A thought for rural women

“Would the world stand by if it were men who were dying just for completing their reproductive functions?” Migiro, UN deputy secretary general 2007


I don’t think so.

This coming Saturday, spare a thought for women in rural areas, it is International Day for Rural Women.

Established by the UN General Assembly in December 2007, this day recognises “the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.”

This commemoration is not new though, many countries have been recognising World Rural Women’s Day for over 10 years now.

The fact that it falls on the eve of World Food Day which is on Sundayis no coincidence.

According to the Rural Poverty Report 2011 (available on www.ifad.org) although men, women and children are struggling to make a living, it’s the rural women who mostly bear the brunt of poverty.

They spend an inordinate amount of time working in the fields, looking for firewood to cook, fetching water and doing the household chores as well.

Any income that these women make is largely used up in supporting the family.

Even though the following testimony is from a 70-year-old Senegalese woman about her day in the fields, it represents what many in sub-Saharan African countries are going through:

“I have to get up before dawn and start cooking. Depending on what you cook, you may have to prepare that food the night before you go to bed.

“When you finish cooking in the morning you leave part of it at home for those who are staying there, and take the rest with you. At noon you stop for a while, you eat, and you resume work till the evening.”

Young women such as 21-year-old Abibatou in Senegal find it difficult to break out of the cycle of poverty without a good education.

“If I had been to school, I could have had a good job in town. Of course I would still come to the village because there are so many fruits and other things to eat here.

“But it would be my decision. I would not be forced to stay here. I could be in a nice office, writing down things for other people to do.

“But you see, I am illiterate and I got married too early. That is precisely the problem of being illiterate. You have no way of knowing what the possibilities are out there. I can’t know.

“All I know is farming.”

Access to health services for rural women is not where it should be and this results in close to a million preventable deaths worldwide.

This fact was acknowledged at the annual Lesotho Breast Cancer Network fundraising dinner last week as part of October events to mark Breast Cancer Awareness month.

In the majority of cases breast cancer is curable if detected early and therein lies the challenge.

When it comes to childbirth, in sub — Saharan Africa a woman has a one in 22 chances of dying in childbirth compared to one in 47 600 in Ireland.

Worse still, many more women who survive suffer from injuries that include unsafe abortions and severe tearing.

The report gives an in-depth analysis of the situation and it recommends four areas that need attention.

First, the overall environment of rural areas needs to be improved and this includes roads, access to water, housing and governance issues.

Second, the level of risks that rural people face must be reduced. Risk comes from occurrences such as drought, illnesses and inadequate social protection.

Third, investment in education for men, women and young people is key.

And this includes advanced education beyond primary school and also skills training which can help them take advantage of economic opportunities.

Fourth, it was found that rural communities have member-based organisations in which members help each other by tilling fields or pooling money for lending small amounts to members.

These networks need support in the form of financial and material resources and training.

They give members confidence and support and it was found that villagers tend to support community projects which they own or initiate.

 “It is impossible to realise our goals while discriminating against half the human race. As study after study has taught us, there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women.”

 — Kofi Annan, 2006


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