Facts & Figures

Poverty and Hunger

  • Gender inequality is a major cause and effect of hunger and poverty: it is estimated that 60 percent of chronically hungry people are women and girls. (Source: WFP Gender Policy and Strategy.)
  • On average, women make up about 43 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries. Evidence indicates that if these women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 percent, raising total agricultural output in these countries by 2.5 to 4 percent. This would reduce the number of hungry people in the world by around 12 to 17 percent.
  • Almost 70 percent of employed women in South Asia work in agriculture, as do more than 60 percent of employed women in sub-Saharan Africa. This highlights the importance of developing policies and programmes that address their needs, interests and constraints.
  • Less than 20 percent of the world's landholders are women. Women represent fewer than 5 percent of all agricultural landholders in North Africa and West Asia, while in sub-Saharan Africa they make up an average of 15 percent.
  • Women in sub-Saharan Africa collectively spend about 40 billion hours a year collecting water. Per week, women in Guinea collect water for 5.7 hours, compared to 2.3 hours for men; in Sierra Leone women spend 7.3 compared to 4.5 hours for men; and in Malawi this figure is 9.1 compared to 1.1 hours. This significantly impacts women's employment opportunities.
  • Research indicates that when more income is put into the hands of women, child nutrition, health and education improves. In South and Central America, rural children are about 1.8 times more likely to be underweight than their urban counterparts. Other regions do not fare much better.


  • Women make up more than two-thirds of the world's 796 million illiterate people.
  • According to global statistics, just 39 percent of rural girls attend secondary school. This is far fewer than rural boys (45 percent), urban girls (59 percent) and urban boys (60 percent).
  • Every additional year of primary school increases girls' eventual wages by 10-20 percent. It also encourages them to marry later and have fewer children, and leaves them less vulnerable to violence.
  • While progress has been made in reducing the gender gap in urban primary school enrolment, data from 42 countries shows that rural girls are twice as likely as urban girls to be out of school.
  • In Pakistan a half-kilometre increase in the distance to school will decrease girls' enrolment by 20 percent. In Egypt, Indonesia and several African countries, building local schools in rural communities increased girls' enrolment.
  • In Cambodia, 48 percent of rural women are illiterate compared to 14 percent of rural men.
  • Rural women's deficits in education have long-term implications for family well-being and poverty reduction. Vast improvements have been seen in the mortality rates of children less than 5 years old since 1990, but rural rates are usually much higher than urban ones.
  • Data from 68 countries indicates that a woman's education is a key factor in determining a child's survival.
  • Children of mothers with no education in the Latin American and Caribbean region are 3.1 times more likely to die than those with mothers who have secondary or tertiary education, and 1.6 more likely to die that those whose mothers have primary-level education.


  • In most countries, women in rural areas who work for wages are more likely than men to hold seasonal, part-time and low-wage jobs. Women also receive lower wages for the same work. (Source: FAO, 2011. “The State of Food and Agriculture: Women in Agriculture, Closing the Gender Gap for Development.)
  • Men's average wages are higher than women's in both rural and urban areas. Rural women typically work longer hours than men, due to additional reproductive, domestic and care responsibilities.
  • In Benin and Tanzania, women work 17.4 and 14 hours more than men per week, respectively.


  • A large gender gap remains in women's access to decision-making and leadership.
  • Women make up fewer elected representatives in most rural councils. In Asia, this ranges between 1.6 percent in Sri Lanka and 31 percent in Pakistan.
  • Women's participation as chairs or heads in rural councils is also much lower than men's, as seen in Bangladesh (0.2 percent) and Cambodia (7 percent).
  • Educated women are more likely to have greater decision-making power within their households.

Maternal Health

  • Between 1990 and 2008, the proportion of rural women receiving prenatal care at least once during pregnancy grew from 55 to 66 percent.
  • However, only one-third of rural women receive prenatal care compared to 50 percent in developing regions as a whole. (Source: United Nations, The Millennium Development Goals Report 2010 and 2011, available from www.un.org/millenniumgoals/reports.shtml.)

Violence against Women

  • More rural women experience domestic violence, and yet few seek services, according to a multi-country study by the World Health Organization (WHO). In Peru, less than 5 percent of the total amount of rural domestic violence survivors (60 percent) sought help, compared to approximately 16 percent of urban women (out of 49 percent).

HIV and AIDS, Malaria and Other Diseases

  • Rural women understand less about how HIV spreads compared to urban women; WHO figures from 25 countries indicate the margins of understanding between the two to be between 20 and 50 percent. Bolivia, Egypt, Indonesia and India are among the countries with the wider of such gaps.
  • HIV exacerbates property insecurity, especially for widows whose husbands have died from AIDS-related causes, but who may not have rights to inherit or own their land.
  • The burden of care is also carried by women. Women and girls account for 66 to 90 percent of all AIDS care givers; conditions are most difficult for women and girls in rural areas, and this can increase their own vulnerability to infection.

Environmental Sustainability

  • There is still far less access to clean or improved water sources in rural areas than in urban areas. In 2008, an estimated 743 million people living in rural areas relied on unimproved sources for drinking water, compared to 141 million in urban areas.
  • People in the least developed countries rely on open fires and traditional cooking stoves (for example, wood, crop waste and charcoal) to earn a living and feed their families. It is usually women who walk the long distances every day to collect fuel (and water). (Source: UNIDO, 2011. Contribution to the LDC IV Conference on Energy Access.)
  • Environmental degradation has an impact on natural resources and can affect rural women differently from men. For example, since rural women tend to have fewer occupational options and less mobility than men, many rely on natural resources from forests.
  • Natural disasters, climate change and conflict can undermine the health, education and livelihoods of rural women, differently to men. For example, although women usually manage the small plots of agricultural land in each family for income or sustenance in developing countries, land titles are most likely to be held by the men. This means that following a disaster, many women cannot independently claim state-offered reconstruction funds. Women can also be more at risk of harm during flooding in countries where boys are taught to swim at an early age, but girls rarely are.
  • Evidence from 25 developed and developing countries indicates that countries with higher female parliamentary representation are more likely to set aside protected land areas.

Note: Facts and figures are drawn from the inter-agency report, “Rural Women and the Millennium Development Goals, produced by the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Rural Women, unless other sources cited.