The EU welcomes the intention to focus on the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication. Empowering women in rural development is a human right and also leads to a range of positive outcomes for women and their families, thus contributing to the achievement of the MDGs. It is important to create economic and social conditions to improve the quality of life of rural women as well as increase their economic status.
Nevertheless, rural women are often constrained from exercising their full potential. For instance, they have weaker property rights and tenure security than men. Women and men must have equal rights, based on international conventions, a legislative framework and efficient law enforcement.
Moreover, low levels of human capital, measured in years of schooling, health and nutritional status constrain poor rural women in their multiple roles as agricultural producers, workers, mothers and caregivers. Womens agricultural work is often invisible and unpaid care work in the home is an additional burden. In many countries women’s limited access to education and economic services and assets prevent them from developing effectively participating in and benefitting from socio-economic activities.
Malnutrition, a predominantly rural phenomenon, is estimated to be responsible for 3.5 million maternal and child deaths per year1. The most harmful effects of malnutrition occur during pregnancy and during the first two years of life; its impact on the physical and cognitive development of children is often irreversible. Thus improved sexual and reproductive health care during pregnancy and childbirth is a priority.
Women account for up to 80% of food production in most developing countries, and although this can present opportunities, it can also result in huge workloads for some women due to unequal sharing of care and unequal access to credit and productivity enhancing inputs compared to men.
Improving rural womens economic status is also linked to their voice and active participation in the public and private decision-making processes at all level.
Also, the significance of non-agricultural policies for the elimination of rural poverty should be highlighted including social protection measures, education as well as national legislative and administrative frameworks, especially those linked to land, inheritance and property rights and combating gender-based violence.
Finally, we should ensure that men are also included, and have a responsibility, in all our efforts to promote gender equality and empower women.
The EU has put gender equality and development high on its agenda. We have recently adopted an EU Plan of Action on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Development that contains actions that will improve gender mainstreaming efforts in all sectors, including those related to rural development.
The EU is committed to a gender approach that addresses the challenges and needs of all so that men and women can benefit equally, included in the European Commission Communication on Food security.
Question to panellists
Bearing in mind the serious mismatch between evidence of women’s crucial role in agricultural production and rural development and policies that do not take this into account, how can we further ensure that national policies and strategies on rural development, food security and growth set clear targets on gender equality?
How can we further empower women to play a role in rural development? Who are the key stakeholders in ensuring gender equality is mainstreamed in agriculture programming and what are effective strategies for engaging these stakeholders?
How can agriculture programming support the production systems women manage and depend on?
1 (Lancet 2008; 371: pp 24360)