature of reporting on progress provides countries with the option not to follow-up or review the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals at all or to be selective in their review. Actions undertaken by the private sector contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals must also be accountable, as often their own interests do not prioritise the needs of vulnerable and marginalised people.
Empowering Women through NGOs and Civil Society
Recent encroachment upon civil society space, and the limitations being placed on NGOs, only further disempower rural women and girls and will work against efforts to work towards the 2030 targets. Without the support of NGOs and civil society organisations many rural women and girls will not be able to access essential services that empower them, including legal representation, education and healthcare. If women and girls are to be empowered through the effective implementation of sustainable development principles, then NGOs including women’s organisations, must be included in the process also. Through civil society organisations and NGOs, women and girls will be listened to as equal partners and not merely co-opted into a development agenda that does not reflect their needs.
Soroptimist International urges governments, civil society, the private sector and other relevant partners to support the recommendations contained in the Secretary General’s report, Improvement of the situation of women and girls in rural areas (A/72/207 July 2017). Soroptimist International believes that the following require priority measures for action to enable rural women and girls to achieve gender equality and empowerment:
International Federation of Business and Professional Women (IFBPW) supports statements of our sister organizations on increasing the number of women in decision-making and management and prevention of any kind of violence against women. We, however, focus here on issues that are close to our heart and have not received as much attention.
We emphatically support the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), including the Optional Protocol; we urge the remaining governments to sign up and other governments to take out all the exemptions.
We will strive to assist implementing the Beijing Platform for Action; ILO Decent Work Agenda and the importance of the ILO Resolutions No. 100 on Equal Pay and No. 111 on Discrimination in the Labour Market; the OECD initiative for equal pay, Women’s Empowerment Principles and 2030 Agenda - and request governments to assist us with that.
2030 Agenda recognizes the crucial importance of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5 as essential for achieving all the interconnected goals and targets. The Agenda represents a comprehensive and transformative framework that clearly links the gender equality and empowerment of rural women and girls to other goals and targets, inter alia, ending poverty in all its forms (SDG 1), eradicating hunger, achieving food security and improving nutrition and promoting sustainable agriculture (SDG 2), universal access to safe water and sanitation (SDG5), achieving full and productive employment and decent work for all (SDG 8) and taking action to combat climate change (SDG 13).
IFBPW unconditionally supports rural women eliminating barriers which limit their rights for living at adequate standard and ensuring income security and social protection. We would like to see measures that enable them to stay “ home” and not having them or their children to move to the cities. Rural women are key agents for achieving the transformational economic, environmental and social changes required for sustainable development. Limited access to credit, land and water, transport, health care and education are among the many challenges they face, which are further aggravated by the global food and economic crises and climate change. Empowering them is key not only to the well-being of individuals, families and rural communities, but also to overall economic productivity, given women’s large presence in the agricultural and care workforce worldwide.
1. Legal Structure and Affirmative Measures
Governments have to create conditions to improve the economic independence of rural women, in the implementation of legal frameworks, development policies and investment strategies at all levels.
2. Education and Life Long Learning
Education, skills development and technical training are central to agricultural and rural employment. To be successful, vocational and skills and training have to take into consideration the characteristics of national and local labour markets. For women in particular, the learning group is an important means to gain self-confidence and get empowered. If learning groups are sustained, they can play an important role for strengthening rural institutions, increasing women’s role in leadership and mitigating the risk of further poverty and marginalization.
Rural women and girls continue to face serious challenges in carrying out their multiple productive and reproductive roles within their families and communities; much of their labour remains unpaid and unrecognized, including their disproportionate share of unpaid care and domestic work, upon which their households and local economies depend.
Schooling of children, running businesses in rural areas, social interaction, and securing women's safety have more or different impact on women in small rural communities than women in big cities.
4. Data, Monitoring and Evaluation
Sex-differentiated statistics and indicators (SDG17) must be collected nationally, regionally and globally and made available in order to measure gender gaps and consequently adjust development programs to rectify inequalities to ensure women’s empowerment in the world of work.
Equality between women and men is a basic human right. Especially rural women and girls face persistent structural constraints that prevent them from fully enjoying their human rights and hamper their efforts to improve their lives as well as their extended families. Rural women, in particular, face multiple forms of deprivations and discrimination, major barriers to access productive resources and face disadvantages and exclusion rooted in the power inequalities associated with gender roles, leaving them disproportionately under-represented even among the rural poor.
As the world moves toward the achievement of the 2030 agenda, it would be possible to build stronger communities, stronger global economy and achieve all development goals by improving rural women’s livelihoods, accessing to justice and legal rights, economic empowerment and decision making at all levels.
Women for Water Partnership, (WfWP) Ms. Lesha Witmer, email@example.com
Soroptimist International (SI), Ms. Caroline Mulligan, Caroline.firstname.lastname@example.org
Soroptimist International Europe, Ms. Elizabeth Otieno Nyadwe, SIE Advocacy Director, email@example.com
ICW-CIF, Elisabeth Newman, firstname.lastname@example.org
Zonta International, Megan Radavich email@example.com