Across the world, food systems depend on the daily work of rural women. They play a variety of essential roles, from raising crops and processing their harvest, to preparing food and distributing their products, ensuring that both their families and communities are nourished.
Rural women constitute one-fourth of the world’s population and they play a critical role in the rural and national economies of most of the African countries.
As the world observes the International Day of Rural Women on 15 October we reflect on their struggle through pictures by Lucas Ledwaba and text from the United Nations Women and the African Union.
In most parts, they participate in crop production and livestock care, provide food, water and fuel for their families, and engage in off-farm activities to diversify their families’ livelihoods. In addition, they carry out most of the unpaid care work in rural areas including caring for children, older persons and the sick. They are also the predominant labour providers in agri-businesses and agro-industries.
Yet paradoxically those same women often have less access to food and a higher risk of hunger, malnutrition, undernutrition and food insecurity than their male counterparts.
The reasons for this disconnect from their right to food include unequal power relations and discriminatory gender norms, for example, resulting in women eating last and least in the household, as well as their disproportionate responsibility for unpaid caregiving and domestic work.
Despite the planet’s capacity to provide enough good food for everyone, an increasing number of people are unable to meet their food and nutrition needs.
This is especially true in the wake of escalating climate and environmental crises, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic that has disrupted school feeding programmes, interrupted supply chains and severely disrupted the livelihoods of small-scale producers, migrant and seasonal workers and local food vendors.
In 2020, some 2.37 billion people did not have access to adequate food. This is an increase of almost 20 per cent in just one year, where those most affected were again rural women and girls.
The UN Secretary-General has called for a transformation of our food systems to ensure that all people have access to healthy diets that contribute to the restoration of nature, address climate change and are adapted to local circumstances. Rebuilding the broken global food system and supporting diverse and healthy food crop production for local, national and regional markets is also part of UN Women’s new Feminist Plan for Sustainability and Social Justice.
The Feminist Plan calls for strengthened partnerships between governments and civil society to scale up gender-responsive agroecology, an alternative to industrial agriculture that has proven benefits for women small-scale farmers, and which supports food security and protects precious biodiversity and ecosystems.
The International Day of Rural Women was established by the United Nationals General Assembly in its resolution A/RES/62/136 of 18 December 2007 and observed on 15 day of October every year. This day, recognizes “the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.”
The Department for Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment Agriculture of the African Union is currently leading interventions under the theme “Strengthening the contribution of rural women to sustainable food systems and trade.”
This International Day of Rural Women offers us a renewed opportunity to commit to a different way of organizing our world, to build on the vision of the Feminist Plan and on the outcomes and multistakeholder commitments of the recent United Nations Food System Summit, so that rural women benefit equally from their productivity, with good food enjoyed by all. – www.unwomen.org/www.au.int