Protecting rights of rural women crucial for gender equality, empowerment: UN Women Executive Director

Message by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka for International Day of Rural Women, 15 October, 2013


Today, on the International Day of Rural Women, we call for action on a glaring inequality – 43 per cent of rural people who work in agriculture are women, yet too many women are denied access to land.

While many rural women, especially small landholders and heads of household, depend on subsistence agriculture, they continue to have limited access to land, water, fertilizer and seeds, credit, and training. And this discrimination not only makes their role in food production much harder than it should be; it violates their basic human rights and threatens our collective food security.

We must enforce and protect the rights of rural women. When women have access to land, there are improvements in household welfare, agricultural productivity and gender equality. And greater progress is made against poverty, gender-based violence and HIV/ AIDS. It makes everybody better off.

We also have evidence showing that countries where women lack land ownership rights and access to credit have on average 60 per cent and 85 per cent more malnourished children, respectively.

Women, including indigenous women, are often the custodians of the management and sustainable use of natural resources and the preservation and conservation of traditional crops and biodiversity for current and future generations.

The time is now to act on legal reforms so that women, including widows, can own the land they work.

Women farmers must be able to access financial services, water and sanitation, markets and innovative technologies. 

We need to promote full employment and decent work for rural women, both in agriculture and other areas.

Finally, we need to reduce the disproportionate unpaid work and care burden of rural women and girls. This means increasing investments in infrastructure and social services such as childcare, and making time- and labour-saving technologies available, such as clean, fuel-efficient stoves. Greater participation of men and boys in care work would allow women and girls more time to actively engage in education, training and economic activities.

Today and every day, UN Women stands up for the rights of women and girls and dignity and equality for all.