Rural women cultivating good food for all
Across the world, food systems depend on the daily work of rural women. They play a variety of essential roles, from raising crops and processing their harvest, to preparing food and distributing their products, ensuring that both their families and communities are nourished. Yet paradoxically those same women often have less access to food and a higher risk of hunger, malnutrition, undernutrition and food insecurity than their male counterparts. The reasons for this disconnect from their right to food include unequal power relations and discriminatory gender norms, for example, resulting in women eating last and least in the household, as well as their disproportionate responsibility for unpaid caregiving and domestic work.
Despite the planet’s capacity to provide enough good food for everyone, an increasing number of people are unable to meet their food and nutrition needs. This is especially true in the wake of escalating climate and environmental crises, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic that has disrupted school feeding programmes, interrupted supply chains and severely disrupted the livelihoods of small-scale producers, migrant and seasonal workers and local food vendors. In 2020, some 2.37 billion people did not have access to adequate food. This is an increase of almost 20 per cent in just one year, where those most affected were again rural women and girls.
The UN Secretary-General has called for a transformation of our food systems to ensure that all people have access to healthy diets that contribute to the restoration of nature, address climate change and are adapted to local circumstances. Rebuilding the broken global food system and supporting diverse and healthy food crop production for local, national and regional markets is also part of UN Women’s new Feminist Plan for Sustainability and Social Justice. The Feminist Plan calls for strengthened partnerships between governments and civil society to scale up gender-responsive agroecology, an alternative to industrial agriculture that has proven benefits for women small-scale farmers, and which supports food security and protects precious biodiversity and ecosystems.
UN Women will continue supporting programmes that empower rural women, while bettering communities and our planet. The Joint Programme on Rural Women’s Economic Empowerment that we implement with FAO, IFAD and WFP has reached 80,000 rural women across Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Nepal, Niger and Rwanda. It has applied integrated approaches to support rural women’s livelihoods by addressing discriminatory social norms and unpaid care and domestic work, alongside increasing agricultural productivity, which has led to enhanced food security and improved nutrition. In Senegal, UN Women works with REFAN, the Network of Female Rice Producers of the North, to support rural women along the rice value chain, something which is key not only for livelihoods and access to food and nutrition, but to reducing reliance on fossil fuels in an effort to combat climate change.
This International Day of Rural Women offers us a renewed opportunity to commit to a different way of organizing our world, to build on the vision of the Feminist Plan and on the outcomes and multistakeholder commitments of the recent United Nations Food System Summit, so that rural women benefit equally from their productivity, with good food enjoyed by all.