We stand with rural women for sustainable agriculture and development

International Day of Rural Women 2020

©FAO/Akmaral Sman


Rural women face multiple challenges from systemic discrimination in accessing land and natural resources, the burden of unpaid work, and inequality within the family, to a lack of infrastructure and services. They are often engaged in work that is insecure, poorly paid, or not covered by social protection and at risk of being forced into adult and even child marriage, as well as excluded from leadership and decision-making positions at all levels.

On the International Day of Rural Women, FAO urges the recognition of women’s significant role in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security, and eradicating rural poverty. 

In Europe and Central Asia, the status of rural women is the most advanced globally; however, gender-based discrimination persists in the region. The situation varies within the sub-regions, but in most countries, women living in rural and remote areas are more likely to suffer from discrimination and poverty.

In Georgia, for example, 9–25 percent of rural advisory service employees are women. Still, according to UN Women, women in general are less informed about the rural advisory services than men are. In Uzbekistan, women earn about 40–47 percent less of what men earn. About a quarter of working women in Turkey (rural and urban) assume full responsibility for childcare. The majority of women are thus employed at home or part-time to balance out childcare with work. Kyrgyz women are underrepresented in political roles, despite their proportion among local government and municipal employees.

Acknowledging the role of rural women, FAO continues to work with national and international partners, civil society, and beneficiaries in Europe and Central Asia. FAO has helped achieve gender equality at the policy and strategic level, as well as address gender gaps within the communities through women’s economic empowerment.

©FAO/Eleonora Faizullaeva; ©FAO

Gender-responsive policy work

To manage forests sustainably, women from forest-dependent communities should be involved, too. Realizing that, Uzbekistan, in close partnership with FAO, has introduced gender equality principles into policies and practices of forest management. A milestone achievement is development of the first-ever, long-term, budgeted gender strategy of the Forestry Committee, which established the Consultative-Executive Council and gender coordinators in each forestry enterprise responsible for gender strategy implementation.

“Almost all women living in forests are interested in gaining knowledge and skills on new, alternative income opportunities and we, the state forestry organizations, try to engage them as much as possible, as women bring order, discipline, responsibility, reliability, and success,” said Rano Bozorova. 

“For us it is, ultimately, not only to improve the economic status of households, but also strengthen economic potential, women’s empowerment in the family and society, and encourage socialization and active participation in the life of their communities.” Rano Bozorova, the only female director out of 100 forestry organizations in Uzbekistan

Gender-sensitive advisory services

In Georgia,extension specialists of the government’s Informational Consultation Centerare now familiar with FAO’s Gender and Rural Advisory Service Assessments tools as a practical guide for mainstreaming gender in extension work. One hundred and three specialists have been trained by FAO on tools to conduct gender analysis and identify the different needs of women and men farmers.

We still think that agriculture is mainly men’s work and there is no space for women in it. I understood that this is a stereotypical thinking only after the gender training and realized that all of us could contribute to breaking these norms and improve women’s access to the information of extensionist,” said Iago Kochiashvili, chief specialist at the Informational Consultation Center, Georgia.“Many women smallholder farmers used to approach me about issues of home gardening, poultry, and greenhouse production, and only now have I realized that they are legitimate clients! I learned that women, for many reasons, have less opportunities to reach out to our services, and therefore, addressing their needs should be of the same priority as others.”

Women’s entrepreneurship is supported in Azerbaijan. Three hundred rural women received on-the-job training offered by FAO, the Ministry of Agriculture, rural advisory services, and other partners in the field, to secure their income from activities promoting local food. Engaging the national media can help reduce gender-based stereotypes toward women’s entrepreneurship. These interventions will be complemented by training relevant national institutions on developing gender-responsive policies and programmes.

©FAO/Nozim Kalandarov

A multi-country FAO initiative on integrated natural resource management in dry and saline areas in Tajikistan actively engages rural women to participate in locally-established farmer field schools, and places greater emphasis on ensuring the equal participation of women in local planning processes. Today, over half of rural women beneficiaries are directly engaged in project activities and many beneficiaries share their success stories to empower their peers.

Awareness raising on preventing harmful practices

Awareness raising campaigns advocate for the prevention of harmful practices, such as child and forced marriage or bride-kidnapping in Kyrgyzstan. FAO, together with the UN Gender Theme Groups and UN Women, support women and men community members to organize theaters, discussions, flash mobs, and sports events to prevent violence that stands in the way of economic and social development.

“Every third woman in Kyrgyzstan has experienced domestic violence at least once in her lifetime, and those living in rural areas are the most disadvantaged crisis centers have limited capacity and almost no shelter services exist for those who seek help. Forced marriages and bride-kidnapping are still acute and these harmful practices limit a lot of opportunities for rural women,” explained a Kyrgyz trainer on an anonymous basis.“We help women to gain skills in agriculture, but very often face challenges when our beneficiaries suffer from domestic violence or, suddenly, our best participant, a young woman, goes missing from the training due to issues of forced marriage – therefore, we always try to raise awareness and spread information of available services for women about such difficult situations.”

The first International Day of Rural Women was observed on 15 October 2008. The idea of honouring rural women with a special day was put forward at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, in 1995.

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1. No poverty, 2. Zero hunger, 5. Gender equality