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Rural women are responsible for most of the world’s food production and in developing countries represent over 40% of the agricultural labor force; in some parts of Africa this is as high as 80%. They are also play key roles in preparation, consumption, and distribution of food.   

October 15th is the International Day of Rural Women. It is a day that recognizes the critical role rural women play in enhancing agricultural and rural development, including women’s contributions to improving food security and eradicating poverty.  

Despite the huge importance of women in food production, women are often regarded as assistants on the farm and not as economic agents or farmers in their own right. While they may be as enterprising and productive as men practicing agriculture, rural women lack access to land, agricultural inputs, livestock, and good prices for their yields. They also have limited access to financial services and are at a high risk of sexual harassment, abuse, and gender-based violence. Rural women suffer unequal power relations and discriminatory gender practices and norms that limit their decision-making power.  

Silvania Monthe, farmer participant in Regenerative Agriculture  project, Embu & Makueni Counties, Kenya.

But if we empower women, we can lift rural communities from poverty.  

A study by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) found that if women world-wide had the same access to productive resources as men, they would increase farm yields by 20-30%. Total agricultural output would rise by 2.5-4% with gains from agricultural output alone, lifting 100 to 150 million people from hunger.  

Another study by the McKinsey Global Institute found that if women played an identical role to men in labor markets, the global annual GDP would rise to as much as $28 trillion by 2025. 

Achieving gender parity and empowering women is not only right, but critical in the fight against extreme malnutrition, hunger, and poverty. On this Rural Women’s Day, we need to recognize the impact rural women can have in improving food systems. 

Bridging The Gap: What Is the World Doing for Rural Women? 

In an effort to recognize the crucial role played by rural women, the Joint Programme on Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women (JP RWEE) seeks to economically empower and improve rural women’s status. JP RWEE seeks to secure the livelihoods and rights of rural women in a sustainable development context. With it, rural women improve their food and nutrition security, increase their income, create wealth, and secure their livelihoods. 

Additionally, the program seeks to enhance participation and leadership of rural women in institutions and communities while also economically empowering them through addressing gender inequalities. 

IIRR’s Contribution to Empowering Rural Women 

The International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) recognizes the important role rural women play in eradicating poverty despite being undervalued and constrained by limited access to services, resources, and market opportunities. We put women at the forefront by promoting gender equality in marginalized communities across the globe through projects such as these:

Maximizing Nutrition-Sensitive Crop Museum Towards a Disaster-Resilient and Healthy Community 

This ongoing project establishes community Crop Museums which serve as supplementary community emergency and disaster response facilities. Project participants receive home gardening kits with different types of vegetables, tools, seedling trays, sprinklers, guides, and plastic bags for potting. IIRR partners with the Direct Assistance Program (DAP) of the Australian Embassy in the Philippines and the Municipal Local Government Unit (MLGU) of Guinayangan, Quezon to empower women through this project. 

Investing in Women in South Sudan program (IW-SS) 

This project sought to empower women economically through the agricultural sector and reduce gender-specific barriers that hinder the participation of women in agricultural value chains. It also aimed to increase the adoption of gender-sensitive climate-smart villages, improve employment opportunities, and boost the livelihoods of women in agriculture and food systems. This project was implemented through a partnership with the African Enterprise Challenge Fund (AECF) and funding from Global Affairs Canada (GAC). 

Climate Smart Villages 

Climate change and adverse weather conditions continue to significantly impact rural communities. As weather patterns continue to become unpredictable, farmers in rural areas struggle with pests and diseases, fluctuating market prices, and dwindling yields.  

In order to address these effects of climate change, IIRR supports the research and Implementation of Climate Smart Villages (CSVs) while applying a gender lens. We seek to promote gender equality by affording women equal opportunities to be socially, occupationally, economically, and educationally empowered.  

More Needs to Be Done for the Rural Woman 

Rural women and girls play a crucial role in improving livelihoods and ensuring sustainable households. For this reason, we must promote gender equality while empowering rural woman through productive employment. This approach contributes to sustainable and inclusive economic growth while also enhancing efforts towards reducing food insecurity and poverty. 

Bolstering women’s land rights, offering gender-responsive investments, and removing discriminatory social norms and structural barriers constraining rural women’s decision-making power are all key in supporting rural women. 

What more do you think we need to do for the rural women to improve their livelihoods? 

The International Institute of Rural Reconstruction, also known as IIRR, is a non-profit organization whose mission is to empower rural people to build resilient communities and attain socioeconomic equity through creative and community-led action. 

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