International Day of Rural Women

Rural women need to be at the heart of all development efforts — Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka

Message by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka on the occasion of the International Day of Rural Women, 15 October 2014

Date: 14 October 2014

Today, on the International Day of Rural Women, let us all, individuals, governments and the United Nations system, commit to recognize the contributions and rights of rural women, including their rights to land and resources. We need to build momentum together to support and ensure the empowerment of rural women so that they can claim the rights they deserve and fully enjoy the benefits of development.

Throughout the world, gender inequality in land and other productive resources is intrinsically related to women’s poverty and exclusion. Women’s rights to access, use, control, and ownership of land and other productive resources are essential to reverse this. Sustainable solutions are not imposed from the outside. It is of utmost importance that rural women’s voices are heard in discussion, debates and policymaking about their lives.

Every day rural women face complex obstacles blocking their rights to land. These include discriminatory laws and practices governing inheritance and marital property; gender-biased land reform that privileges men over women; unequal access to land markets; and discriminatory attitudes and beliefs. Such discrimination greatly decreases rural women’s potential as agricultural producers, limiting their contributions to food security, frustrating their sustainable land management efforts, and undermining their well-being and that of their families.

This situation persists, despite international and regional instruments and policies that recognize women’s rights to land and important developments in many countries to ensure and protect these rights. UN Women’s publication “Realizing Women’s Rights to Land and Other Productive Resources ,” published with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, gives a comprehensive picture of the critical issues affecting women’s rights to land and presents recommendations, good practices and success stories.

Change is possible through determined action. Governments and civil society must accelerate their efforts to revise obsolete national laws and promote security of tenure. They must ensure the prohibition of forced eviction for women whose civil status has changed. Marriage and family laws need to be made to guarantee women’s rights to property. Communal lands are powerful property; they represent the capital that secures the rights of a collective. But those that work communal land also need to be supported to ensure that their rights translate into returns. Finally, governments and civil society must generate awareness-raising and training so that women know and can claim their rights.

It is critical that women’s rights to land and other productive resources be addressed in the post-2015 road map and embraced by the future Sustainable Development Goals. As we know, there is a strong and positive correlation between ensuring women’s rights over land and improved household welfare, women’s increased power and autonomy in their families and communities, as well as in their economic and political relationships.

In order to implement appropriate policies in the post-2015 era, we need adequate data that is gender-disaggregated to shape the evidence base for policy change. We need to strengthen ongoing efforts to collect this data through initiatives such as the UN Women-supported Land Portal, the Gender and Land Rights Database, the Global Land Tool Network, and the Women, Business and the Law databases. 

The International Day of Rural Women is an opportunity to focus global attention on the contributions and concerns of rural women, whose situations and voices are so often unheard. Let us seize this opportunity, this International Day, to ensure that they can benefit fully from the post-2015 agenda and all development plans.