This International Day of Rural Women let us take some time to recognize and appreciate the crucial role played by them in shaping families and societies; they are actively involved in on-farm and off-farm activities. Their engagement diversifies family livelihood, and yet, their efforts largely go unappreciated.
"The International Day of Rural Women is observed globally on 15 October each year. The day recognizes the crucial role of women and girls in ensuring the sustainability of rural households and communities, improving rural livelihoods and overall well-being. In India, the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare observes the day as the Rashtriya Mahila Kisan Diwas since 2016, to increase the active participation of women in agriculture."
Women make up a substantial proportion of our agricultural labor force, often while also doing the books, sorting out the finances, and juggling the kids. Rural women can be decisive leaders, but structural constraints of gender, negative ideologies, lack of economic assets, and a patriarchal society weigh them down. Gender-based stereotypes and discrimination deny these women their right to resources, opportunities, and/or social life.
They lack access to land, resources, road, infrastructure, connectivity, education, and health, which affects human development and economic empowerment disproportionately. While rural women face similar challenges, their vulnerabilities may vary in terms of region or ethnicity.
The Invaluable Contribution of Rural Women to Development
Women account for a substantial proportion of the agricultural labor force, including informal work, and perform the bulk of unpaid care and domestic work within families and households in rural areas. They make significant contributions to agricultural production, food security and nutrition, land and natural resource management, and building climate resilience.
Even so, women and girls in rural areas suffer disproportionately from multi-dimensional poverty. While extreme poverty has declined globally, the world’s 1 billion people, who continue to live in unacceptable conditions of poverty, are heavily concentrated in rural areas. Poverty rates in rural areas across most regions are higher than those in urban areas. Yet smallholder agriculture produces nearly 80% of food in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa and supports the livelihoods of some 2.5 billion people. Women workers may be as productive and enterprising as their male counterparts but are less able to access land, credit, agricultural inputs, markets, and high-value agrifood chains and obtain lower prices for their services, crops, and other products.
Structural barriers and discriminatory social norms continue to constrain women’s decision-making power and political participation in rural households and communities. Women and girls in rural areas lack equal access to productive resources and assets, public services, such as education and health care, and infrastructure, including water and sanitation, while much of their labor remains invisible and unpaid, even as their workloads become increasingly heavy due to the out-migration of men. Globally, with few exceptions, every gender and development indicator for which data are available reveals that rural women fare worse than rural men and urban women and that they disproportionately experience poverty, exclusion, and the effects of climate change.
All these issues are interdependent; institutionalization of a gender-responsive approach is, therefore, required. There is a need to ensure that adequate investments are made to implement national plans and policies for rural women.
Rural women are active agents of socio-economic change and environmental conservation. But more often than not, they are confined to the roles of a homemaker, caregiver, farmer, and consumer. Achieving gender equality and empowering women is not only the right thing to do but is a critical ingredient in the fight against extreme poverty, environmental damage, and crimes rooted in patriarchy. Rural women cultivate good for us all whether it be good food, good craft, good environmental impact, good motivation and so much more.
This day serves as a reminder that a sustainable future is not possible without the involvement of women. It is the moral and ethical imperative of society to support gender equality in this era of unsustainability. Rural women must be at the core of all developmental activities.
Gender inequality excludes women from multiple walks of life and hampers their access to resources. It is time to reverse this trend — and to hear their voices loud and clear. It would be a missed opportunity to achieve sustainable development goals if a nation does not utilize the knowledge of its rural women.
Come out and do your part to support rural women - no matter how big or small, no matter how: by supporting them directly through sponsoring or contributing to their education, better amenities, or supporting their livelihood by purchasing rural women-made goods.
Some of the products by Mianzi that are handmade by the master craftswoman from rural India: