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How to bolster the rights and potential of rural women in agriculture

Though progress has been made in promoting and protecting women’s rights, women and girls continue to face discrimination in many facets of their lives. In agriculture, for example, discrimination causes female farmers to have less access than their male counterparts to agricultural inputs, services and opportunities, such as land, fertilizer, financial services, education and decent employment.

© FAO / Vasily Maximov

These inequalities impose costs on families, the sector, society and national economies – in addition to the women themselves. 

To promote equality between men and women in agriculture and rural development, FAO has produced a guide for agricultural ministry officials and agricultural and rural development specialists. This guide shows how an international agreement prohibiting discrimination against women can be used to shape agricultural and rural development programmes to ensure men and women the same opportunities.

FAO Gender and Development Officer Hajnalka Petrics, co-author of “Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) - A tool for gender-sensitive agriculture and rural development policy and programme formulation - guidelines for Ministries of Agriculture and FAO,” explains how the Convention can be used to bring about positive and sustainable results in the lives of rural women, men, girls and boys. 

What is the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)? 

CEDAW is an international human rights treaty protecting the rights of women. As of today, 187 states have ratified the Convention – meaning they are legally obliged to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women in all areas of life. They have also agreed to ensure women’s full social and economic development and advancement so they have the same rights and freedom as men. 

What progress has been made in eliminating discrimination?

Significant gender equality gains have been made since CEDAW was adopted more than 30 years ago. Equality between men and women has been enshrined in constitutions, many gender discriminatory laws and practices have been amended and women’s political representation has increased. However, structural disadvantages, discrimination and gender inequalities persist, especially for rural women. 

Eliminating the root causes of discrimination is a long process that requires strong political will and often a change in cultural norms. CEDAW calls for incorporating the principle of equality of men and women in legal systems, tribunals and other public institutions to eliminate discrimination against women by individuals, organizations or enterprises.

What rights does CEDAW ensure for rural women? 

Article 14 of CEDAW specifies that rural women must be included in development planning and implementation. They are to have access to healthcare, education, credit and social security programmes and enjoy adequate living conditions. While many of the articles of CEDAW have a bearing on rural women, Article 14 refers specifically to rural women and is the most relevant to the mandates of FAO and ministries of agriculture. 

Its includes recommendations that focus on ensuring rural women’s rights  to form  self-help groups and co-operatives,  to have access to agricultural credit and loans, marketing facilities and technology and to enjoy equal treatment in land and agrarian reforms. 

What are some recent examples of FAO’s efforts to promote rural women’s’ rights in agriculture and rural development?

FAO recently developed guidelines for gender-sensitive agriculture and rural development policy and programme formulation, to show how agriculture and rural development policies, strategies and programmes can be designed to respond to the many challenges rural women face.  It suggests practical ways ministries of agriculture, and agricultural and rural development specialists can engage in the CEDAW reporting processes, implement the Convention and formulate agricultural and rural development policies and programmes that respond to the needs and priorities of both women and men. 

The publication cites a number of cases in which CEDAW provisions were used in legal proceedings and includes some of the Committee’s observations that resulted in concrete programmes that guaranteed women’s full rights. For example, women’s access to land has been improved in places such as Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, where more women now own family farms. Another example is in the Philippines, where the concluding observations were used to support efforts to stop discriminatory acts against rural women in fishing and farming communities. 

CEDAW has led to laws and policies aimed at enhancing women’s access to rural services, such as water, education and financial services, in yet other countries.

Another example is the formulation of a general recommendation on rural women. This recommendation is meant to guide States Parties on the measures to adopt, protect, and respect in order to fulfill the rights of rural women.  It is the first time that a general recommendation on Article 14 will be prepared.

The processes started in 2012, when FAO, together with IFAD, WFP and UN Women advocated for the drafting of a general recommendation on Article 14. We took this step because Article 14 needed to reflect the new challenges rural women are facing and it also needed to offer more practical guidance on how to boost the impact of the Convention’s provisions.

The four organizations prepared a background paper highlighting these challenges and proposing some concrete policy measures, such as investing in and creating infrastructure and community facilities, and developing on- and off- farm-care facilities to reduce rural women’s unpaid and domestic work. Another example is strengthening the capacities of farmer and producer organizations, while ensuring fair opportunities for women to participate and even take on leadership positions.

These measures were presented and discussed at the 56th session of CEDAW during a half-day discussion on rural women in October 2013 (article 14 of the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination against Women).