FAO Regional Office for Africa

Make a difference for rural women and girls

International Day of Rural Women

14 October 2020, Accra – For International Day of  Rural Women marked globally on 15 October, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is challenging people to make a difference for all rural women and girls, especially considering the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In some African countries, containment measures related to the pandemic have affected rural women’s income-generating activities, reducing economic opportunities and access to nutritious foods, while also increasing women’s workloads and the risks of gender-based violence.

“Building rural women and girls resilience and empowering them to be equal agents for development in Africa is an urgent imperative now more than ever,” said Abebe Haile-Gabriel, FAO Assistance Director-General and Regional Representative for Africa, ahead of International Day Rural Women. “The COVID-19 pandemic has made glaringly clear that while women play a key role inside the house through all the care and domestic functions they perform and outside through their contribution to rural households’ livelihoods, they often bear the biggest brunt of crises and are not consulted in reconstruction efforts,” he said.

While rural women are often at the forefront of crisis response, leveraging their resourcefulness and creativity, as evidenced during the COVID-19 pandemic, they are often not at the table when it comes to decision-making. Building back better needs to include more rural women and girls and their organizations in planning and decision-making.

Building rural women’s resilience

This year’s International Day of Rural Women theme is “Building rural women’s resilience in the wake of COVID-19”. It aims to raise awareness of rural women’s struggles, their needs and their critical role in our society.

In Africa, women are the backbone of their households, communities, and rural economies. They play essential roles in food production, processing, and marketing, in agrobiodiversity conservation and management, and they are the champions of nutrition. However, their potential as critical agents of change in fighting poverty, hunger and malnutrition still remains largely untapped due to the existing structural barriers and discriminatory social norms that restrain their decision-making power and leadership at various levels.

Recent analysis jointly conducted by FAO and the African Union Commission (AUC) has highlighted that wide gender gaps exists in most targets of the Malabo Declaration, notably in terms of productivity including access to and control and ownership of land, post-harvest losses, food insecurity and nutrition, poverty, employment, and resilience to climate change. Lack of equal access to agricultural trainings, services and finance compound the problem.

The results of this analysis, together with concrete recommendations for policy makers to accelerate action to close the gender gap in agriculture and rural development, have been condensed in the FAO-AUC report “Leave No One Behind. Regional Outlook on Gender and Agri-food Systems” which will be launched at the 31st Session of the Regional Conference for Africa later this month.

“Let’s not forget that in addition to removing the structural barriers that rural women and girls face, we need an equal if not stronger focus on changing the socio cultural norms and intersecting forms of discrimination that keep them at the margins of our society,”  Jocelyn Brown Hall, Deputy Regional Representative and FAO Representative to Ghana  said. “Only by putting women and girls at the centre of concerted efforts to build back better, by giving them voice and supporting them in decision making and leadership roles, we can say that we are serious about transforming our food systems to be more productive and efficient and more socially inclusive and just,” she said.

While the pandemic has highlighted the potential of digital technologies and innovation, it has also become clear that rural women and girls are not and will not be in a position to benefit from digital innovation unless the existing digital gender gap is addressed.

International Day of Rural Women is a call for all decision-makers in Africa to base their plans, strategies and policies on gender analyses and data and make sure that the policies, strategies and programmes equally benefit men and women in the fight against hunger and poverty.