International Rural Women's Day: Beyond Commemoration
Afghan woman in village
Last week, the world commemorated again the International Rural Women’s Day to call attention to the need for action on the many issues that women in rural communities confront worldwide. The plight of rural women has improved little despite these annual commemorations. Concrete actions are needed globally and the UN Commission on the Status of Women should ensure prominence of rural women in the reporting of Member States on the UN Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). On-going global processes on Beijing+20 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) need to pay attention to the widening gaps on social, economic, political and environmental indicators that leave rural women behind.
The commemoration of rural women’s international day began in 15 October 2008 based on the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 62/136 that was adopted on 18 December 2007 to recognize “the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.” It was years and years of advocacy of rural women worldwide that spurred this resolution as well as the inclusion of rural women in the CEDAW, which has now some 187 government signatories.
Yet, up to the present time, women in rural areas continue to disproportionately endure the hardships of inadequate social services, poor infrastructure facilities and male-dominated politics. They give birth to more children, provide care to more family members, work longer, and struggle harder to gain access to resources, including economic capital. Their vulnerability to natural disasters is greater, yet, they barely have access to economic resources to protect their lives and livelihood from calamities or rehabilitate their crops when damaged by climate change. Information technology continues to bridge people across nations and lots of debates go on about many issues that have profound impacts on their status and well-being. Yet, rural women are barely included and neither are there serious efforts to address their growing marginalization in information technology and climate change. Exclusion of rural women reinforces their predisposition to violence from family members and in communities and lack of protection against domestic violence continues to drive them to desperate options.
This is an unfortunate situation. Commemorations of International Women’s Day, while necessary, are not enough. Given the on-going global review of the two decades of implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action and the move towards Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, rural women’s agenda should be raised higher in the debates so that more meaningful changes may happen beyond 2015. We call upon UN Member States to make the concerns of rural women visible in the on-going regional processes to draft the declaration that will be adopted next year in the BPFA+20. We also call upon the Commission on the Status of Women to revisit CEDAW’s framework for compelling governments to comply with their obligations to rural women. It should take stock of the number of countries that had adopted specific laws and policies on rural women and have effective machineries to implement such policies. Local governments should be given spaces in the BPFA+20 debates to raise ideas on how to improve the lives of rural women as constituents. Women’s movements should continue to raise the voice of rural women and pay attention to the next generation of rural women, the young rural women, to ensure that they could actively participate in the long term-transformation of rural women’s lives.
The year 2015 is the most auspicious year to raise the issues of rural women. If they are missed in the BPFA+20 and SDG global processes next year, the commemoration of International Women’s Day next year will be a shame.