Equality today equals sustainability tomorrow

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Women IWD

Rural women play a crucial role in the provision of food security. Many of them, however, face major challenges. These limit their ability to contribute to food and farming. Our Foundation seeks to reduce some of the barriers. Examples come from across Africa and Asia.

Their role is so important that as well as International Women’s Day, the United Nations also celebrates the International Day of Rural Women. But a 2022 UN report on women’s rights raised particular concerns. “Current disruption to food and energy markets”, it noted, “has intensified gender disparities, increasing rates of food insecurity, malnutrition, and energy poverty.” Suitably, the motto of last year’s International Women’s Day was Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow. This year’s theme is equally relevant: This year it is all about how we can #EmbraceEquity for a better world. 

Today, fewer than 15 percent of agricultural landowners are female. Women farmers make up the majority of those in the lowest income band. They also typically bear additional responsibilities such as childcare, cooking and the vital task of fetching water. Poor rural women are much more likely than their urban counterparts to be married by the age of 18. In the poorest agricultural communities, very few girls complete secondary education.

Despite social and institutional barriers, rural women around the world make a crucial contribution to food security, climate resilience and the economy. The UN say that giving them the same opportunities as men could raise agricultural production “by 2.5-4 percent in the poorest regions and reduce the number of malnourished people by 12-15 percent.” However, the obstacles that women face restrict their full potential, leaving them, “far behind men and their urban counterparts.”

Support for women in agriculture is a central aspect of our Foundation’s work – women such as Daw Win Khaing from Myanmar. She grows mung beans on contract for a seed producer partnered with our Seeds2B program. Fatouma Diarra in Mali and Penda Sow in Senegal are CEMA machinery center representatives. They both use the RiceAdvice app to support local farmers in crop production. In Bangladesh, Shimu Begum has overcome many challenges to run a Farmers’ Hub enterprise. She now employs several women and men, growing and selling vegetable seed and giving advice to other farmers.

In Nigeria, our Foundation is providing training to female farmers to become agriculture entrepreneurs, or “agripreneurs”. The training gives them the tools and skills that can help them achieve greater economic independence through farming. In the Chinese province of Sichuan, female-only SFSA programs on farming skills and technologies are giving confidence to women smallholder fruit-growers to network and access more profitable markets.