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. 

Small scale farmer Kgadi Monyamane from Mashashane in Limpopo prepares seeds for planting ahead of the rainy season. This year, the International Day of Rural Women will celebrate the vital role that rural women and girls play in building food system and participating in trade. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba

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.

Jane Malejane a subsistence small scale farmer from Motsane village in Limpopo says the COVID-19 corona virus lockdown has impacted their business negatively affecting both their income generation and food security. The African Union notes that 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.
Photo: Lucas Ledwaba

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.

Rural women carry most of the responsibility of producing and preparing food for their families. 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.
Photo: Lucas Ledwaba

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.

Mabotjane Thobejane carries a food hamper donated by the Mining Affected Communities United in Action during the covid-19 level 4 lockdown in Sekhukhune, South Africa. Women in rural areas were the most affected by teh lockdown as they could not work the land or seek temporary work Photo: Lucas Ledwaba

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.

In rural villages women carry the extra burden of collecting firewood for fuel which entails walking long distances and spending long stretches of time away from home. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba
Vhusiwana Matsindi and Sarah Mukwevho wash their clothes at the Ritavi river. They are both unemployed and can’t afford to buy water and the one drum delivered to them once in a while is not enough for household chores.
Photo: Lucas Ledwaba

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.

Women in rural areas carry the responsibility of caring for children among other responsibilities including working the land and doing other household chores Photo: Lucas Ledwaba

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.”

Part of the struggle faced by rural women involves walking long distances to perform chores or attend meetings and events like these two women walking to a community commemoration service in Sgidi village in Eastern Cape.
Photo: Lucas Ledwaba

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.”

A woman works on a tea plantation in Limpopo province – many women are forced to seek to support their families as most households struggle to survive solely on subsistence farming or a single income. Photo: Lucas Ledwaba

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *