International Day of Rural Women has been celebrated on 15th October every year since 2008. The 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.”
Rural women make up 40% of the population and most work as farmers, wage earners, and entrepreneurs yet less than 20% of landholders worldwide are women. In rural areas, the gender pay gap is as high as 40%.
This year on International Day of Rural Women, the spotlight is on the urgent need for Building rural women’s resilience in the wake of COVID-19, for “building back better” by strengthening rural women’s sustainable livelihoods and wellbeing.
Rural women play a crucial role in agriculture, food security and nutrition, land and natural resource management, and rural enterprises. They have been at the front lines of responding to the pandemic even as their unpaid care and domestic work increased under lockdowns, mobility is restricted, supply chains are disrupted, and climate and conflict crises compound COVID-19 impacts.
Yet, rural women are labouring under acutely disadvantageous conditions. Already insufficient infrastructure and services in rural areas have been stretched to the limit; rural women’s invaluable care and productive work during the pandemic has burgeoned, in many places without clean and safe water, sanitation and hygiene, energy supply or healthcare services.
The pandemic has also heightened the vulnerability of rural women’s rights to land and resources. Discriminatory gender norms and practices impede women’s exercise of land and property rights in most countries. Since women’s land rights are often dependent on their husbands, COVID-19 widows risk disinheritance. Women’s land tenure security is also threatened as unemployed migrants return to rural communities, increasing pressure on land and resources and exacerbating gender gaps in agriculture and food security.
Gender-responsive investments to expand basic infrastructure, healthcare and care services in rural areas have never been more critical. Bolstering women’s land rights in law and practice can help protect women from displacement and losing their sources of livelihood.
We need to advocate for sufficient services (water, health, electricity, etc.) to support women’s productive and unpaid care and domestic work, which is exacerbated by the crisis.
It is interesting to note that, if women in rural areas had the same access to agricultural assets, education, and markets as men, agricultural production could be increased, and the number of hungry people reduced by 100-150 million.
How have Soroptimists supported rural women?
SI Calcutta launched their ongoing Project Dignity in 2014 to address the need for toilets for rural women in India and creating awareness among underprivileged women regarding hygienic sanitary practices. The focus is on building toilets for women and girls which enables and empowers them to lead their lives with dignity. 54799
SI Kirkcaldy works with partners Lendwithcare; a fair and ethical lending scheme which helps women entrepreneurs to transform their lives by lending small loans to start up and develop their business ventures. Many of the microfinance institutions also provide education on running a business and how to manage finances. The women repay their loans over a set period of time and once the club receives the capital back, they lend it to another woman. To date the club has supported a total number of 199 entrepreneurs and 673 family members. 54098
SI Leeds provided crucial funding for the construction of a building for the Jitpurphedi Women’s Agricultural Cooperative in Nepal. The 800 members of the women’s cooperative now have a business centre which they use to market and sell their produce. They let rooms out to volunteers and for community training for an additional income. They have an IT room (Laptops etc. provided by Sony) where they are able to sell their products online. They hold classes on better animal husbandry, supported by the university of Kathmandu. This is the first, and currently only, women’s business centre in Nepal and as a consequence they are hosting many visits from other women’s cooperatives across Nepal. 55584
SI Dhaka has developed a project to offer training to rural women in Mymensingh, Bangladesh to enable them to start small businesses in poultry and dairy produce. 55560
SI Stourbridge purchased two goats to be given to very poor families as part of a cooperative women’s goat rearing project sponsored by a charity they support that works in Kerala, South India. The project was designed to empower women from very poor rural households in Kerala to work together cooperatively to rear and breed from goats. They will gain and share skills in caring for and rearing goats whilst at the same time the milk can be used by their families and the surplus sold to generate income to purchase other foodstuffs. The project will be sustainable because the women agree to donate back to the scheme the first female kid so that this can be given to another woman who will join the cooperative. Male kids will be reared and sold for meat. The project will enable more and more women to gain a livelihood and improve the health and nutrition of their families. 55473