"Rural women are key agents for achieving the transformational economic, environmental and social changes required for sustainable development" say UN Women
This year on the International Day of Rural Women, we recognise that across the globe, women lead the way with solutions and solidarity in the wake of Covid-19. This day was created to recognise the centrality of rural women in community development and regeneration, which in today's climate has become increasingly important. This year, the theme comprises 'Building rural women's resilience in the wake of COVID-19'.
As global pandemics such as COVID-19 are set to become more prevalent in the future, and world economies are further affected by the fallout of climate change, the developing communities in which rural women reside will suffer the loss of already limited access to education, healthcare and occupational opportunities. Therefore, providing them with active support and listening to what is required to lead and support their local communities has a positive knock on effect not only on the individual but their families and the wider community as well.
The first UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) is to 'End Poverty in all its forms everywhere'. Unfortunately, their findings show that the emergence of COVID-19 has pushed 71 million + people into extreme poverty. COVID-19 caused a global economic crisis, pushing those in developing communities to be further disproportionately affected by poverty compared to urban areas. This makes rural women's access to work ever more essential.
But while it's widely accepted that agriculture is the driver of growth and poverty reduction in developing nations, globally women comprise 43% of the world's agricultural labour force but make up less than 20% of the planet's landowners and the gender paygap in rural communities is as high as 40%. This dichotomy must be addressed if progress is to be made not just towards gender neutrality, but, crucially, food security. The UN estimates that if women in rural areas had the same access to agricultural assets, education, and markets as men, agricultural production could be increased, and the number of hungry people reduced by 100-150 million.
As primary carers rural women have the responsibility of taking on the unpaid household work within the family and general community, making significant decisions that filter not only into the local economy, but into ensuring their families are nourished and secure. 'Women already spend about three times as many hours in unpaid domestic and care work as men' - (UN SDG's Goal 5).
Despite this research, international studies show that during times of crisis and change, women are more likely to take the lead in helping their communities through difficult moments, adjusting to new realities and challenges.
UN Women reported on how in rural India and China, women have produced hand sanitizer and facemasks, coming together in groups to cook fresh food for the community while also 'offering financial services, and communicating vital COVID-19 information in rural communities'. While 'In Mali, rural women-owned enterprises and cooperatives are preparing survival kits for vulnerable persons and in Senegal and female rice farmers are supplying government, sourcing for food transfers.' (UN Women International Day of Rural Women theme: 'Building rural women's resilience in the wake of COVID- 19').
Goal number 5 of the 17 UN SDG's is to 'Achieve Gender Equality and Empower all women and girls'. The UN emphasises that the effects of globalisation and climate change, whether this be pandemics or natural disasters, highlight embedded gender inequalities in rural communities. Therefore a question lies as to how our global society should tackle women's access to food, work, healthcare and education, and why they are undervalued despite taking on the same, if not more, physical and emotional labour than men in the same communities.
With the International Day of the Girl (October 11th) being recognised alongside the International Day of Rural Women, it seems fitting to acknowledge both when broaching the topic of education.
Access to education is often restricted for girls by factors such as affordability, a long and potentially dangerous commute and cultural or societal beliefs surrounding their need for education, with less than 39% of rural girls attending secondary school whereas the figure is closer to 50% for rural boys - (UN Womenwatch).
Goal 4 of the UN SDG's is to 'Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all'. Yet, COVID-19 has revealed that although remote learning is provided to many students...in vulnerable and disadvantaged communities, such as those living in remote areas, extreme poverty, fragile states and refugee camps, do not have the same access thereto. The digital divide will widen existing gaps in equality with regard to education.'- (UN SDG's Goal 4).
These existing gaps are not the only effect of lack of access to the school environment. 368.5 million children across 143 countries rely on food provided by their school as their main and often only meal of the day. Without this, the pressure put on households and communities to provide for their families is significant. It is imperative to recognise this growing pressure, especially now.
Education improves economic production and thus improves the standard of living. Through education, women are able to gain economic autonomy where it may not have been possible before, due to factors such as dropping out of school for marriage and children, and cultures that enforce reliance on men for financial and wider security. However, COVID-19 is stretching cultural and societal norms like never before, in positive and negative ways. Cases of domestic violence have risen by 30% in some countries, while women's rights to land in agricultural work, already threatened due to gender discrimination, are at even greater risk of being lost. Women are becoming increasingly more exposed to societal dangers at a time when their leadership and governance within rural communities is vital.
Without access to educational institutions and community groups, women in many of these regions would not have a place to learn, share, support and grow to be the authors of change they need to be. Educational organisations that provide space for women to talk about their experiences, learn from one another, and gain valuable training in a variety of vocations is highly important, and their message must be spread in order to obtain the support that is needed.
CDV Global are proud to work alongside a number of women led organisations helping to develop and support rural communities such as 'Grama Institute for the Poor', a small community development in rural India. They empower rural women, providing them with the space to come together in groups to develop enterprises, community co-operatives and be trained in areas such as the production of food, garments, and local handicrafts. This is achieved by increasing access to education and overall diminishing gender inequality.
80% of households without piped water rely on women and girls for water collectionThe UN
It will be of no surprise that rural women don't have the access to skilled healthcare as compared to their urban counterparts. Furthermore, 3 billion people globally don't have access to a place in their home to wash their hands. Water security within rural communities impacts every aspect of life and opportunities for advancement, particularly for women. '80% of households without piped water rely on women and girls for water collection.' (UN International Day of Rural Women).
As the primary caregiver in almost all cases, but without appropriate access to healthcare or knowledge on sexual and reproductive health practices, complications during pregnancy and labour often go untreated. Rural women count for a large percentage of maternal mortality, and findings surrounding UN SDG number 3, show that 'The majority of the deaths occurred in low and lower-middle-income countries, and roughly 66% of them occurred in sub-Saharan Africa.'
'Society Development Centre (SODEC)', a social welfare organisation based in the remote area of Eastern Nepal, is a wonderful example of rural female leadership addressing welfare within their community; women coming together to support women. SODEC are committed to the socio-economic empowerment of people in poor communities that were and still are affected by the 2015 earthquake, which had a devastating impact on life in the region. Whilst covering many areas such as sanitation, education and infrastructure, they are currently focussed on expanding the knowledge of Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights within a culturally conservative region, which has a direct impact on women's rights in particular.
A focus on tackling gender inequality and the direct role that process will have following a social or economic crisis is vital at this time. Empowered women have greater capacity to respond to challenges within rural communities, playing important roles by adopting new technologies, spreading knowledge, empowering positive action and enabling change'.
Sustainable Volunteering is one of the key ways in which we can support them, learn from them and enable their voices. As leaders in agriculture, business and community, rural women are the backbone of society, and it is our responsibility to continue to empower and support them in leading their communities, which will contribute directly to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.