INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY: Global Leaders Prioritize Empowering Rural Women

From World Vision:

Despite their huge contribution to rural economies, the voices of rural women are largely absent from key decision-making discussions about food security, agriculture development, and poverty alleviation. With 1.6 billion women living in rural areas, and 43 percent of women constituting the agricultural labor force in developing countries, global leaders say their silence can be heard.

Empowering rural women and encouraging their contributions to addressing poverty, alleviating hunger, stimulating growth in communities and nations, and improving child well-being are key issues that global leaders are discussing at the 56th session of the United Nations (UN) Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). The CSW is the principal global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and the advancement of women. Representatives gather annually to evaluate progress, identify challenges, set global standards and formulate concrete policies.

World Vision attended CSW discussions at the UN about grassroots solutions by women to sustain livelihoods and address land rights, the important role that boys and men play in achieving gender equality in rural communities and the development of a tool to evaluate and demonstrate effectiveness of programming in increasing women’s empowerment in agriculture.

World Vision also sponsored a parallel event at the United Nations called, ‘Voices of Rural Women: Perspectives on Development, Agriculture and Environment,’ in partnership with the United Methodist Women, a US-based faith organisation for women with approximately 800,000 members. Panel speakers discussed household food security, food sovereignty, agricultural training and organic farming with 125 attendees.

Panellists shared about challenges facing rural women as well as innovative, grassroots solutions that empower women while also improving the well-being of their families. Several participants highlighted the importance of empowering local women’s collectives and associations as a means of increasing agriculture support and training as well as economic empowerment with savings groups. The grassroots women leaders shared recommendations for policy makers about increasing access for women to agricultural training, literacy classes, technology and markets.

In an effort to elevate the voices of rural women, World Vision invited Shinina Shani, area development programme manager for WV Kenya, to speak as a panellist.

“I was raised by one of the greatest rural women – my mother,” said Ms. Shani. She emphasized – through her own life story – the need to empower women by beginning with empowering girls.

As former sponsored child, Ms. Shani grew up in a rural Maasai village and evaded female genital mutilation with the support of her father. The elder Mr Shani courageously refused his daughters to undergo the procedure despite cultural pressure. Now, Ms. Shani advocates against this harmful traditional cultural practice on behalf of young girls.

With World Vision’s support in paying her school fees, she also became the first person to graduate from university in her village and now supports other women by educating them on how to be successful in agriculture, health and education ventures.

The panel included four grassroots women leaders, a UN Food and Agriculture Organization representative and Jean Kapata, Zambian Deputy Minister of Community Development – Mother and Child Health.

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