Gender equality for rural women and girls
WORDS BY KIERA FAHEY
International Women’s Day is an international day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It also serves as a call to action to gender parity. The first International Women’s Day occurred over a century ago, in 1911, and although the issues have evolved over this time, the fight for gender equality remains.
A good indicator of the present challenges of women is reflected in the priority theme chosen for the UN’s annual Commission on the Status of Women. This year, the UN Economic and Social Council has chosen the issue of ‘Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls’. With Australia’s vast landscape, the issue of rural rights is of particular pertinence.
What are the challenges faced by rural women and girls?
It has been found that almost every gender and development indicator reveals that rural women are worse off than both rural men and their female urban counterparts. This makes rural women one of the most vulnerable groups globally.
Rural women often face structural barriers to fulfilment of their human rights, and are less likely to be in leadership positions, decision-making roles, and in paid work. Trends were also found that rural women and girls were less educated than men and boys, and had less access to information, skills and training.
The majority of the 1 billion people who live in extreme poverty live in rural areas and are often smallholder farmers and agricultural workers. Their poverty is exacerbated by lack of services, lack of social protection and the unstable nature of the agricultural sector.
What does the UN recommend?
The 2018 Report highlights six areas improvement:
Attaining the right to an adequate standard of living
Public investment is integral to ensuring women are given access to productive resources, financial services, information, energy solutions, social protection and resources needed to enjoy an adequate standard of living.
Ensuring the rights of rural women to land and land tenure security
Grant women rights to land ownership and productive assets, supported by adequate legal and policy framework, and implementation.
Strengthening food security and nutrition for rural women and girls
Globally, women are more likely to experience food security than men, and a third of women of reproductive age suffer from anaemia. This can be improved through better access to financing, technology, information and social protection.
Addressing violence and harmful practices against rural women and girls
One third of women have experience physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner, and genital mutilation and early marriage are still common. Recommendations include large-scale public awareness and advocacy, increased education, and mobile technologies to access support.
Ensuring access to health care and sexual and reproductive health and rights
Rural women face difficulty due to distance; a rural women is 38% less likely than an urban to give birth assisted by a skilled professional. In addition to improved access to health services, the UN recommends more safe drinking water, and improved sanitation and hygiene.
Providing quality education for rural girls and women
Poverty, distance, and lack of qualified teachers mean rural women don’t enjoy the same standard of education. Improvements are possible through access to ICT and information especially mobile technology, universal free education and educational facilities with qualified teachers.
This International Women’s Day, whilst we celebrate both the successes and enduring challenges to gender equality in the 21st century, let us turn our minds to the most vulnerable group globally, the females in rural areas. There are many actions that can be taken by policymakers to ensure human rights and equality, through ensuring basic infrastructure and services. However, change can also stem from our own attitudes. It is time to acknowledge the integral role of women in rural industries and agriculture, and grant them the same respect and rights as rural men.