Across the world, including Jammu and Kashmir, women in rural areas are often not given their due place or the window of opportunity to play an important part which they are thought to be able to play. Contrarily, importance is given to city and urban women in several areas such as education, employment, enterprising skills and entertainment and business.
In this context, the United Nations has established the International Day of Rural Women (IDRW) keeping in view that they could play a good hand in defending the world from hunger and poverty. In a statement, the UN said that achieving gender equality and empowering women is not only the right thing to do but is a critical ingredient in the fight against extreme poverty, hunger and malnutrition. On average, women make up more than 40% of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, going from 20% in Latin America to 50% or more in parts of Africa and Asia. Even then, they experience discrimination in land and property ownership, equal pay, participation in decision-making entities, and access to resources.
According to the UN, if women are given the same opportunities, the agricultural produce can go up from 2.5 to 4% in the poorest regions and the number of malnourished people is likely to go down from 12 to 17%. The main idea behind the international day’s theme is “Rural women cultivating good food for all”. It is an attractive and appealing line and in fact a tribute to the hardwork and hardships to rural women for their unique contribution to economy. The UN says we need to recognize the work of these heroines in the food systems of the world.
Additionally, by analyzing the invaluable contribution of rural women to development, the UN says that the key role women and girls play in ensuring the sustainability of rural households and communities, improving rural livelihoods and overall wellbeing, has been increasingly recognized. Women account for a substantial proportion of the agricultural labour force, including informal work, and perform the bulk of unpaid care and domestic work within families and households in rural areas. They make good contribution to agricultural production, food security and nutrition, land and natural resource management and building climate resilience.
Even so, in rural areas women and girls suffer disproportionately from multi-dimensional poverty. While extreme poverty has declined globally, the world’s one billion people, who continue to live in unacceptable conditions of poverty, are heavily concentrated in rural areas. In most regions the poverty rates are higher than those in urban areas. Yet smallholder agriculture produces nearly 80% of food in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa and supports the livelihoods of some 2.5 billion people. Female farmers may be as productive and enterprising as their male counterparts but are less able to access land, credit, agricultural inputs, markets, and high-value agri-food chains and obtain lower prices for their crops.
The International Labour Organization (ILO) decent work agenda offers an integrated framework for rural women’s empowerment, underlined by international labour standards, social dialogue and the recognition that rural women play a key role in climate action. UN Women supports the leadership and participation of rural women in shaping laws, strategies, policies, and programmes on issues that affect their lives. Training equips them with the skills to seek new livelihoods and adapt technology to their needs.
True, 80% women in rural areas in the present times haves access to education and about 15 to 20% women are able to enlist themselves for various government jobs ranging from teaching, healthcare, and administration to politics. This is a healthy percentage from a realistic point of view. But the question is: can rural women get the status they deserve for their hardwork? The question is not easy to answer.
What can be seen is that rural people —haves or have-nots— are displaying great concern and giving significant attention to the education of girls. At educational institutions (exceptions aside), the enrollment of girls outnumbers boys, an indication that educating girls falls among the top priorities.
Not only this, rural girls are in a position to play a key role in various socio-economic spheres of life apart from giving a useful contribution in agriculture/horticulture sectors.
Pertinently, rural women, who are not part of government sector, play a leading role in cultivating good food such as vegetables, fruits for all people. Though this great work by them does not get the much needed recognition, it is appreciable that these women are happy in rendering their selfless service to people.
The UN deserves appreciation for marking the IDRW because the day is significant on two counts: one, by observing it the contribution of rural women shall not stay in the background and thus loose its importance. Unless, the role of rural women is given prominence, the world is unlikely to recognize the significant role which they play in our life.
Two, by observing the day, the UN — comprising of about 190 sovereign countries—sends a right message across the globe that the contribution of rural women in global economy cannot be neglected and that we need to be grateful to their vital support in our life.
(The Author is Teacher and RK Columnist. He can be reached on: email@example.com)