“We must take every opportunity to ensure that rural women do not lag behind, but rather lead the way”— Executive Director

Message by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka for International Day of Rural Women, 15 October 2015


On the International Day of Rural Women UN Women salutes rural women, and joins Heads of State in recognizing the key role they play in the food security, livelihoods, and incomes of households and communities, underpinning sustainable development.

This year’s global review of implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action provided precise perspectives across 167 countries of national achievements and challenges, including those of rural women.

In September, as Heads of State and Government met in New York to adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, they also marked the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action and its review findings, with firm pledges to overcome gaps. Stemming from the Global Leaders’ Meeting on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: A Commitment to Action, the top political leaders of Angola, Colombia, Jordan, Paraguay, Senegal and Viet Nam, among others, highlighted intersecting forms of discrimination for girls and women living in poverty in rural areas. These significantly affected their ability to attend school, plan their families and survive child birth, combine looking after the family and finding water and fuel with other tasks, as well as access basic services.

There is a clear shared view of the barriers that need to be addressed, that was reflected in the individual country reviews of progress and is clearly laid out in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. They include economic and financial barriers to girls’ education such as the elimination of school fees and provision of stipends, scholarships and non-financial support, particularly in rural and remote areas. Legal reforms are needed to guarantee women’s equal right to property and to realize sexual and reproductive health and rights. Increased access to health care is important, as are training and education of health-care staff; and improving accessibility to free or subsidized essential drugs and commodities. Unmet needs for family planning are high for rural women, and without sufficient access to birth attendants, their mortality rate is high. To make the most of diminishing or changing resources, women need to be able to upgrade their skills, through access to agricultural extension services, technologies, training and financial credit.

Where alternative sources of food and income need to be found, the additional work is often done by women. This “unpaid care burden” is compounded by climate-related health risks, water and fuel scarcity and intensified in contexts of economic crisis, environmental degradation, natural disasters, and inadequate infrastructure and services.

Women’s participation in local institutions for governing natural resources is critical for sustainable land, forest and water management, as well as for building resilience and planning for climate change and adaptation strategies. Bangladesh, for example, is taking targeted steps to prepare for its known vulnerability to climate change, with more than 19,000 women involved. The number of people displaced from their lands due to riverbank erosion, permanent inundation and sea-level rise are increasing rapidly every year. Increased options for earning a living include livelihood skills training in rice processing, crab farming, fish-net weaving, etc., along with workshops on what measures to take when disaster strikes. 

We look ahead to the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in December in Paris where the international community will negotiate the global response to one of the greatest challenges to development, climate change. 

Constituting approximately 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, yet often without ownership of the land they work, or an authoritative voice in local government, rural women are deeply affected by climate change. Climate change exacerbates the existing barriers and risks faced by women farmers – such as lack of access to land and resources – and creates new ones. Climate variability and uncertain weather patterns increase the risk of crop damage, lowering agricultural productivity and increasing food insecurity.

A report released this week by UN Women and partners shows that the evidence for the gender gap in agriculture is growing across countries. Addressing the adverse effects of climate change through climate-resilient agriculture strategies and natural resource management is increasingly important for securing rural women’s rights, empowerment, and well-being.

Agenda 2030 recognizes the role of rural women and pledges to “devote resources to developing rural areas and sustainable agriculture and fisheries, supporting smallholder farmers, especially women farmers, herders and fishers in developing countries, particularly least developed countries”.

As we launch Agenda 2030 globally and locally, we must learn from the lessons of implementing the Beijing Platform for Action and the MDGs. We have an unparalleled opportunity and commitment to end poverty and hunger, achieve food and nutrition security, and guarantee sustainable livelihoods by investing in rural women and climate-resilient agriculture.

Agenda 2030 envisages a “world in which every woman and girl enjoys full gender equality and all legal, social and economic barriers to their empowerment have been removed”. We must take every opportunity to ensure that rural women do not lag behind, but rather lead the way.