Dryland Forestry

This Rural Women’s Day, let’s fight for improved education for rural women globally


The United Nations has designated October 15th every year as Rural Women’s Day.

This year, we want to highlight the importance of education for rural women, enabling them to safeguard biodiversity loss, protect natural resources and increase income-generating activities for their communities. In doing do, we improve not just the lives of women themselves, but the world’s food security, resilience and economic status.

We asked some of our WeCaN members to share their thoughts on why it is so important to advocate for improved access to education for rural women across the world – not just today, but every day.

1)    Rural women are vital for food security

When food reaches tables in family homes across the world, it is largely due to the the knowledge and commitment of rural women. On average, women make up more than 40 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries. However, less than 15 percent of landholders worldwide are women, and they often have fewer chances to make agricultural decisions and even benefit from productive resources, technologies, services, markets and social protection. 

Elizabeth Mpofu, Founder and Director of the African Women’s Collaborative for Healthy Food Systems in Zimbabwe, says there is not enough recognition for the role women play in agriculture: “To eradicate hunger and end poverty in the family, society, and country, rural women should be educated and empowered to speak up for their rights and influence the policies that affect them.”

Through better education, women can improve their ability to participate in public life and decision-making processes, gain knowledge of modern agricultural technologies, and increase their opportunities to finance for climate smart agriculture. Leveraging ICTs, digital agriculture and innovative solutions, educated women can drive efforts to build climate smart resilience, promote the transiition to a circular economy and continute to food systems goals.

Sarah Pima, founder of Human Dignity and Environmental Care Foundation (HUDEFO) in Tanzania, is adamant that we must recognize the importance of rural women to global food security. “Rural women are catalyst for food security, and a catalyst for development,” she says. “We eat, we enjoy [food] because of you rural women. We are proud of you!”

According to Santi Lisana, WeCaN focal point in Indonesia: “Education is important to...have a good comprehensive understanding of...civil rights.” As Lydia Miyella, Director of the Maaltaaba Peasant Women Farmer’s Cooperative in Ghana, says, “Let’s help educate rural women to stand up for their rights.”

2)    Women work for conflict resolution

Women often play a vital role in resolving conflict in communities. With improved education, women can strengthen their conflict-solving abilities and use them on a higher level. For example, access to cooking fuel can be a source of conflict in rural areas, so involving women and ensuring their access to cooking fuel should be a part of every food-related humanitarian intervention.

Lama Awad, Acting Country Director of International Alert, highlights the importance of women’s peacekeeping skills in future development globally. International Alert strives to break cycles of violence and build sustainable peace by working with people directly affected by violent conflict to find lasting solutions. 

 “Women and girls assume important roles in resolution of conflicts within their communities and contribute greatly to future local development,” she says. “To that end, [we] strive to create safe spaces for expression and dialogue, learning and sharing to help break gender stereotypes and empower women and girls to play a catalytic role in the achievement of transformational economic, environmental, and social changes required for sustainable development.” 

3)    Women hold great ancestral knowledge 

Women – especially Indigenous women - are guardians of ancestral agricultural knowledge that can help protect biodiversity and food security through, for example, ancient methods of cultivating plants and vegetables in tough climates. Recognising and protecting this contribution to development – especially in rural areas – is vital, especially as climate change continues to exacerbate droughts, floods and temperature changes that can have devastating effects on crops.  Greater education will allow women to build on this knowledge further, and access networks to disseminate their knowledge and upscale their successful practices in similar contexts.  

According to Fiorella Herrera, from the NGO We Can Be Heroes based in Peru, “the role of women in Peru is fundamental in the different ecosystems we have.” She says, “For me, the exhibition of the great work and [knowledge] of women is essential for their personal growth and to be able to empower future generations so that their ancestral knowledge endures over time.”

4)    Rural women are superwomen!

“Women everywhere have demonstrated resilience economically, socially, physically, ecologically, and financially to sustain the food systems globally,” says Alima Sagito-Saeed, from the Savannah Women Integrated Development Agency in Ghana.

All these reasons – and so many more –  illustrate the pivotal role that women play in development, especially in rural areas. They are responsible for nourishing their families with food and water, take on hours of unpaid domestic work, and still make up a substantial proportion of the agricultural labour force. They hold unique skills and knowledge that are vital for agricultural production, food security and nutrition, resource management, and building climate resilience.

Only through education can we challenge this.

“Rural women are subject to deeply entrenched discrimination that has denied them education, decision-making roles, financial autonomy, respect and visibility over generations”, says Ofure Odibeli, Outreach and Communications Manager of the African Women’s Collaborative for Healthy Food Systems in Nigeria. “The International Day of Rural Women is a golden opportunity to commit to the education of rural women to increase their confidence and capacity to play a part in decision-making roles and influence policies that prioritise and support their livelihoods and communities.”

Blanche Sonon, president of Social Watch Benin, agrees. “The International Day of Rural Women is important in that it reminds the world of the significant contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, to agricultural development, food security and the eradication of poverty.”

So today, FAO’s NFO Dryland team joins with all our WeCaN members to take the opportunity to say a big thank you to rural women across the world for role. We are committed to supporting them tackle global crises, advancing gender equality, improving equal access to education and encouraging women’s full participation in public life. 

Footnote: The WeCaN Nurturing Community of Knowledge Practice for Women in dryland forests and agrosilvopastoral systems provides a platform to empower women to raise their voices and join together to tackle discrimination and structural social barriers. It offers a mutual learning space for women leaders to share experiences, good practices and lessons learned, through knowledge exchanges, partnership building and capacity development opportunities between South-South countries.