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Empowering Rural Women: CSW 2012’s Priority

© FAO/J. Van Acker

The 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), the principal global policy-making body committed to gender equality and the advancement of women, meets 27 February- 9 March in New York and is this year dedicated to rural women’s empowerment. Given the centrality of rural women in FAO’s work to eradicate hunger and poverty, the organization will play a major role in this year’s discussions.

Rural women make essential contributions to the rural economy of all developing countries, yet their access to productive resources and employment opportunities remains limited, holding back their capacity to improve their lives and to better contribute to the economic growth, food security and sustainable development of their communities and countries.

Representatives from UN agencies, governments, civil society and women’s groups will use CSW to support the formulation of better policies to accelerate rural women’s empowerment. Issues covered will include improving access to productive resources, achieving progress in financing for gender equality, and ensuring a better inclusion of women in decision-making bodies at all levels of society.

CSW will also address the international concerns over the aggravation of gender inequalities in rural areas as a result of the global financial and economic crises, volatile food and energy prices and the lack of investment in rural areas, and stress the importance--greater than ever--of taking into consideration rural women’s needs and recommendations in the formulation of responses.

FAO plays a central role in this year’s session

Given the centrality of rural women in FAO’s work to eradicate hunger and poverty, its initiatives at the forefront of rural women’s empowerment, and its focus on women in agriculture in the 2010-11 edition of its flagship “State of Food and Agriculture” report, FAO will play a major role in this year’s discussions.

FAO's State of Food and Agriculture Report 2010-11 reveals that that if women farmers had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 percent, raising total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent, in turn reducing the number of hungry people in the world by 12 to 17 percent. 

Anne Tutwiler, FAO’s Deputy Director-General, will headline the Commission’s Opening Session on 27 February on behalf of the Rome-based agencies: FAO,  the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the World Food Programme (WFP). On 2 March, the organisation will host a debate titled “Unleashing rural women’s voice to end hunger and poverty,” to discuss the power of cooperatives in enabling rural women to influence agricultural and rural development policies. The event will feature the participation of Ann Itto, former minister of Agriculture and Forestry of South Sudan, Robert Carlson, President of the World Farmers Organisation and Reema Nanavatiny from the Self-Employed Women’s Association of India.

On 28 February, FAO will co-host the side event “Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women,” in partnership with IFAD, WFP and UN Women whose Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet, will act as moderator, and on 1 March an event on securing rural women’s land rights with IFAD and the International Land Coalition (ILC).

New research evaluates progress for rural women towards the MDGs

Rural Women and the MDGs

Rural children under 5 in developing regions are about 1.4 times more likely to die than their urban counterparts.

39 percent of rural girls attend secondary school compared to 45 percent of rural boys, 59 percent of urban girls, and 60 percent of urban boys.

In 2008, 66 percent of rural women were receiving antenatal care at least once during pregnancy, compared to 89 percent of urban women.

Rural women report more experiences of physical abuse than urban women.

The jobs of rural women who are employed tend to be shorter term, more precarious and less protected than those of rural men and urban people.

The UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Rural Women (IANWGE), comprising thirteen UN agencies led by FAO, IFAD and WFP, will also present its latest research appraising the impact on the lives of rural women of the work achieved toward the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This research is made available though a clear and comprehensive factsheet, also available in French, Spanish and Arabic.

This stock taking reveals mitigated results: while some progress has occurred, particularly in the health and education sectors, rural women and girls still fare worse than rural men and urban women for every MDG indicator. They continue to face persistent obstacles in accessing productive resources and decent employment that prevent them from fully enjoying their human rights and improving their lives, and that limit their contribution to the well-being of their families and to the prosperity of their communities.

The IANWGE’s research does give reason for optimism: donors’ increased recognition of rural women’s important contributions to eradicating poverty and hunger has led to their increased commitment. A recent study of 23 members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee indicates that in 2007-08, bilateral donors committed USD 4.6 billion to gender equality and women’s empowerment in the economic and productive sectors, including agriculture.

However, the research cautions that the capacity to monitor rural women’s and other groups’ progress towards the MDGs remains hampered by a lack of data not only disaggregated by sex, but also by rural and urban areas. As the international community works towards meeting the MDGs by the target date of 2015, the IANWGE calls for improving the collection and analysis of data to better measure progress and address disparities.

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