Statement by Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women for the International Day of Rural Women

Rural women and girls building climate resilience


Millions of rural women and girls around the world are building essential climate resilience at home, at work and in their communities. They play significant roles in agriculture, food security, nutrition, and the management of land and natural resources. In fact, globally, one in three employed women works in agriculture, with indigenous women in particular safeguarding land and knowledge [1]. Women’s critical role in these aspects underlines the value of supporting their equal access to land and resources, financing, infrastructure and services, markets, and decision-making power. Conversely, when land and natural resources are threatened by climate change, environmental degradation, or social and economic shocks, rural women’s and girls’ lives and livelihoods are put in jeopardy.

The lives and livelihoods of rural women and girls, including indigenous women and girls, are deeply affected by industrial agriculture, extractive industries, and dependency on fossil fuels. The dire consequences of these have been unequivocally demonstrated in the past decades, affecting economies, societies, cultures, and the global environment and climate.

Such changes in the natural world play out with direct consequences in the home, where rural women and girls carry out the bulk of unpaid care and domestic work. As part of their daily routine, women and girls are responsible for water collection in 80 per cent of households without access to piped water. Without access to clean and affordable energy, women and girls may spend large portions of their day collecting fuel, manually processing foodstuffs and pumping water. And as climate change and other factors affect the water and fuel supply, they have to go further to collect the daily requirements for their homes and fields. In areas of fuel scarcity, fuel collection can take up as much as five or six hours per day—time that could otherwise be used for paid work, education, rest or leisure.

To confront the existential threat of climate change, rural women and girls are innovating, turning among other practices to climate-resilient agriculture and sustainable energy technologies. They need local and national governments to recognize and address the specific challenges rural women face in a changing climate and are calling for them to implement gender-responsive policies and programmes that do this, in line with the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals.

We are seeing some progress, with governmental efforts to support the resilience and adaptive capacities of rural women and their communities. Gender equality considerations are increasingly being integrated in rural and agricultural development and climate change frameworks. But these efforts must grow if infrastructure and public services are to be sufficient to meet the climate challenge sustainably, and to alleviate the household burdens that climate change intensifies. And rural women must be at the table when decisions are made that affect their future, so that their concerns shape investments in climate resilience and make them truly gender responsive. 


[1] International Labour Organization (ILO), World Employment Social Outlook. Trends for Women 2017 (Geneva, 2017).