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Re: Focusing on Rural Women in a Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Framework

Peter Steele Independent Consultant Agricultural Engineer, Italy
Peter Steele


Equality in Gender

This has been an interesting debate; unique even given the extent of the many issues involved that impact - you'll know this - upon more than 50% of the world's people. I'm referring to 'women in society' and considering my contribution as focus upon the continuing debate - difficult as it is - for equality between the genders. This is more than 'rural women', 'food security' and 'proper nutrition' notwithstanding the importance of these sectors for the wellbeing of the half of humanity who depend upon the work, tenacity and dedication of those tens of millions of small-scale farmers - the majority women - who produce sufficient to feed them.

Many of the contributions have already focused directly or built their messages upon the foundations that women agriculturalists have in traditional and, increasingly, commercial society. And this is not simply a function of biology - important as this is - given the nurturing role that comes from caring, feeding and growing the families that form around them, but because of the track record of women in agriculture. They typically out-perform their menfolk and achieve this on the basis of fewer resources, less education, discrimination based upon out-moded traditions, violence and limited political voice (or none at all).

Girls and women escape the traditions that limit their capabilities by gaining an education and/or shifting to the towns; preferably both, but then they are typically lost to agriculture. And neither are captivity and traditions simple a feature of the developing and/or industrializing countries for there is bigotry, bias and discrimination of this kind everywhere. You only have to look at political leadership in Italy and/or recently in Australia to follow the challenges of being a top female decision-maker.

Suffice to note then - and this sounds a cliche reading back over it - that partnerships represent the best options into the next period; as we have within families, communities and society-at-large. But, the reality is one, however, that will see little change in many rural communities whilst out-moded, labour-intensive, poverty-based food production systems continue to dominate. And, importantly, that does not mean bringing in the larger-scale food production systems that are beginning to dominate everywhere at the expense of small-scale. Large-scale, typically, leads to landless people. 

Key questions

  1. If you had made an intervention at the side event on rural women at the 8th session of the Open Working Group in New York, what would have been its key message?

Everything that can be said has already been said earlier; there are few new messages that can be promoted. Pictures tell the same messages differently, however, and catch the eye. Try the attached images from roadside posters in Zambia. Then show women training as blacksmiths, driving tractors and running food processing plants (which I have available, but cannot find quickly). 

2. Rural women are often described as critical agents of change in discussions on sustainable development goals. To what extent would the achievement of food and nutrition security for rural women help accelerate sustainable development?

Pessimistically - no difference. Optmistically - minor incremental changes (but nothing like the changes that would come from educating girls, providing them with resilient livelihoods and making them financially independent of their menfolk).

3. Of the many facts or stats recorded on rural women, which one do you consider to be the most revealing?

Recorded for women everwhere, but more typical of those with the misfortune to be born into societies in selected African and/or middle eastern countries - Somalia (98%), Egypt (91%), Mali (89%), Ethiopia (74%), Guinea (96%), Eritrea (89%) and others. And the percentages shown? Girls and women subject to female genital mutilation. The ultimate in power subjugation - disfigure half your population or more on the basis of deep-rooted and inhuman fears of equality.

Souce book

If you don't already know about it - here's the world's best source of gender/agricultural information in a single text: 'Gender in Agriculture: Sourcebook'. It covers all the contributions already made in the debate - and some. You can access an e-copy at: Check out module #1 'Gender and Food Security'. See if you can't get a hard copy from your local FAO, World Bank or IFAD office; much easier to read and share.

Salutations everyone.

Peter Steele

Agricultural Engineer

Rome, Italy.

26 February 2014