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International Women’s Day: Inspiring better futures for young rural women

Creating better opportunities for young women in rural areas was the focus of the UN Rome-based agencies’ -- the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Food Programme (WFP) and FAO -- commemoration of International Women’s Day this year.

Ms. Yvette Azane Ngwemetoh, a young woman from Bamende in north-west Cameroun speaks of her hopes for her region. © IFAD/F. Ianniello

Held at IFAD, the event brought together Mr. Kanayo F. Nwanze, President of IFAD, Mr. José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General, Ms. Sheila Sisulu, WFP Deputy Executive Director, H.E. Ertharin Cousin, US Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies in Rome, H.E. Angie Motshekga, Minister of Basic Education of South Africa, technical officers and young rural women come to share their experiences and hopes.

Mr. Nwanze opened the event by expressing the urgency of creating more vibrant rural areas where young women and men can imagine attractive futures for themselves, where they have access to a range of employment opportunities and where they can view agriculture as a desirable career path.

He underlined the fact that creating better conditions is especially important for young rural women whose potential is held back by multiple disadvantages: “Young rural women are held back by location, by age and by gender. They face the same obstacles as boys living in rural areas – they are limited by lack of access to land, markets, finance, education and training. And their youth limits the amount of control they have over their lives. But they are also held back by cultural and social norms. As a result, they are even less likely than boys to finish school and are more likely to be married early, with the added risk of multiple births, ill-health, and gender-based violence.”

Mr. José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director General, speaks of the urgency of creating more vibrant environments for rural youth.

Mr. Graziano da Silva laid out the priorities to give young rural women better opportunities: developing better gender-sensitive policies; implementing legal reforms that give women full economic rights; building equal access to knowledge and education; supporting strong, equitable and inclusive rural institutions; and encouraging women’s full and meaningful participation in decision making.

He also took the opportunity of International Women’s Day to announce the launch of FAO’s Policy on Gender Equality: Attaining Food Security Goals in Agriculture and Rural Development, which provides the organization with a framework to achieve gender equality in all its technical work. The policy also commits FAO to integrating sex-disaggregated data in major statistical databases by 2015 and to targeting 30 percent of its operational work and budget at the regional and country levels to women-specific interventions by 2017.

Ms. Sisulu reiterated the importance of supporting rural institutions, which play a very important role in developing young women’s capacities, a point also underlined by Mr. Nwanze who explained that evidence shows young women do better when involved in community associations. Ms. Sisulu also evoked the need to reinforce innovative partnerships with the private sectors to create better work opportunities, adding “When we achieve equality of opportunities, the world will never be the same again. We will usher in a new era of food security and sustainable development.”

Strategies that build better environments for men and women

Ms. Clare Bishop-Sambrook from IFAD, Ms. Marcela Villarreal from FAO and Ms. Isatou Jallow from WFP discuss programmes that contribute to creating better opportunities for women in rural areas.

Ms.Clare Bishop-Sambrook of IFAD’s Policy and Technical Advisory Division described the agency’s work in outreach and mentoring in smallholder agricultural households, a relatively new type of intervention that help women and men share both their work and their income more equally. This approach has resulted in better cooperation and higher household production with concrete gains for both the women and men involved. Women have gained self-esteem, more secure control over land and resources, greater involvement in decisions about income and expenditure, and increased access to rural financial services, while men’s level of alcohol consumption has decreased.

Ms. Marcela Villarreal, Director of FAO’s Gender, Equity and Rural Employment Division, reiterated the crucial importance of creating opportunities in farming that match young people’s aspirations in order to stem the flow of migration to big cities and abroad. She talked of the Junior Farmer Field and Life School (JFFLS) developed in partnership with the International Labour Organization. The JFFLS provide young rural women and men with agricultural as well as life skills, preparing them for a better future. “Through the JFFLS, young men and women develop skills that are recognized by their communities as well as a sense of agency. They learn about risks in agriculture and in their own lives and how to make decisions to avert these risks,” further explaining that the JFFLS have played an important role in igniting young people’s interest in pursuing a career in agriculture.

Isatou Jallow, Chief of WFP’s Women, Children and Gender Division discussed the Purchase for Progress (P4P) programme, through which WFP buys directly from smallholder farmers to constitute their food aid stocks, and that is designed to fully include women smallholder farmers.

The event came to a close with the words of Ms. Yvette Azane Ngwemetoh, a young woman from Bamende in north-west Cameroun, who, for lack of economic opportunities in her region, migrated to Douane, the country’s economic capital, and from there to Rome, Italy in search of a better future. “If we had the right conditions, if we had the support to forge ahead, we would stay. I could live my dream of working on our land.”