Sound strategies and a powerful coalition to improve the situation of rural women

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By Manuel Otero

To address inequalities and bridge the divide that affects rural women, one must first understand the situations that they face every day in bearing children, producing, and working in organisations.   Sound public policies, programs and affirmative actions that incorporate a gender focus in the rural environment, call for appropriate strategies and a powerful social coalition, with the capacity to build awareness about a crucial issue in the modern world.

Women in rural areas are characterised by their diversity. They are indigenous people, Afro-descendants, peasant farmers, fisherwomen, artisans, migrants, youngsters and adults. There are sixty million rural women in Latin America and the Caribbean, of which 17 million are registered as economically active, and only 4.5 million are classified as agricultural producers.

Although many women are major producers, exporters or heads of organisations, they are still viewed as the “producer’s wife” or “assistant” and relegated to a subordinate role. Women produce half of the world’s food, yet seven out of every ten people suffering from hunger are women. Women own less than 15% of the land and less than 2% of overall property in developing countries. They receive only 10% of global income, although they shoulder two-thirds of the workload. Women in rural areas account for up to two-thirds of the 800 million illiterate people in the world and represent 43% of its agricultural labor force.

Moreover, young women work more hours overall and more unpaid hours. This means that they often have limited resources, which make them more dependent on their parents, brothers or partners – a situation which often leads to abuse, control and other expressions of gender violence. Women in rural areas have the lowest levels of employment and access to basic services and make up the majority of those in informal jobs and the lowest paid positions.

Allowing rural women and men equal access to production resources would boost women’s crop yield by as much as 30%, and reduce the number of women suffering from hunger by up to 17%. More than 60% of the poorest families, which live on marginal lands, are headed by women – families without access to technological developments that would enable them to increase their output. Their poverty also prevents them from accessing the most basic production inputs, such as fertiliser, pesticides and basic machinery in order to participate in production chains and trade. These inequalities directly affect the productivity of rural territories, and in turn global food security. Under-representation in politics and digital exclusion are other aspects of this reality.

This situation compels us to collaborate with governments, international organisations, the private sector and civil society organisations to begin to take decisive action and ensure that all women in rural areas in the American hemisphere can exercise their rights as citizens. Rapid and consistent action combined with a long-term vision will result in immense and positive social repercussions.

Women who are earning an income are more likely than men to invest in food and a better education for their children. Thus, not only is discrimination immoral, it is inefficient. We cannot afford to wait any longer. Neither can they!

(The author is Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture)

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