Rural Women and Sustainable Development


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Speech delivered by UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet at a joint US-China side event titled “Rural Women and Sustainable Development" during the 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women, 27 February 2012, ECOSOC Chamber, UN headquarters, New York.

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Ambassador Rosemary DiCarlo, Deputy Permanent Representative of the United States to the United Nations;
Ambassador WANG Min, Deputy Permanent Representative of the People's Republic of China to the United Nations;
Ambassador Melanne Verveer, United States' Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women's Issues;
Madame MENG Xiaosi, Vice President of All-China Women's Federation;
Madame Jiko Luveni, Minister for Poverty Alleviation, Women and Social Welfare of Fiji;
Ms. Joyce Nangobi, Executive Director of Slum Women's Initiative for Development of Uganda,
Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be here with you. Let me at the outset thank the governments of the United States and the People's Republic of China for organizing this forum and for inviting me to participate.

Rural women comprise 43 percent of the agricultural workforce worldwide, and in some parts of the world, about 70 percent. They are on the frontlines of climate change, managing natural resources so they can feed their families and communities. As they directly benefit from their natural environment, so too do they contribute to its safeguarding.

Yet, as we heard in the Commission this morning, they continue to confront barriers—lack of equal access to education, healthcare, land, finance, markets and technology, and gender-based discrimination, that hold them back. This not only limits their own personal prospects, it limits the prospects of their nations and our global community.

How do we unlock their potential? We need to empower them and this means changing policies and laws to protect their rights and expand equal opportunities. We need to address the issue of access to and control of resources. Rural women have been hard hit by export oriented agriculture, climate change, and volatility in food and energy prices. They lack equal access to technology and infrastructure, clean water, and national and international markets. And they need to participate in decision-making.

This is our call and our priority at UN Women as it is only through economic and political empowerment that women, and particularly rural women, will be fully empowered to reach their potential.

Around the world, there are many encouraging practices. Three technologies currently making a difference in the lives of rural women are mobile phones, solar power and energy efficient cook stoves. There is no stopping a good idea and useful product once people can enjoy its benefits.

In Fiji, women are adopting new eco-friendly farming methods. In Kenya and Zimbabwe, women are planting and protecting indigenous and medicinal trees; establishing bee populations in arid areas; and learning how to maintain them sustainably.

In Ecuador, UN-Women works with indigenous women's groups to ensure their involvement in the sustainable conservation and management of the natural and cultural heritage of the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve.

In Nepal, the Women's Environment Preservation Committee manages 963 tons of waste per year that supports 40 waste-fed biogas plants to meet local communities' demand for renewable energy.

Together with the Barefoot College of India, UN Women is empowering rural and illiterate grandmothers. By providing necessary equipment, technical support and training — the grandmothers become effective and self-sufficient solar engineers.

There are many innovative practices by rural women and men around the world. I am eager to hear more from the other panelists as well as the audience today.

Yet despite their resilience and resourcefulness, the situation of women in rural areas remains particularly challenging. We have to do more and we can do more. We can all contribute in our own way through our institutions and connections.

Now we are at a crossroads, the international community is heading to Rio in June to reaffirm commitments to sustainable development and also to possibly launch a framework for a new international post Millennium Development Goals, post 2015 framework.

We must build on the agreement 20 years ago at the first UN Conference on Environment and Development, where nations affirmed that gender equality and women's empowerment are integral to sustainable development. In 1995, the Beijing Platform for Action issued by the Fourth World Conference on Women in China upheld this notion.

Today there is growing momentum. The Secretary-General's High-level Panel on Global Sustainability recently stated, “Persistent gender inequality in particular has to be addressed as part of any serious shift towards sustainable development.

UN Women is playing a strong role to ensure that women's empowerment and gender equality feature prominently in the Rio+20 agreement. We are encouraged by the support we are getting from stakeholders, including the organizers of this event.

Today world and business leaders, citizens and activists increasingly recognize women's vital roles in a healthy society and for a resilient planet. I am confident that with our commitment and action, the agreed conclusions from the Commission on the Status of Women will pave the way to Rio to empower rural women and advance development that is sustainable.

All of us in UN Women look forward to working with you on these important matters. I thank you.