Expert Group Meeting Addresses Rural Women’s Empowerment


In September, UN Women sponsored an expert group meeting, “Enabling rural women's economic empowerment: institutions, opportunities and participation, in Accra, Ghana. Experts from a variety of disciplines and all regions of the world attended, along with a number of development practitioners, including representatives of farmers' associations.

Conducted in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the World Food Programme, the meeting provided recommendations for consideration by the 2012 meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women. The commission will focus on the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges.

A wide range of issues were discussed in Accra, including rural women's roles in agriculture; access to technology, markets and financing; and employment on and off farms. The meeting also looked at how rural women participate in natural resource management and climate change adaptation, and considered ways to promote gender-responsive rural development.

Globally, women make up a substantial proportion of the agricultural workforce. As such, they have experienced changes in rural development brought about by globalization, trade liberalization, and the growth of commodity markets, among other factors. Poverty is now heavily concentrated in rural areas, with most of the rural poor being smallholder farmers, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, and agricultural wage laborers, especially in South Asia.

The world food crisis, climate change and high levels of urbanization have brought renewed attention to the importance of agriculture and rural development. But participants at Accra highlighted that despite this emphasis, rural women's rights and priorities remain insufficiently addressed in laws and development programmes, and they receive only a nominal share of available financing. They continue to struggle with time-consuming multiple responsibilities in their families and elsewhere, in part due to a lack of rural infrastructure, and essential goods and services.

It would be a mistake to portray rural women as weak and vulnerable, however, noted various participants. They are active economic agents, even when they face constraints as producers, investors, caregivers and consumers.

The meeting agreed that new frameworks need to be developed that take into account changing global contexts, and the diversity of rural women and men. Inclusive economic growth strategies could usher in long-term societal benefits, including reduced inequality and poverty in rural areas.

The recommendations from the meeting included prioritizing decent work and employment generation for rural women and men, guaranteeing women's rights to land and inheritance, and assisting women smallholder farmers and agricultural workers to become more profitable and productive. Also essential are appropriate data for informed policies and adequate budgetary allocations targeting rural women's economic empowerment.

Other recommendations concerned increasing access to financial services, and investments in infrastructure and essential services, including childcare and community resource centres controlled by rural women. Women should be recognized and supported as champions for climate change adaptation and mitigation.

The meeting's findings will feed into the two reports of the UN Secretary-General prepared for the Commission on the Status of Women. They will also serve as a reference point for sustaining and accelerating efforts to empower rural women.

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