Making the case for 1.7 billion rural women and girls at women’s empowerment conference

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Even with equal access, women farmers often do not have equal productivity because they are held back by lack of land rights, lack of access to markets, and difficulty in hiring labour, write Jim Cornelius and Paul Winters. (Pixabay photograph courtesy of David Greenwood-Haigh)

This article originally appeared in The Hill Times.

Globally, the momentum for gender equality and justice is growing.

Nowhere was this more evident than at last week’s Women Deliver conference, where over 8000 leaders, advocates and experts from around the world gathered in Vancouver to fight for women’s empowerment.

Canada is building on and advancing this greater global awareness, not only by hosting the conference, but by launching a new Equality Fund to empower women and girls, and by stepping up its support for women’s health and rights globally. These are critical steps on the road to a world where women are not overshadowed or excluded from opportunity.

But as we accelerate our actions for gender equality, we must be careful that the 1.7 billion women and girls who live in rural areas are not left behind.

On virtually every measurable development indicator–including poverty, hunger, education, and health–rural women fare worse than rural men and urban women. Systemic inequality can trap rural women in poverty and hunger; cultural norms are too often barriers that limit their full participation in decision-making, both at home and in their communities.

Eighty percent of the world’s poorest people, and the majority of chronically under-nourished live in the rural areas of developing countries. Closing the gender gap for rural women makes sense – socially, morally, and economically. When women earn more, family nutrition improves. More than half of the reduction in malnutrition between 1970 and 1995 is attributable to improvements in women’s status and education.

For rural women, equality is not just about having equal access to resources such as improved seeds, irrigation and fertilizer. Even with equal access, women farmers often do not have equal productivity because they are held back by lack of land rights, lack of access to markets, and difficulty in hiring labour.

Organizations like Canadian Foodgrains Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) are working to address these issues with the support of the Government of Canada. We work to ensure that rural women are economically empowered, have a more balanced workload, and an equal voice and influence in their homes and communities.

Achieving gender equality for rural women and girls requires addressing the root causes of inequalities and working not just with women, but with men.

IFAD has pioneered an approach called “household methodologies” where women and men work with a trained facilitator to develop a shared family vision for breaking out of poverty. When household methodologies are applied, men are more likely to share domestic chores and childcare; and women have more autonomy to make independent decisions and purchases, including land. The results include greater food security for families, more children attending school, and reductions in gender-based violence.

The Foodgrains Bank works with local partners to ensure that each intervention is appropriate to the local context. For example, in Uganda, when gender inequality in the Nebbi District was hampering agricultural production and community food security, the Nebbi Diocese Church of Uganda created male and female ‘gender champions’, to model egalitarian gender relationships, conduct community outreach, and promote gender equality in their homes and communities. The resulting shift in traditional gender roles has meant more equally distributed responsibilities, more joint-decision making, and increases in agricultural production.

Last week at the Women Deliver conference, we were able to share our successes and celebrate the achievements in women’s empowerment across the globe. But we have a long way to go. On every continent, women work longer hours than men, are paid less for equal work, and are more often subject to violence and discrimination.

As we work to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment, we must make sure our efforts and investments benefit all women, urban and rural. For the world’s 1.7 billion rural women and girls, there is no time to waste.

– Jim Cornelius, Executive Director, Canadian Foodgrains Bank and
Paul Winters, Associate Vice-President of the Strategy and Knowledge Department at the International Fund for Agricultural Development