Highlights from UN Recommendations for Rural Women’s Rights

14973762423_2a0d3040da_h Currently representing one-fourth of the world’s population, rural women contribute extensively to agriculture, rural development, food and nutrition security, and poverty reduction. On March 4, the United Nations published new recommendations for state governments to acknowledge and protect the rights of rural women through their “General Recommendation no. 34 on the Rights of Rural Women” from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.

The international treaty instructs States to take responsibility for the wellbeing and empowerment of rural women within a variety of contexts, like access to education to attain literacy, proper health and household nutrition, and economic independence, as well as promoting women’s participation in decision-making and program planning at the home, community, and policymaking levels.

Affirming women as “drivers of sustainable development”, the Recommendation calls for State parties to mainstream gender-sensitive perspectives in all agricultural and rural development policies, strategies, plans, and programs (A. 35, pg. 10). This partly means establishing gender units within senior levels of rural development units, i.e. Ministries of Agriculture, Ministries of Health, etc., to enable women to be valued stakeholders, decision-makers, and beneficiaries at all levels (A. 36a, pg. 10).

15591656031_a651e1ebc2_zRural women dominate many regions’ local and global agricultural value chains as producers, suppliers, workers and consumers, though they are often formally unrecognized as such (E. 49, pg. 14). The Recommendation calls for the design and delivery of agricultural extension and advisory services to be aimed at both women and men clients (D. 45, pg. 13). This includes the employment of more female agricultural scientist and extensionists to ensure that women have access to gender-equitable and -responsive programs to improve their technical knowledge on food harvesting, processing, marketing and entrepreneurship, increasing farm productivity and economic empowerment (D. 46-47, pg. 13; E. 52 G, pg. 15).

Additionally, rural women have few rights over land and natural resources, so it is vital that the State take action to guarantee women’s rights to land, water, and other natural resources, including “promoting access to and meaning participation in agricultural cooperatives”, which greatly support rights, knowledge and information-sharing amongst rural women (G.1.59a, pg. 17). Also, since rural women mostly practice organic and sustainable farming practices, the State must also enact policies that support women famers as organic producers, enabling access to quality seeds, tools, knowledge and information to continue in sustainable agriculture (G.2. 60-62a, pg. 17).

Further concerning agricultural extension, the Recommendation addresses food insecurity and malnutrition as well as access to markets, calling States to ensure women’s food sovereignty rights, access to quality markets, agricultural loans and credits, and increased economic and entrepreneurial skills, all of which gender-responsive agricultural extension services help to provide (G3, G4, G5, pg. 18-19).

Women in shop
Finally, the Committee highlights the need for more gender-responsive technologies – labor-saving, irrigation, water harvesting – aimed at helping rural women in agriculture. The Recommendation further calls for an increase in useful and accessible information and communication technologies and mobile networks that lead to better education and networks to empower girls and women (G.6, G7, pg. 20).

There is great need and great opportunity for agricultural extension to ensure that these measures are taken to achieve rural women’s equality, especially as producers, marketers, and consumers across the developing world. INGENAES currently works or will soon work with public institutions and private organizations pursuing gender-responsive and nutrition-sensitive agricultural extension and advisory service provision for men and women farmers in Bangladesh, Zambia, and Nepal, and Honduras. For more information, visit the country pages on our website.

The rest of the General Recommendation can be found here.

Photo credits: 1 & 2. A.Bohn 2015; 3. IFAD 2015