Thursday, March 8, 2012

International Women's Day 2012

The theme for International Women's Day this year is: Empower Rural Women - End Hunger and Poverty.  Below I have included Goal 1 from the United Nations Millennium Development Goals.  

"In many countries women supply most of the labour needed to produce food crops and often control the use and sale of food produce grown on plots they manage. However, the gender disparities in ownership of, access to, and control of livelihood assets (such as land, water, energy, credit, knowledge, and labour) negatively affect women's food production." 

 Goal 1: Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger

Rural Women's Poor Access to Infrastructure in Rural Areas Limits their Opportunities to Reduce Poverty and Hunger
Figure 1
Figure 1: Average hours per week spent fetching wood and water in rural areas of selected Sub-Saharan
African countries
Source: UNDP 2011
Rural women spend more time than urban women and men in reproductive and household work, including time spent obtaining water and fuel, caring for children and the sick, and processing food. This is because of poor rural infrastructure and services as well as culturally assigned roles that severely limit women's participation in employment opportunities (see also Goals 3 and 7).
Faced with a lack of services and infrastructure, rural women carry a great part of the burden of providing water and fuel for their households. In rural areas of Guinea, for example, women spend more than twice as much time fetching wood and water per week than men, while in Malawi they spend over eight times more than men on the same tasks. Girls in rural Malawi also spend over three times more time than boys fetching wood and water (Figure 1). Collectively, women from Sub-Saharan Africa spend about 40 billion hours a year collecting water [2].
Figure 2
Figure 2
Source: FAO 2011
For these reasons and because rural women tend to underreport their employment as contributing family members, according to available data female employment in agriculture is consistently lower than it is for men across the total adult population in developing countries, although it varies greatly by region (Figure 2). The jobs of rural women who are employed tend to be shorter term, more precarious and less protected than those of rural men and urban people. The lack of flexible hours to accommodate family work combined with wage and job discrimination and limited representation of women in workers' organizations are partly responsible for this.
As an Important Source of Livelihoods for the Poorest, Agriculture is a Means to Eradicate Extreme Poverty, Especially for Rural Women
Despite women's lower overall employment rates, among employed women the proportion working in agriculture as opposed to other sectors is usually equal to or higher than the male equivalent. Almost 70 percent of employed women in South Asia and more than 60 percent of employed women in Sub-Saharan Africa work in agriculture [3]. The substantial involvement of rural women in agriculture, primarily as unpaid or contributing family workers, highlights the importance of developing policies and programmes that address the needs, interests and constraints of women as well as men in the agriculture sector. This includes revamping and strengthening extension systems to be more responsive to and inclusive of women, addressing structural barriers to women's access to productive resources, and improving financial systems to respond to the needs of rural women producers and entrepreneurs, including to move out of the less productive segments of the rural economy [4].
Improving Rural Women's Access to Productive Resources is Central to Addressing Hunger
On average, women make up about 43 percent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries. Evidence indicates that if these women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 percent, raising total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent, in turn reducing the number of hungry people in the world by 12 to 17 percent [5]. For rural women and men, land is perhaps the most important household asset to support production and provide for food, nutrition and income security. Yet an international comparison of agricultural census data shows that due to a range of legal and cultural constraints in land inheritance, ownership and use, less than 20 percent of landholders are women [6]. Women represent fewer than 5 percent of all agricultural land holders in North Africa and West Asia, while across Sub-Saharan Africa, women average 15 percent of agricultural land holders [7].
Extensive evidence shows that rural female-headed households also have more limited access than male-headed households to a whole range of critical productive assets and services required for rural livelihoods, including fertilizer, livestock, mechanical equipment, improved seed varieties, extension services and agricultural education [8]. Similarly, in seven out of nine countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America, female-headed households were less likely to use credit than male-headed households [9].
Figure 3
Figure 3
Source: FAO, 2011. FAO elaboration.
Rural Women's Economic Empowerment Can Help Reduce the Number of Underweight Children
A large body of research indicates that putting more income in the hands of women translates into improved child nutrition, health and education [10], yet data on child nutrition disaggregated by both rural/urban location and sex are sparse. In all developing regions [11] of the world, rural children are more likely to be underweight than their urban counterparts. From 1990 to 2008, the proportion of children under five in developing regions who were underweight declined from 31 per cent to 26 per cent, yet in parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, and Asia, the disparity between rural and urban children increased [12]. Figure 3 indicates that in South and Central America, rural children are about 1.8 times more likely to be underweight than their urban counterparts; other regions do not fare much better. Improvements in maternal nutrition, access to water and sanitation and health services, all of which are lacking in many rural areas in least developed countries (LDCs), would also contribute greatly to addressing this situation.

Steph (Wheler) Langdon, RD

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