Rural Women In A Changing World: Opportunities And Challenges

Rural Women In A Changing World: Opportunities And Challenges (UN Report)

Rural women play a critical role in the rural economies of both developed and developing countries. In most parts of the developing world 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 vital reproductive functions in caring for children, older persons and the sick.

To understand the situation of rural women, it is necessary to examine the full diversity of their experiences in the context of the changing rural economy, including their position within household and community structures; the gender division of labour; their access to and control over resources; and their participation in decision-making. Rural women are not a homogeneous group; there are important differences among women in rural areas based on class, age, marital status, ethnic background, race and religion.

In many countries, gender-based stereotypes and discrimination deny rural women equitable access to and control over land and other productive resources, opportunities for employment and income-generating
activities, access to education and health care, and opportunities for participation in public life.

Rural development is affected by the ongoing processes of globalization: the commercialization of agriculture, the liberalization of international trade and markets for food and other agricultural products, the increase of labour migration, and the privatization of resources and services. These transformations do not occur in a vacuum but interact with other complex processes at different levels, including domestic economic policies, local livelihood strategies and sociocultural structures and practices.

The changes associated with globalization, diversification of rural livelihoods, increased labour mobility, climate change and food insecurity, as well as other global trends, have brought both gains and challenges for women. Although there are common trends, there are also major differences according to regions, countries and even within countries, as well as diversity among women based on class, ethnicity, religion, age and other factors.

The HIV/AIDS pandemic, and in some countries the effects of conflict and its aftermath, have increased the responsibilities of women in rural areas for productive and care work. Climate change and food insecurity are
creating new challenges for women in rural areas.

The changes under way in rural areas have a direct impact on women’s lives, in both positive and negative ways. Economic changes can intensify gender biases. For example, land privatization programmes can undermine women’s traditional land-use rights. On the other hand, women’s increased access to paid employment and independent cash income in some areas can positively affect intra-household dynamics and the perception of women’s roles in society. Many women, particularly younger women, have found that independent sources of income give them the confidence to question traditional views of rural women’s roles both in the household and in society, and to challenge gender biases in access to resources.

Despite attention to rural women in international frameworks such as the Beijing Platform for Action, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the Millennium Development Goals, which recognize their contributions, rural women continue to face serious challenges in effectively carrying out their multiple roles within their families and communities. Their rights and priorities are often insufficiently addressed by national development strategies and gender equality policies. Effectively addressing emerging issues, such as climate change and the food crisis, requires their full involvement.

It is important to monitor the changes in the rural economy from a gender equality perspective. As the World Bank has pointed out, the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women is “smart economics” Given the critical role of women in rural areas, addressing gender inequalities can increase the efficiency of resource use and enhance rural development outcomes. Issues such as land and property
rights, access to services and resources, food security, employment and income and participation in decision making need to be taken into consideration.

An important step for increasing the visibility of the role and contribution of rural women was the establishment by the General Assembly of the International Day for Rural Women, to be commemorated on 15 October every year, beginning in 2008.

This publication focuses specifically on the situation of rural women in developing countries in the context of changes in the rural economy. The publication aims to contribute to greater recognition of women’s contributions to the social, economic and political development of rural areas and recommends strategies for supporting their contributions. It highlights changes in social structures and patterns of mobility that directly affect their situation. It raises critical issues for improving the situation of rural women in terms of strengthening their capabilities, increasing their access to and control over opportunities and resources, enhancing their agency and leadership, and ensuring their rights and security.

Linking Rural Women To The Globa Market

Transformation in rural areas is linking rural women more closely to the global market. People buy flowers in New York packaged by women workers in Ecuador. A consumer in Sweden buys cheap clothing produced by rural women workers who have migrated to towns and cities in search of work in Asia. A Jamaican domestic worker now living in Canada sends home money to her family living in the rural areas. A South African woman worker picks fruit destined for a European supermarket.

A woman farmer in Uganda moves from producing food on her own small plot to farming crops under contract to an exporter. A Moroccan seamstress sews clothing that will soon be on a shelf in a Spanish department store. A woman in a village in Bangladesh makes money by selling the services of her cellphone, and a woman in a village in Jordan is able to find the best market for her handicrafts through the Internet. The extent to which rural women can effectively utilize these market opportunities is dependent on their access to and control over productive resources, assets and services, as well as their roles in decision-making processes.

Culled From United Nations Archive 

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