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Published to promote the goals of the Beijing Declaration and the Platform for Action

October 2008

Edwina Sandys

Rural Women in a Changing World:

Opportunities and Challenges
UNITED NATIONS | Division for the Advancement of Women | Department of Economic and Social Affairs
October 2008

“We also resolve to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women as
effective ways to combat poverty, hunger and disease and to stimulate development
that is truly sustainable.” —Millennium Declaration, 20001
Rural women play a critical role in the rural economies responsibilities of women in rural areas for productive
of both developed and developing countries. In most and care work. Climate change and food insecurity are
parts of the developing world they participate in crop creating new challenges for women in rural areas.
production and livestock care, provide food, water and The changes under way in rural areas have a direct im-
fuel for their families, and engage in off-farm activities pact on women’s lives, in both positive and negative
to diversify their families’ livelihoods. In addition, they ways. Economic changes can intensify gender biases. For
carry out vital reproductive functions in caring for chil- example, land privatization programmes can undermine
dren, older persons and the sick. women’s traditional land-use rights. On the other hand,
To understand the situation of rural women, it is nec- women’s increased access to paid employment and inde-
essary to examine the full diversity of their experiences pendent cash income in some areas can positively affect
in the context of the changing rural economy, includ- intra-household dynamics and the perception of wom-
ing their position within household and community en’s roles in society. Many women, particularly younger
structures; the gender division of labour; their access women, have found that independent sources of income
to and control over resources; and their participation in give them the confidence to question traditional views of
decision-making. Rural women are not a homogeneous rural women’s roles both in the household and in society,
group; there are important differences among women and to challenge gender biases in access to resources.
in rural areas based on class, age, marital status, ethnic
background, race and religion. Linking rural women
In many countries, gender-based stereotypes and dis- to the global market
crimination deny rural women equitable access to and
Transformation in rural areas is linking rural
control over land and other productive resources, op-
women more closely to the global market. Peo-
portunities for employment and income-generating ple buy flowers in New York packaged by women
activities, access to education and health care, and op- workers in Ecuador. A consumer in Sweden buys
portunities for participation in public life. cheap clothing produced by rural women workers
Rural development is affected by the ongoing processes who have migrated to towns and cities in search
of globalization: the commercialization of agriculture, the of work in Asia. A Jamaican domestic worker now
liberalization of international trade and markets for food living in Canada sends home money to her family
and other agricultural products, the increase of labour mi- living in the rural areas. A South African woman
gration, and the privatization of resources and services. worker picks fruit destined for a European super-
These transformations do not occur in a vacuum but in- market. A woman farmer in Uganda moves from
teract with other complex processes at different levels, producing food on her own small plot to farming
including domestic economic policies, local livelihood crops under contract to an exporter. A Moroccan
strategies and sociocultural structures and practices. seamstress sews clothing that will soon be on a
shelf in a Spanish department store. A woman in
The changes associated with globalization, diversification a village in Bangladesh makes money by selling
of rural livelihoods, increased labour mobility, climate the services of her cellphone, and a woman in a
change and food insecurity, as well as other global trends, village in Jordan is able to find the best market
have brought both gains and challenges for women. Al- for her handicrafts through the Internet. The ex-
though there are common trends, there are also major dif- tent to which rural women can effectively utilize
ferences according to regions, countries and even within these market opportunities is dependent on their
countries, as well as diversity among women based on access to and control over productive resources,
class, ethnicity, religion, age and other factors. assets and services, as well as their roles in
The HIV/AIDS pandemic, and in some countries the ef- decision-making processes.
fects of conflict and its aftermath, have increased the

October 2008

Despite attention to rural women in international employment and income and participation in decision-
frameworks such as the Beijing Platform for Action, the making need to be taken into consideration.
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimi- An important step for increasing the visibility of the
nation against Women and the Millennium Develop- role and contribution of rural women was the estab-
ment Goals, which recognize their contributions, rural lishment by the General Assembly of the International
women continue to face serious challenges in effectively Day for Rural Women, to be commemorated on 15 Oc-
carrying out their multiple roles within their families tober every year, beginning in 2008.4
and communities. Their rights and priorities are often
insufficiently addressed by national development strat- This publication focuses specifically on the situation
egies and gender equality policies. Effectively address- of rural women in developing countries in the context
ing emerging issues, such as climate change and the of changes in the rural economy. The publication aims
food crisis, requires their full involvement. to contribute to greater recognition of women’s con-
tributions to the social, economic and political devel-
It is important to monitor the changes in the rural opment of rural areas and recommends strategies for
economy from a gender equality perspective. As the supporting their contributions. It highlights changes
World Bank has pointed out, the promotion of gen- in social structures and patterns of mobility that di-
der equality and empowerment of women is “smart rectly affect their situation. It raises critical issues for
economics”.2 Given the critical role of women in rural improving the situation of rural women in terms of
areas, addressing gender inequalities can increase the strengthening their capabilities, increasing their ac-
efficiency of resource use and enhance rural devel- cess to and control over opportunities and resources,
opment outcomes.3 Issues such as land and property enhancing their agency and leadership, and ensuring
rights, access to services and resources, food security, their rights and security.

Attention to rural women in

the United Nations
Intergovernmental processes microcredit and other financial instruments as successful
strategies for economic empowerment of women living
Ensuring gender equality—that both women and men in poverty, in particular in rural areas.7
can equally enjoy all human rights and participate in
In the context of the 10-year review and appraisal of the
and benefit from all development processes—is a key
implementation of the Beijing Platform for Action carried
concern for the United Nations.5 Over the past dec-
out in 2005,8 the Governments of more than 90 Member
ades, United Nations conferences and summits have
States provided information on the situation of women
addressed the situation of rural women. The Beijing
Declaration and Platform for Action (1995) emphasized in rural areas. Crucial issues raised included the overrep-
the need for the formulation and implementation of resentation of rural women among the poor, the need
policies and programmes that improve the situation of to expand education programmes to rural women and
women producers in rural areas, increase their incomes girls and to improve their access to microcredit, and the
and provide household food security.6 The outcome of difficulties faced by rural women when trying to gain
the twenty-third special session of the General Assembly access to health care, including primary and preventive
entitled “Women 2000: gender equality, development and health care. Several countries noted that the shift from
peace for the twenty-first century” emphasized the need food production to cash crops had a negative impact on
for women’s equal access to productive resources, such as the lives of many small and marginal farmers, mostly
land, capital, credit and technology, gainful employment, women, and threatened household food security. More
and decision-making, as well as access to education and efforts had to be undertaken to strengthen women’s
health services. It drew attention to the large number of participation in decision-making processes and to ensure
rural women working in the informal economy with low their involvement in rural development policies. Specific
levels of income, little job and social security, and few mention was also made of the multiple forms of dis-
land or inheritance rights, or none at all. It highlighted crimination faced by rural indigenous women.

October 2008

In the Millennium Declaration, adopted in September urgency of the situation of women and children living
2000,9 Governments committed to promoting gender in rural areas was recognized, especially those suffering
equality and the empowerment of women as effec- from drought, desertification and deforestation, armed
tive ways to combat poverty, hunger and disease and hostilities, natural disasters, toxic waste and the after-
to stimulate development that is truly sustainable. The math of the use of unsuitable agrochemical products.
Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which were sub- Ten years later, the Johannesburg Plan of Implementa-
sequently developed, provide a subset of goals, targets tion of the World Summit on Sustainable Development
and indicators from the global conferences and sum- noted that “enhancing the role of women at all levels
mits of the 1990s, including the goal to halve poverty and in all aspects of rural development, agriculture, nu-
by 2015.10 The MDGs are particularly relevant for reduc- trition and food security is imperative”.13
ing poverty among rural women in developing coun- The Monterrey Consensus, from the International Confer-
tries. MDG 3 is specifically focused on the achievement ence on Financing for Development in 2002, called upon
of gender equality and empowerment of women, with Governments to establish gender-sensitive investments
targets on education, health and political participation. in basic economic and social infrastructure that are fully
Women in rural areas can be actors in and beneficia- inclusive of the rural sector and that ensure sustainable
ries of the achievement of other goals, such as MDG 1, development. The Consensus also recognized the impor-
on reducing poverty and hunger; MDG 2, which aims for tance of microfinance and microcredit schemes, includ-
universal primary education; and MDGs 4 and 5, which ing for women in rural areas.14
focus on children’s and maternal health. MDG 7, on envi-
ronmental sustainability, is also critical for rural women During the past 20 years, the Third Committee of the
as users and custodians of natural resources. General Assembly has systematically addressed the situ-
ation of rural women.15 In its recent resolution in 2007,16
At the 2005 World Summit, world leaders reaffirmed that the General Assembly urged Governments and the United
“food security and rural and agricultural development Nations system to create an enabling environment for
must be adequately and urgently addressed in the con- improving the situation of rural women, and to en-
text of national development and response strategies … sure systematic attention to their needs, priorities and
[and that] rural and agricultural development should be contributions. Governments should create an enabling
an integral part of national and international develop- environment so that rural women fully participate in
ment policies”. They also reaffirmed that gender equality the development, implementation and monitoring of
and the promotion and protection of the full enjoyment macroeconomic policies and programmes and poverty
of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all reduction strategies, based on the Millennium Develop-
are essential to advance development, peace and secu- ment Goals, as well as in policies and activities related
rity. World leaders stated that “progress for women is to emergencies, humanitarian assistance, peacebuilding
progress for all”. Heads of State and Government made and post-conflict reconstruction.
a commitment to promote gender equality and elimi-
The Commission on Sustainable Development has also
nate pervasive gender discrimination. They highlighted
recognized the importance of paying attention to gen-
issues that particularly affect women living in rural
der equality concerns in order to eradicate poverty and
areas, such as guaranteeing the right of women to own
achieve sustainable development. In recent sessions,17 the
and inherit property, ensuring secure tenure of property
Commission highlighted the need to involve all stake-
and housing by women, and ensuring equal access for
holders, particularly women and youth, in the planning
women to productive assets and resources, including
and management of land and water resources as well
land, credit and technology.11
as in sanitation systems. Particular attention should
In 1992, the Rio Declaration on Environment and Devel- be paid to women’s equal rights and access to basic
opment and its Agenda 2112 recognized the critical role services and land tenure and to the provision of educa-
of women in environmental management and develop- tion and vocational training to improve their access to
ment and called for the active involvement of women in decent jobs. The Commission recognized that the energy
economic and political decision-making as a condition for demands of poor and rural women and children should
the effective implementation of its programme. Agenda 21 be an integral part of energy planning and energy proj-
addressed the role of women in national ecosystem man- ects. The Commission also noted that mainstreaming
agement and control of environment degradation and gender issues into energy decision-making processes
called for measures to ensure women’s access to prop- was of high priority, including by increasing capacity-
erty rights and credit as well as agricultural inputs. The building, technical training and enterprise development

October 2008

for women, involving women in national energy policies

and programmes, and investing in energy infrastructure
Human rights treaties
that addresses the concerns of women. The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimi-
The United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Is- nation against Women is the only human rights instrument
sues recognizes that indigenous women continue to face that specifically addresses the situation of rural women.
multiple forms of discrimination on the basis of gender, Article 14 calls on States parties to eliminate discrimination
race and ethnicity. At different sessions,18 the Permanent against rural women and to ensure that all provisions of
Forum has called for improved access for indigenous the Convention are applied to rural women.
women to health care and education and to employ-
ment opportunities, and for the protection and promo- Article 14 of the Convention on
tion of their human rights. The Forum also recognized the Elimination of All Forms of
the Millennium Development Goals as a strategic frame- Discrimination against Women
work to achieve gender equality and the empowerment
of women, including for indigenous women, and called (1) States parties shall take into account the par-
on States to ensure that indigenous women’s expertise ticular problems faced by rural women and the
was reflected in all national and international develop- significant roles which rural women play in the
ment strategies in consultation with indigenous women economic survival of their families, including their
and their communities and organizations. It also stressed work in the non-monetized sectors of the economy,
the need for the participation of indigenous women in and shall take all appropriate measures to ensure
governance and decision-making structures at all levels the application of the provisions of the Conven-
tion to women in rural areas.
and called for capacity-building and training of indig-
enous women in leadership skills. (2) States Parties shall take all appropriate measures
to eliminate discrimination against women in ru-
The Third Session of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous ral areas in order to ensure, on a basis of equality
Issues in 200419 was focused specifically on the situation of men and women, that they participate in and
of indigenous women. The Forum noted that indig- benefit from rural development and, in particular,
enous women, who numbered more than 150 million shall ensure to such women the right:
throughout the world, often remained invisible because (a) To participate in the elaboration and implemen-
of marginalization and discrimination. They face similar tation of development planning at all levels;
challenges across regions, such as social dislocation due
(b) To have access to adequate health care facili-
to political conflicts and migration; poverty and under-
ties, including information, counselling and services
development due to environmental degradation and lack
in family planning;
of access to such public resources as adequate health care
(c) To benefit directly from social security pro-
and education; and marginalization due to their cultural
difference and minority status within States. The deterio-
ration of the natural environment and subsistence-based (d) To obtain all types of training and education,
food security due to economic globalization has contrib- formal and non-formal, including that relating to
uted to the outmigration of indigenous women to urban functional literacy, as well as, inter alia, the benefit
of all community and extension services, in order
centres, where they are no longer under the protection
to increase their technical proficiency;
of traditional law and become particularly vulnerable to
forced labour, trafficking and prostitution. The Forum (e) To organize self-help groups and co-operatives in
issued policy recommendations at international, national order to obtain equal access to economic opportu-
and community levels, which called for the increased nities through employment or self employment;
participation of indigenous women in decision-making (f) To participate in all community activities;
and governance; the ending of discrimination based on (g) To have access to agricultural credit and loans,
gender, ethnicity, class and culture; and efforts to address marketing facilities, appropriate technology and
issues in education, physical and mental health, and equal treatment in land and agrarian reform as
economic life, as well as in the area of violence against well as in land resettlement schemes;
indigenous women. (h) To enjoy adequate living conditions, particularly
in relation to housing, sanitation, electricity and
water supply, transport and communications.

October 2008

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination and advancement of women and girls with disabilities
against Women monitors compliance of States parties (article 6) and makes several references to the rights of
with the provisions of the Convention, considers reports people living in rural areas (articles 9 and 26). The right
in a constructive dialogue with the States parties and, to the highest attainable standard of health without
in its concluding observations, proposes recommenda- discrimination on the basis of disability includes access
tions for further steps to be taken to ensure full imple- for persons with disabilities to gender-sensitive health
mentation of the Convention. The Committee also issues services close to people’s own communities, including in
general recommendations offering clear guidance on the rural areas (article 25). The adoption of the Convention
application of the Convention. In its general recommen- provides a new opportunity for systematically monitoring
dation 21 on equality in marriage and family relations, the situation of women with disabilities in rural areas
the Committee addressed equality in property rights and for developing policies and programmes to ensure
and noted that discriminatory property and inheritance that rural women with disabilities enjoy human rights
rights contravene the Convention and need to be abol- on an equal basis with others.
ished. These are critical issues for rural women and their The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification
access to productive resources. In its concluding observa- is another instrument of importance to rural women. It
tions, the Committee noted that although a significant is the only multilateral agreement on the environment
population of women lives in rural areas, especially in that addresses gender equality issues through its ex-
developing countries, national policies rarely take their plicit recognition that women need to participate fully
important roles into consideration. in all action to combat desertification and mitigate the
The Committee has consistently called on States par- effects of drought.
ties to develop policies, strategies and programmes in
priority areas for rural women and allocate necessary The protection of women’s
budgetary resources; to recognize rural women’s con-
right to food in international
tributions to the economy; and to ensure their access
to credit, capital, employment, marketing opportunities
and productive resources. It has stressed, in particular, The human right to adequate food is of crucial
the need for rural women’s full access to land and prop- importance for the enjoyment of all rights. This
erty, including through ownership, co-sharing, inherit- right is recognized in several instruments under
ance and succession. The Committee has noted that international law. After the right was formally
the participation of rural women in local and national recognized in the Universal Declaration of Hu-
public decision-making is a means of empowerment man Rights (1948), the International Covenant on
and of enhancing access to productive resources. The Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) estab-
Committee has focused on the low levels of education lished binding legal obligations for States parties
and training of rural women, including the particularly to respect, protect and fulfil the right, including
high percentage of illiterate rural women, especially in for women. While the Convention on the Elimina-
developing countries. tion of All Forms of Discrimination against Women
(1979) does not explicitly mention this right, sev-
The Committee has also highlighted issues that are rarely eral other Convention articles, such as articles 2, 3,
raised in other forums, such as the impact of harmful 4 and 5, are integral to ensuring to women, on a
local customs and practices that perpetuate discrimi- basis of equality with men, the right to adequate
nation, including societal and domestic violence. In this food. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cul-
context, the Committee has pointed to the situation of tural Rights emphasizes the importance of equal
older rural women who suffer aggravated marginaliza- access to food or resources for food. Towards this
tion and isolation, which expose them to greater risks end, national strategies to ensure food and nutri-
of violence. tion security for all should give particular attention
Two other international conventions address issues of to the need to prevent discrimination, particularly
importance to the situation of women in rural areas. At against women (general comment 12, 1999).
its sixty-first session, the General Assembly adopted the The World Food Summits in 1996 and 2002 rein-
Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,20 forced the commitment to realizing women’s right
which defines the rights of persons with disabilities and to food. Most recently, the Voluntary Guidelines
sets out a plan of implementation. The Convention spe-
cifically calls on States parties to ensure the equal rights

October 2008

efited from its resources. This concern was incorporated

in its General Conditions for Agricultural Development Fi-
on the Progressive Implementation of the Right nancing. Since the early 1990s, gender equality concerns
to Adequate Food in the Context of National Food have been central to the IFAD poverty reduction strat-
Security adopted by the Food and Agriculture Or- egy. The IFAD strategic framework 2007-2010 reiterates
ganization of the United Nations (FAO) Council in the need to take into account differences in gender roles
November 2004 provide important guidance for and responsibilities, based on the understanding that ad-
action from a gender perspective. dressing inequalities and strengthening the capacity of
rural women have a major impact on poverty reduction
United Nations entities and on household food security.21
The United Nations Division for the Advancement of
A number of United Nations entities focus specifically on Women (DAW), in collaboration with the United Nations
the situation of rural women in their work programmes. Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), organized an
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Na- Expert Group Meeting on the situation of rural women
tions (FAO), for example, established the Socio-economic within the context of globalization, hosted by the Gov-
and Gender Analysis Programme in 1993 to promote gen- ernment of Mongolia in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, from 4
der awareness and provide gender-sensitive methodolo- to 8 June 2001. The meeting examined the impact of
gies and studies in the areas of agriculture, forestry and major global trends on the situation of rural women
fisheries practices and nutrition. FAO has also developed in developing and transitional economies and proposed
a Gender and Development Plan of Action (2002-2007). recommendations for a research and policy agenda to
From its beginning, the International Fund for Agricultural maximize the beneficial effects of globalization for ru-
Development (IFAD) sought to ensure that women ben- ral women.22

The changing rural economy

and its impact on women
Liberalization policies have promoted the elimination zones. Another important trend is the growing involve-
of trade and market barriers and the reduction of ment of large agro-businesses in developing country
government-financed price supports for basic agricultural agriculture. These developments stimulate diversifi-
commodities. They have led, in some cases, to large-scale cation and the further integration of rural areas into
farming and the prioritization of commercial cash and international markets.
export crops over food crops for household and local Non-traditional agricultural export commodities and
consumption. In many areas, as subsistence agriculture high-value foods are increasingly important in some
is giving way to commercialized agriculture, both small developing regions compared with traditional exports,
and large farmers produce for the market and, increas- such as coffee, tea, sugar and cocoa. African examples
ingly, for export. With commercialization, the market of such diversification include horticultural products and
plays an increasingly important role, linking rural com- cut flowers in Kenya and Zimbabwe, tobacco in Mozam-
munities (producers and consumers) to the wider econ- bique, and vanilla cultivation in Uganda. In Asia, aqua-
omy. More inputs—such as fertilizers, seeds and farming culture, such as shrimp farming, has become important,
equipment—are purchased, and much of the output is while in Latin America fruit and flower production has
commercially marketed. increased in many areas.
The changes in agricultural production have been accom- As aquaculture has expanded since the mid-1980s in
panied by related changes in the organization of pro- parts of Asia, for example, large tracts of coastal land
duction in both agriculture and industry. These include and mangrove forests have been taken over for shrimp
the intensification of large-scale plantation farming, farms that export to Europe and the United States of
the outsourcing of production as part of the develop- America. While poor and landless families may gain from
ment of global commodity chains, the creation of rural waged labour on shrimp farms, the land available for lo-
industries and the establishment of export processing cal food production has been reduced, soil salinity has

October 2008

decreased food crop yields and the availability of fish

for low-income consumers has declined as a result of
competition from aquaculture.23 weeders and harvesters were redundant in the new
activities. Women were forced to look for different
Livelihood diversification is a significant aspect of the
means of livelihood and their options were often
changing rural economy. Diversification can take vari-
limited. They could not engage in microenterprises
ous forms, including: farm-based income via the produc- unless they had capital or access to credit, and they
tion of non-traditional exports through own-farm work could not work in the new factories unless they had
or wage employment in agribusiness; non-farm income the necessary education or training. Many moved
via micro-industry and trading enterprises in rural areas; to towns or cities and found work as domestic ser-
and wage labour, either in rural industries or via labour vants, sweatshop labourers, laundresses, or hawkers
migration by family members to work in urban industry of various goods. Younger women were sometimes
and export processing zones. trafficked as commercial sex workers.
The landscape of rural areas in the Philippines has, for Subcontracting: The operation of industries has led to
example, changed as rice paddies were converted to subcontracting out parts of the production process
industrial estates and export processing zones. The dis- from high-wage cities to lower-wage rural areas. The
mantling of subsidies for farm inputs prompted farming move of production activities to rural areas in the
households to desert increasingly unprofitable farming Philippines has created jobs for rural women. Despite
occupations by selling their land or becoming different the exploitative nature of much of the subcontract-
ing system, women have flocked to these jobs as
kinds of farmers. These changes sometimes had very
they lost their traditional farming livelihoods.
different and unequal impacts on women and men.24
The following box provides some specific examples of Exportation of labour: Many rural women have
the ways in which livelihoods have increasingly diver- left to work as maids or nannies or to seek other
sified in the Philippines and illustrates the impacts on forms of employment in the Middle East and
the West. The remittances from these overseas
rural women.
workers have provided rural families the capital
to buy farm inputs or make farm improvements.
of livelihood They have also given older women the capital to
diversification in the Philippines go into small businesses. In many cases, transfer
payments have financed the education of children
on rural women or younger siblings. The material affluence that is
Large landowners: Women landowners, or women associated with overseas employment has, how-
from landowning families who sold their farms to ever, sometime blinded people to the hazards of
developers, acquired large sums of money which many of the jobs held by women.
they invested in small businesses, such as conve- Source: J. Illo (2001), “Earning a living: globalization,
nience stores or basket weaving, or used to buy gender and rural livelihoods”, paper presented at the
another farm. Some women “invested” in daugh- Expert Group Meeting on the situation of rural women
ters and sons by underwriting the cost of their within the context of globalization, Ulaanbaatar,
migration for overseas employment. Mongolia, 4-8 June 2001, organized by the United
Small farmers: Land conversion occurred as farm- Nations Division for the Advancement of Women
ers moved from unprofitable traditional crops to (DAW) in collaboration with the United Nations
more promising (export) crops or non-crop farming Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).
activities, such as tilapia or prawn farming, which
required making fish or prawn ponds out of farm- The increase in labour-intensive, often export-oriented,
land. The higher incomes from tilapia or prawn industries has also facilitated livelihood diversification.
farming provided rural women and men with the Rural industrialization can include independent entrepre-
capital to develop new enterprises or to expand neurs producing for the local market as well as subcon-
their existing operations. tractors producing for larger domestic and foreign firms.
Farm wage workers: As farms were replaced by in- Export processing zones take many forms, including free
dustrial estates or ponds, both landless women and trade zones, special economic zones, bonded warehouses,
men lost their traditional jobs. Female transplanters, free ports and maquiladoras.
This development has important implications for rural
areas and supports their further integration into the

October 2008

market in two ways. First, the industries are often lo- recognized or is considered part of “housework”. Rural
cated in rural areas offering new employment opportu- women’s labour in rural production becomes invisible in
nities to the local rural population. Second, even when the unpaid work category. The capacity of national sta-
labour-intensive industry is not located in rural areas tistical systems to collect and disseminate information
it can provide the rural population with employment on women’s and men’s work in agriculture is weak.28
opportunities through rural to urban migration, which By not counting the unpaid work of women on family
can have profound effects on both those migrating and farms, official figures have consistently undervalued the
those left behind. contribution of women to agricultural production.
In the developing world as a whole, the importance of A study in Burkina Faso illustrates the underestimation of
the rural non-farm sector has risen substantially. In terms women’s managerial role in agriculture. An assessment
of employment, 40 per cent of rural employment in Asia of production in the context of collective cultivation and
is now found in the rural non-farm sector, and in India male headship indicated male dominance in farm man-
it is growing twice as fast as farm employment. In Latin agement across all crops (97-99 per cent male ownership/
America, a rapid increase can also be seen in Brazil and management). However, when individual plot manage-
Ecuador, where the non-farm sector amounted to 30 per ment was considered, a different picture emerged, with
cent in the early 1990s. It is estimated that 45 per cent women managing a large land area in individual cultiva-
of rural income in 25 African countries stems from the tion of the major staple grains farmed for subsistence
rural non-farm sector.25 (42-55 per cent in sorghums and millet).29
The expanding rural non-farm sector can have a posi- Women and men carry out different agricultural tasks. In
tive effect in lowering rural unemployment or under- many contexts, women are responsible for weeding and
employment through new income-generating activities hoeing, crop transportation and food processing, while
and may deepen the linkages between the agricultural men do most of the land clearing. Women also contribute
sector and the broader economy. Non-farm income can to the care of livestock and provide supplementary house-
allow households to overcome credit constraints, raise hold resources through income-generating activities.
productivity and increase farm income.26 In many cases,
however, particularly with the development of free-zone Raising awareness about
industries and agro-export businesses, rural areas have
the contributions of
become a source of cheap, unskilled labour for non-farm
activities, often under discriminatory conditions.
indigenous women
The following sections illustrate the impact of these FAO implemented a project in Mozambique, Swa-
changes in the rural economy on rural women. ziland and the United Republic of Tanzania that
aimed at harnessing the local knowledge of in-
Agricultural production digenous people, including women, to strengthen
agriculture and rural development. The project—
Rural women play critical, diverse roles in agricultural
Gender, Biodiversity and Local Knowledge Systems
production in the rural economies of developing coun-
to Strengthen Agricultural and Rural Development
tries as unpaid family workers, own‑account farmers, (LinKS)—aimed at building a body of indigenous
and full‑time or part‑time wage labourers on large farms knowledge, with emphasis on gender roles and re-
and plantations. According to estimates of the Food and sponsibilities, in relation to biodiversity manage-
Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), ment and food security, which would be useful for
two thirds of the female labour force in developing policymakers, researchers and extension staff.
economies are engaged in agricultural activities. While
The project in the United Republic of Tanzania ex-
globally the proportion of the economically active pop-
plored the local knowledge and roles of an indig-
ulation working in agriculture declined in the 1990s, in
enous group, the Masai, differentiated by gender
2000 the proportion of economically active women in
and age, with regard to the breeding of cattle,
the sector was still nearly 50 per cent globally, 61 per
sheep and goats. The project generated important
cent in developing countries, and 79 per cent in the least
lessons with regard to the roles and knowledge of
developed countries.27
Masai women in relation to selection of animals,
Although women make a major contribution to agricul- monitoring the health of animals and preparing
ture production, this contribution is underreported in all
developing regions because women’s work is often un-

October 2008

services, including landownership and access to exten-

sion services.
and applying medicines in the treatment of dis-
As a result of agricultural commercialization and policies
eases. Masai women are entrusted with the care
to replace subsistence food production with commercial
of newborn calves and are responsible for income
crops, the constraints women face in ensuring food secu-
generation from the sale of milk products. Masai
rity have increased. Such constraints include the loss of
women have a deep knowledge of livestock and
access to land previously used for food production; the
play a key role in the care of animals. The study
co-opting of their time and labour for non-food activi-
led to an increase in awareness of the unique con-
ties, for example to help with new cash crops grown and
tribution of Masai women.
controlled by their husbands; and the lack of income to
Source: United Nations (2007a), Indigenous Women purchase food. Studies in Africa have shown that when
and the United Nations System: Good Practices and women increase their involvement in cash crop produc-
Lessons Learned, compiled by the Secretariat of the tion, subsistence agriculture is threatened.31
Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues for the Task
Force on Indigenous Women/Inter-Agency Network Women’s access to the land resources necessary for en-
on Women and Gender Equality (New York: United suring sustainable livelihoods and food security can also
Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs be affected by land degradation. Communal land and
(ST/ESA/307)). forests are decreasing in many countries as a result of
pressure from commercial logging, population growth
and the expansion of commercial agriculture and non-
At the same time, rural women play an important and
agriculture enterprises with high income potential, such
time-consuming role in the reproductive economy, en-
as factories and tourist resorts. Inappropriate agriculture
suring the maintenance of the family through unpaid
cultivation methods adopted by impoverished farmers
work, including the collection of water and fuel, cook-
(including women), as well as the encroachment of aqua-
ing, cleaning, and caring for children, older persons and
culture and inappropriately controlled commercial agri-
the sick and disabled. In all developing country regions,
culture, may also contribute to land degradation.
this work is critical for family welfare. Rural women
work long hours, often under difficult circumstances and The increased scarcity and degradation of land, water
without adequate access to appropriate technologies and common property resources affect the productivity
and infrastructure, such as roads, water and sanitation and economic viability of women’s work, in both farm
systems and energy sources. These difficulties increase and non-farm activities. They increase the time and en-
their responsibilities and workloads and constrain their ergy spent on collecting fuel, water and other common
contributions to agriculture.30 property resources. As a result, women’s farming, aqua-
culture, horticulture and animal husbandry activities are
Women cope with their heavy workloads and time bur-
put at risk and food security is jeopardized. The follow-
dens by organizing work with other women, or hiring
ing box examines the impact of desertification on the
labour if they have access to income or other funding
lives of rural women.
sources. Another common coping mechanism is to use
help from children. This usually puts pressure on girls
to take on some of the housework and childcare, often The impact of desertification
by compromising their own education. on rural women
Food security Desertification is caused by a variety of factors,
Women produce the main portion of food grown in including climate change, population growth, in-
many parts of the world and make major contributions appropriate land-use policies, deforestation, expro-
to food security. Male migration and increased male priation of rangelands, land clearance, overgrazing
activity in cash crop production are increasing wom- and inappropriate irrigation practices. As a conse-
en’s responsibility for food production. Women in most quence of desertification and decreased access to
countries also do the overwhelming majority of work productive resources, such as fertile land and wa-
of storing, processing, marketing and preparing food, in ter supplies, rural women are left struggling with
particular in sub-Saharan Africa. Women’s contribution increased workloads and reduced capacity to fulfil
to food production and food security is constrained by
their unequal access to essential resources, assets and

October 2008

Female employment in
their responsibilities. Decreased soil fertility and the flower plantations
soil erosion, resulting from desertification, lead to
in Ecuador
reduction of crop and livestock productivity. De-
sertification may cause men to migrate in search In Ecuador, two thirds of all workers on flower farms
of better livelihoods, which leaves women as de are women. Research on flower plantations in the
facto heads of households. Because of their lower Cayambe and Tabacundo areas suggests that this in-
status in the community, women are not involved dustry contributed to increased incomes in rural areas
in critical community decisions regarding land, and stimulated important changes in gender roles
water, livestock and the management of natural within households, including spending patterns, the
division of work and decision-making regarding ed-
resources. They are not encouraged to contribute
ucation and health. While most of these changes
their traditional knowledge and expertise to land
helped to improve equality between women and
conservation projects and development projects.
men, some negative effects were also observed.
Source: International Fund for Agricultural Develop- There is evidence that once women started to work
ment (IFAD) (2006), Gender and Desertification: Ex- as paid labourers in the flower industry, gender roles
panding Roles for Women to Restore Drylands (Rome: gradually changed as other family and community
International Fund for Agricultural Development). members realized the importance of women’s eco-
nomic contributions. For example, a survey showed
that men often increased their contribution to house-
Livelihood diversification work after women began work. Because of the rela-
tive economic independence of young women, there
Although in many developing countries the agricul- was a drop in the marriage rate among the women
tural sector is still the main employer of rural women, working in the flower plantation.
particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, rural The livelihood diversification created by the flower
households are finding it increasingly difficult to sup- industry had, however, two negative effects. First,
port themselves with land-based activities alone and daughters often had to take on increased workloads
are turning to other sources of income. The strategy once their mothers joined the labour force, particu-
a household can adopt to diversify its sources of liveli- larly to take care of younger siblings. This jeopard-
hood depends on such factors as access to productive ized their educational prospects. Second, working
resources and assets, including land, capital, education conditions were often difficult, with long hours of
and skills. Individuals and households have to allocate work under short-term contracts. The working day
their labour between farm and non-farm sectors and at times reached 14 hours, and factories preferred to
hire people on short contracts (three months) to avoid
between waged and non-waged activities. All of these
paying social benefits for permanent workers.
factors have gender-specific implications. The extent to
which women can benefit from the diversification into Although women’s salaries were usually lower than
non-traditional agricultural products, including for ex- those of male workers, this difference was perceived
as justified by the fact that men’s direct work with
port, partly depends on the nature of the production
pesticides was considered more dangerous. Women
process and on property rights, especially the ownership
generally felt that employment in the flower indus-
and control of land.32
try was preferable to being a maid or a seasonal
Two important avenues for women’s livelihood diversi- worker because it meant that they did not need
fication in the areas of high-value agricultural exports to migrate away from their families in search of
have been wage labour employment on other people’s better opportunities.
land and work as contractual farmers to large agro- Source: A. Maldonado (2001), “Gender role changes
business firms. The employment opportunities for rural in households provoked by flower industry develop-
women in Latin America, for example, have increased ment”, paper presented at the Expert Group Meeting
on the situation of rural women within the context
in the last 20 years as a result of the growth in non- of globalization, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, 4-8 June
traditional agricultural exports. The following box illus- 2001, organized by the United Nations Division for
trates the case of increased female employment in the the Advancement of Women (DAW) in collabora-
flower plantations of Ecuador and examines some of the tion with the United Nations Development Fund for
implications of this type of waged labour. Women (UNIFEM).

October 2008

In Thailand, women subcontract to multinational cor-

porations on family-owned plots to produce baby corn
and asparagus on former paddy land, and raise shrimp Labour relations in the local subcontracting farms
under contract to foreign companies. Such arrangements often reflect traditional patriarchal norms and
in the agricultural export sector often entail labour- relations.
intensive manual jobs and low returns. Despite this, the
In terms of the impact on household relations, the
net returns from these activities may be an improve-
effects of women’s increasing employment in the
ment over the traditional agricultural activities they re-
agro-industry have been mixed. Chilean women
place. Such is the case in Thailand, where women now
who are seasonally employed by the fruit export
earn more in a shorter workday than they did by cul-
industry not only increase their contribution to the
tivating rice.33
household income, but also potentially challenge the
The positive impacts are circumscribed by other fac- authority of the male head of household by having
tors. The commercialization of agriculture has seriously access to their own source of cash income. However,
eroded many women’s traditional sources of power, as a more fundamental transformation of gender roles
they are no longer able to rely fully on subsistence pro- and division of labour has been difficult to achieve
duction. The seasonal character of employment in the because women are only seasonally employed and
agro-industry means that although women may experi- have to revert to their traditional role as wife and
ence new opportunities and relationships, they usually mother in the off-season. Moreover, even during the
return to their homes and more traditional attitudes and periods of waged employment, women retain the
practices during part of the year. It is, therefore, more primary responsibility for domestic work.
difficult to bring about lasting changes. Employers may
Source: S. Barrientos and others (1999), Women
also use their kinship or village ties to discipline women
and Agribusiness: Working Miracles in the Chil-
and prevent them from joining a labour union or from
ean Fruit Export Sector (Houndmills, Basingstoke:
engaging in other forms of collective action.34
Macmillan Press).
The spread of agro-industries and rural industrializa-
tion has significantly increased the possibilities for some
Women make up the majority of the workforce in many
women to gain access to cash income. With improved
textile and electronics export processing zones in devel-
access to cash income, women can achieve considerable
oping countries.36 Many of these workers are young, sin-
self-esteem and confidence and strengthen their position
gle migrant women from rural areas. In many South and
within the household. Engagement in wage employment
South-East Asian countries, large numbers of women are
allows women to get out of the relative isolation of their
moving from rural to urban areas to take up employment
homes or their small rural communities. Sharing experi-
opportunities, resulting in a distinct increase of women
ences on the job helps to create awareness and expand
in the labour force in export-oriented industries.
social horizons.35 It may also stimulate women to reflect
upon wider social relations, especially those related to Bangladesh provides one of the most pronounced exam-
employment and gender relations both at home and at ples of female-led industrialization. It is estimated that
work. The following box illustrates the situation in the between 1985 and 1989 female labour force participa-
Chilean fruit export industry and the impact of women’s tion in Bangladesh increased from 10 to 63 per cent. In
employment on household dynamics. addition to the textile and garment sectors, which em-
ploy many women, smaller numbers of women have also

The Chilean fruit

been drawn into wage employment in pharmaceuticals
and fish. A small but growing number are engaged in
export industry the construction industry as unskilled day labourers.
The fruit export industry employs a diverse group of Many of these women are from rural areas and many
women ranging from young unmarried women to are young, mainly unmarried or divorced, with only ba-
older married or divorced women. Women workers sic levels of education.37
have different experiences depending on whether Working conditions for women
they work for large transnational corporations in
the fruit sector or for local subcontracting farms. The changes in the rural economy had great impact on
the working conditions of women. In some cases, export
crop expansion has led to a shift of women from per-

October 2008

manent agricultural employment into seasonal employ-

ment. In “non-traditional” horticultural exports, low-paid
seasonal female employment has had a crucial role in work started at 4 a.m. and did not finish until late
production in many developing countries. One disadvan- in the afternoon. In general, women worked longer
tage of seasonal contract employment is that it rarely than men and earned less. In addition, there were
provides access to health benefits and social security. no maternity benefits or childcare facilities avail-
Many employers do not provide written contracts or able to women workers.
comply with national labour regulations pertaining to
Source: N. Kanji (2004), “Corporate responsibility and
services and health safeguards, such as hygienic facilities
women’s employment: the case of cashew nuts”,
and protection when working with pesticides.38
Gender and Development, vol. 12, No. 2 (London:
One study of the export horticultural sector in South International Institute for Environment and Devel-
Africa, Kenya and Zambia identified difficulties in bal- opment (IIED)).
ancing paid employment and family responsibilities—
given long hours and compulsory overtime—as critical
issues for women. Women do not have access to child- Employment conditions in agro-industry are generally
care when they work overtime on short notice and their characterized by flexible and casualized labour. Case
personal safety is at risk when travelling home late at studies of rural industries and export processing zones
night. As women are perceived to be more suitable for have revealed low levels of pay and working conditions
low-skilled and flexible work, they are discriminated for women in these industries, worse than those faced
against in their access to promotion to permanent, more by men.40 Job security for women is often non-existent.
skilled and better-paid work.39 For example, in the export industries of the Philippines,
jobs (under piece-rate arrangements) are temporary and
seasonal (peaking at certain times, such as Christmas),
Wagesand working afford little social protection and are low-paid. Women
conditions in cashew processing lose their jobs when they become pregnant, and women
plants in Mozambique and India workers have been vulnerable to sexual advances of
In both India and Mozambique, cashew nut process- Low levels of female education, as well as a plentiful
ing is an important source of wage employment supply of female labour, make it difficult for women in
for women. In India, it is estimated that over the new industries to improve their working conditions.
400,000 women work in cashew plants in the Labour organizing and negotiating for higher piece rates
state of Kerala. Most of these women workers do are very difficult, given the large numbers of women
not earn the minimum wage. Men are more likely seeking work. In addition, new work arrangements have
than women to earn higher, more secure monthly been introduced to increase the competitiveness of agri-
salaries. Women tend to be paid at piece rates business enterprises, rural industries or export processing
in the shelling and peeling sections. The working zone firms and contract farming. These arrangements
conditions for women are also very poor. Women often involve complex contractual arrangements, which
who sit or squat in the peeling sections or stand are not understandable for the poorly informed new em-
for long periods in the cutting sections experience ployees who have little or no formal education.42
numerous health problems, including back strain
The evidence on whether the new employment oppor-
and reproductive health disorders. Shelling work
tunities for women, including in the agro-industry and
also involves risk of injury from the caustic liquid
industrial sectors, have led to exploitation or improve-
from the cashew nut shell.
ment of women’s situation is mixed, and varies between
In Mozambique, workers were drastically affected countries, industries and even employers. For example,
by the collapse of the cashew industry in the early in the Philippines more factories in the industrial estates
1990s. The sector is revitalizing but is only one or export processing zone pay the legislated minimum
third of the size it was in early 1970s. For women, wage than those outside those zones, even though wages
however, difficult conditions of work persist. For are still considered low.43 Many rural women who have
instance, in one factory in southern Mozambique, moved into the new industries enjoy higher incomes
compared to their livelihoods as small-scale farmers or
informal sector workers. However, many women also

October 2008

face exploitative situations, with long working hours, biases and largely tend to ignore women’s issues and
unacceptable working conditions, low wages, insecurity the informalization of labour conditions.48
of contracts and risk of abuse and harassment.
Rural poverty
Labour rights of rural
women workers Whether defined as the lack of a minimally adequate
income or as the lack of essential human capabilities,
Labour rights for rural women workers include labour poverty is pervasive throughout the world, particularly
laws relating to all workers, both women and men (for in rural areas. In 2002, the percentage of the population
example, on minimum wages and safety), and laws in developing countries surviving on income of US $1 or
particularly concerning women (for example, on non- less per day was 19.2 per cent, ranging from a low of
discrimination and maternity leave, and “protective” 2.4 per cent in the Middle East to a high of 44 per cent
legislation). In many countries, formal labour legislation in sub-Saharan Africa.49 The agricultural sector is still re-
does not apply to the informal sector in which many sponsible for the major share of the economy in many
women are employed in rural industries.44 developing countries and is a critical element in poverty
eradication in rural areas, particularly for women.
Women’s labour rights are limited by the general lack
of implementation of labour legislation, including equal- Poverty is a complex phenomenon, difficult to assess
pay provisions. Although there is widespread prohibition and combat. The shift in the debate from “income pov-
of sex discrimination, these provisions are not always erty” to “human poverty”, which requires attention to
respected in practice. Women’s access to employment and data on such capabilities as literacy, levels of health
may be restricted by family law requiring the authoriza- and nutrition, and entitlement to assets and resources,
tion of the husband. Legislation on sexual harassment such as land, irrigation, capital and extension services,
may not exist or be implemented. Women’s access to rather than crude estimates of income, is a very positive
agricultural work may be constrained by “protective” one. A focus on asset and resource distribution provides
legislation that prohibits women from working in spe- a more sensitive measure of poverty, particularly in ru-
cific occupations or at night.45 ral areas, and in relation to women.
Maternity leave provisions are uneven across countries. In poverty eradication efforts, the household is still often
Pregnancy testing and even sterilization practices have used as the basic unit of analysis. This focus on the house-
been documented in some countries. Women often work hold, without attention to intra-household relations, con-
without contracts on a daily and piecework basis. Under strains development of adequate understanding of the
employment contracts signed by male household heads, differences between individual women and men in distri-
women may be required to provide labour although the bution of food, income and productive resources. Efforts
wages are paid to the head of household.46 Women non- to understand the gender dimensions of poverty have
permanent workers are also underrepresented in trade often focused on resource-poor female‑headed house-
unions and workers’ committees, which address issues holds but failed to identify the female poverty that ex-
of workers’ rights. ists in relatively wealthy male‑headed rural households.
Evidence suggests that incidence of poverty is higher,
As the rural sector increasingly resembles the urban or
more severe and increasing among women.50
industrial sector in terms of the organization of produc-
tion, labour relations and the importance of the cash Two particular aspects of poverty, time poverty and hun-
economy, there are new opportunities for grass-roots ger, have clear gender dimensions, particularly in rural
organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) areas. There are significant time allocation differentials
and labour unions to engage in collective organizing for between women and men in the rural areas of develop-
labour rights. In the last two decades, NGOs and grass- ing countries. Women work longer hours than men and
roots organizations have gained considerable experience perform multiple roles in both the productive and repro-
with organizing women, especially those employed in ductive spheres. Globally, women spend 40 billion hours
the informal sector.47 The global diffusion of informa- annually on water collection, which reduces the time avail-
tion and communications technologies, although un- able for other important activities, including income gen-
even, has also created new possibilities for networking, eration.51 The illness of family members due to HIV/AIDS
advocacy and lobbying for rights among interest groups imposes an additional demand on the labour and time
in rural areas all over the world. Unfortunately, however, of rural women, necessitating extended caregiving, which
traditional labour unions still reflect urban and gender falls disproportionately to older women and girls.

October 2008

Poverty is also reflected in undernourishment and mal- Gender perspectives must be fully integrated into all
nourishment, which are common features of life in the PRSPs and other strategies and plans for the eradica-
rural areas of many developing countries, in many cases tion of poverty in rural areas, including reporting on the
resulting more from inadequate income or purchasing Millennium Development Goals, and ways and means of
power, lack of know-how and differential access to re- increasing consultation with and participation of rural
sources within the household rather than from food women strengthened. All data must be disaggregated by
shortages. Because of gender inequality within most sex and age. The priorities and needs of specific groups
households, women and girls are at the end of the food of rural women, such as indigenous women, disabled
chain. Their diet is low in calories and protein, which results women, widows and women heading households, must
in weight loss and reduced resistance to diseases. Hunger be given particular attention.
inhibits women’s work in food production and has a nega- Gender-sensitive capacity development must be in-
tive impact on the food security of the household. creased to ensure that all categories of personnel in-
Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), which are volved in poverty eradication are equipped to identify
prepared by Governments through a participatory pro- and effectively address gender perspectives in their work.
cess involving civil society and development partners, Gender-responsive budgeting methods and procedures
are one important strategy to address poverty. Some must be systematically and effectively utilized to ensure
PRSPs have provided specific indicators to monitor gender-sensitive resource allocations in all areas criti-
gender-responsive actions in the areas of infrastructure, cal for rural women. Ministries of Finance and relevant
agriculture, rural development and financial services. The line ministries, including Ministries of Agriculture, must
PRSP for Mali, for example, reported the percentage of receive sufficient training in this area. Specific targeted
female entrepreneurs and the percentage of women assistance to address the gaps and challenges faced by
benefiting from microenterprise as PRSP progress indi- rural women should be increased.
cators. It also proposed training women in rehabilitation
and conservation techniques for water and land as part Climate change and food crises
of the PRSP’s infrastructure and production sector pil-
lar.52 The interim PRSP in Rwanda included legal issues Climate change
related to gender equality. It discussed the recent revi-
sion of the family code, which now offers couples the Climate change represents a complex and multifaceted
option of common ownership of property assets. In ad- threat to global security. As a result of mainly human
dition, it proposed a new labour code and land legisla- activity, the climate is changing—becoming less stable
tion that would remove restrictions on women’s ability and more volatile and warmer. Seasons arrive at different
to work and own property.53 times than normal; glaciers are receding; and sea levels
are rising. As the planet warms, it is likely that there will
The participatory processes in PRSPs aim to orient social
be an increase in the frequency and severity of floods,
and economic policies towards improving human de-
droughts and other natural catastrophes. Droughts and
velopment for all, including through supporting gender
floods are already contributing to crop failures, food
equality, equal opportunities and the elimination of all
shortages and other human suffering.
forms of discrimination. However, the record of PRSPs
on participation of rural women is mixed, and poverty There is a broad consensus that climate change is best
reduction policies and programmes in most countries addressed in the context of sustainable development. Un-
continue to neglect gender equality perspectives, as gen- less it is dealt with effectively, climate change will have
der equality goals are considered subordinate to other a dramatic impact on the environment and on economic
policy objectives.54 and social development. Climate change is also likely to
Participation in PRSP processes is usually limited to exacerbate both natural disasters and, potentially, con-
consultation processes, which are not always gender- flicts over natural resources. The impact of climate change
sensitive, and are often restricted to a small number of cuts across a range of policy areas, including food security,
NGOs.55 Little is known about the extent of consulta- water management, energy, human settlements, trans-
tion with rural women. National machineries for gender port and health. It is linked to issues of human rights
equality, which are mandated to ensure the empower- and governance. The effects of climate change will be
ment of women in rural areas, are often under-resourced disproportionately severe for the most vulnerable groups
and lack access to decision-making processes, and are and threaten to put the achievement of the Millennium
thus inadequately involved in PRSP processes.56 Development Goals beyond reach.

October 2008

Addressing climate change effectively requires efforts in the areas of energy, water, food security, agriculture
on both mitigation of risks to reduce vulnerability and and fisheries, biodiversity and ecosystem services, health,
development of adaptation strategies to build resilience. industry, human settlements, disaster management, and
This involves recognizing countries and groups that are conflict and security.
particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change Women are not only victims of climate change but also
and supporting these countries and groups in disaster effective agents of change in relation to both mitigation
risk management and reduction. Central areas of con- and adaptation. Women have a strong body of know-
cern in addressing climate change include making use ledge and expertise that can be used in climate change
of technology and innovation, and financing appropri- mitigation, disaster reduction and adaptation strategies.
ate responses. Women’s responsibilities in households and communi-
It is widely recognized that rural women in developing ties as stewards of natural resources have positioned
countries are especially vulnerable to the effects of cli- them well for livelihood strategies adapted to chang-
mate change. For example, drought and intermittent ing environmental realities. Women tend, however, to
rainfall patterns directly affect women as primary pro- be underrepresented in decision-making on sustainable
ducers of staple food and as consumers. Desertification development, which impedes their ability to contribute
has increased the time burden on women and girls, as their perspectives and expertise on climate change.
they have to walk further to collect water, which may Financing mechanisms to respond to climate change must
put them at risk of gender-based violence, or may result be flexible enough to reflect women’s priorities and needs.
in their forgoing such opportunities as attending school The active participation of women in the development
and undertaking income-generation activities. Women of funding criteria and allocation of resources for climate
contribute much of the labour required for coping with change initiatives is critical, particularly at local levels.
climate risks, for example in soil and water conservation, Gender analysis of all budget lines and financial instru-
the building of anti-flood embankments and increased ments for climate change is needed to ensure gender-
off-farm employment.57 sensitive investments in programmes for adaptation,
Women make up a large number of the poor in com- mitigation, technology transfer and capacity-building.
munities that are highly dependent on local natural re- Technological developments related to climate change
sources for their livelihood and are disproportionately should take into account women’s specific priorities and
vulnerable to and affected by climate change. Women’s needs and make full use of their knowledge and expertise,
limited access to resources and decision-making pro- including traditional practices. Women’s involvement in
cesses increases their vulnerability to climate change. the development of new technologies can ensure that
Women in rural areas in developing countries have the they are user-friendly, effective and sustainable. Women
major responsibility for household water supply and en- should also have equal access to training, credit and skills
ergy for cooking and heating, as well as for food secu- development programmes to ensure their full participa-
rity, and are negatively affected by drought, uncertain tion in climate change initiatives.
rainfall and deforestation.58 Because of their roles, un-
equal access to resources and limited mobility, women Food crises
in many contexts are disproportionately affected by
natural disasters, such as floods, fires and mudslides. It The recent dramatic escalation of food prices has caused
is important to identify gender-sensitive strategies for a crisis worldwide and represents an unprecedented
responding to the environmental and humanitarian cri- global challenge that has affected millions of people,
ses caused by climate change. particularly the most vulnerable. The numbers of hun-
Gender perspectives need to be considered in both miti- gry people around the world are growing. The high food
gation and adaptation work to ensure that the needs, prices threaten to undermine progress towards achieve-
priorities and contributions of women as well as men are ment of all the Millennium Development Goals, and in
taken into consideration in research, policy development, particular the goal of eradicating hunger.
and programmes and initiatives on climate change. Gen- The crisis has multiple and complex causes, many of
der inequalities in access to resources, including credit, which are interconnected. Drivers of the crisis include
extension services, information and technology, must lack of investments in the agricultural sector, rapidly
be taken into account in developing mitigation activi- rising demand for food due to economic growth and
ties. Adaptation efforts should systematically and effec- higher incomes, trade-distorting subsidies, recurrent bad
tively address gender-specific impacts of climate change weather and environmental degradation, rapidly rising

October 2008

energy prices, subsidized production of biofuels that re- further compromise the vulnerable nutritional and health
places food production, and the imposition of energy re- status of women and girls in times of food shortages. In
strictions leading to hoarding and panic purchasing. addition, women have unequal access to income and to
A successful response is critical to ensuring revived global credit facilities, which are essential to ensuring supple-
progress in eradicating poverty and hunger and to en- mentary food for an adequate, diverse diet.
suring sustainable rural development. The short-term Women should be actively consulted on and involved
responses include mobilizing additional resources, en- in any food distribution responses to ensure that the
hancing food assistance, strengthening social protection food is appropriately distributed for the benefit of fam-
measures and targeting support to small farmers. In addi- ilies. In addition, women should have equal access to
tion to the immediate emergency relief responses to the all forms of support, such as income-generating pro-
humanitarian implications of the crisis, there must also grammes, credit facilities and other social programmes
be a more long-term response that supports countries in related to the food crisis. Evidence shows that women
strengthening agricultural capacity, improving transpor- are more likely to spend their income on food and
tation, storage, financial services and market facilities, child welfare, leading to better nutritional outcomes,
and strengthening overall economic and trade policies. and that they are less likely to sell or trade food for
Food crises have a disproportionate impact on women non-food items.
and girls. Women play a critical role in food produc- In the longer term, the constraints faced by women in
tion, but their unequal access to critical resources sig- many parts of the world in effectively carrying out their
nificantly limits their potential to ensure sustainable roles in food crop production and contributing to the re-
livelihoods and food security for households and com- duction of poverty, hunger and food insecurity should be
munities.59 High food prices mean that the poor will explicitly addressed. Attention to the needs, priorities and
have to spend a larger proportion of their income on contributions of women as well as men must be system-
food and will probably buy less food or food that is less atically included in all policies, plans, resource allocations
nutritious, or will have to rely on outside help to meet and activities in response to the food crisis. All data, for
their nutritional needs. example on nutritional status and the impacts of food
Effectively addressing the food crisis in both the short crises, as well as data collected on the responses to such
and long term requires an explicit focus on gender equal- crises, should be disaggregated by sex and age.
ity and the empowerment of women and girls. There It is important to recognize that averting food crises in
must be specific attention to women in the short-term the future will be dependent on more effective and sys-
responses because in some societies discrimination in tematic long-term attention to the promotion of gen-
food distribution still occurs. For example, the practice der equality and the empowerment of women and girls
for men and boys to eat before women and girls may in rural areas.

Changing social structures and

patterns of mobility
Changes in the rural economy, such as commercialization of members’ needs and expectations; gender relations, in-
agriculture, livelihood diversification, and increased labour cluding the division of labour; generational hierarchy; wider
mobility and migration, as well as changes in the roles and social expectations and norms; and specific traditional or
contributions of rural women, have had profound effects religious beliefs and practices. The position of each indi-
on social structures in rural areas in developing countries. vidual in the household is determined by four key factors:
Social changes within households have an impact on the ownership and control over assets, especially land; access
composition of households, the division of labour, and ac- to employment and other income-earning means; access
cess to resources, as well as on gender roles and relations. to communal resources (such as village commons and for-
ests); and access to external social support systems, such
Changing patterns of household as patronage, kinship and friendship relationships in which
division of labour other than economic factors take precedence.60
Households comprise a complex set of social relations, with The opening up of new opportunities with increased eco-
household dynamics based on a mix of factors: individual nomic returns can increase the demand for both male and

October 2008

female labour. The changing economic environment and family composition, for example by changing the attitudes
increased employment opportunities for women can af- and expectations of young people regarding marriage and
fect the roles and status of women within households in divorce. Given increasing economic independence, young
a positive way. As rural families diversify their livelihoods, women may, for example, opt to delay marriage.
the household division of labour changes. Women’s ac- The rise of female-headed households has challenged
cess to alternative sources of income has the potential
the traditional gender-based roles in rural areas. With
to improve their status and bargaining position and to
regional variations, women are currently reported as
transform gender relations. However, to date, there is
household head63 or “reference person” in from 9 to
little evidence of such positive changes.
42 per cent of households globally.64 As female-headed
The majority of rural households respond to new oppor- households often face particular difficulties in meeting
tunities and challenges by restructuring the household household needs, they must be recognized as a separate
division of labour so that women and children assume category by policymakers.
greater workloads. Often, women’s labour is diverted to
When men migrate on a temporary and seasonal basis,
productive activities on their husbands’ crops or women
households may be headed by women. In many cases,
are drawn into wage labour. In poor rural households,
however, men may continue to maintain the decision-
child labour is particularly important for achieving live-
making power even though they are not physically pres-
lihood security.61 For rural families primarily engaged in
ent. There are also a significant number of female-headed
farming, male migration can result in labour shortages
households without links to a male partner because the
and dramatically change the traditional division of la-
women are not married, or are widowed, divorced or aban-
bour. This can limit the ability of women to benefit from
doned. In these households, women have the decision-
new economic opportunities.62 The net effect is often in-
making power and the full social and economic respon-
creased workloads for women and, in some cases, lower
sibility for the well-being of household members.
agricultural productivity because of labour shortages for
such activities as clearing land and ploughing. Another emerging trend is the growth of multigener-
In order to ensure that women benefit from changes ational households. The precise composition of these
within the household division of labour, rural women households varies. Extended families and multigener-
need greater control over their own labour and decisions ational households may include additional kin or may
have a missing middle generation because of out-
regarding its allocation. They need control over the re-
migration or HIV/AIDS-related deaths, particularly in Af-
sources generated by their new activities to enable them
rica. This results in a growing number of households in
to invest in time-saving equipment, to access technologi-
which grandmothers, single mothers and even children
cal innovations to improve their labour productivity, and
are responsible for extended households, which also in-
to hire labour to relieve their work burdens.
clude non-family members.
Changing household The impact of HIV/AIDS on
composition rural women
In the context of the changing rural economy, there are
The composition and livelihoods of rural populations
an increasing number of households headed by women
are increasingly affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
as well as those containing several generations. Increased
The seriousness of the impact on rural women is illus-
labour mobility is one of the most important reasons for
trated by recent statistics. Globally, HIV infection rates
changes in household composition. Because of the need to
among women continue to rise disproportionately, with
migrate as part of household survival strategies, household
17.5 million women living with HIV in 2005—1 million
members may be dispersed, with some residing in towns
more than in 2003. Most HIV-positive women live in
and others in rural areas. The migration of younger people
sub-Saharan Africa, but the epidemic is affecting grow-
from rural to urban areas results in the accelerated ageing
ing numbers of women in South and South-East Asia
of the rural population. Male migration leads to increased
(where almost 2 million women now have HIV) and in
numbers of female-headed households in many rural ar-
Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In sub-Saharan Africa,
eas. Women are also increasingly migrating on their own
nearly three out of four young people from 15 to 24
in search of employment, which has a significant impact
years of age living with HIV are female. The impact of
on household structures and composition.
the epidemic on women in sub-Saharan Africa remains
Exposure to new ideas through the spread of mass me- disproportionate. Most of the women who die are at the
dia and exposure to external influences can also influence prime of their productive life, and their deaths deprive

October 2008

families and communities of food producers, teachers, cial and economic safety nets, and labour-saving food
mothers and carers.65 production technologies.71 One innovative initiative, for
example, has linked credit to HIV prevention work on
According to Food and Agriculture Organization of the
violence against women. The Intervention with Micro-
United Nations (FAO) estimates, HIV/AIDS has been re-
finance for AIDS and Gender Equity programme in Lim-
sponsible for the deaths of 7 million agricultural work-
popo Province, South Africa, integrates HIV prevention
ers since 1985 in the 25 hardest-hit countries in Africa,
and violence training into its microfinance programmes
and could lead to the deaths of another 16 million be-
for rural women. The aim of the programme is to pro-
fore 2020.66 HIV/AIDS erodes the asset base of rural
households, depletes their labour force, reduces their vide women with small loans to start businesses and
range of knowledge and skills, restricts their ability to gain greater economic independence.72
earn cash from farming and non-farm activities, and un-
dermines their ability to feed themselves and maintain The situation of
adequate levels of nutrition.67 Physical vulnerability and rural widows
social vulnerability combine so that young women are
particularly vulnerable—both to the disease itself and In regions across the world, especially in traditional
to its broader impacts (as caregivers and widows). The societies, women face significant challenges after
deaths of farmers who do not have the opportunity to the demise of their husbands. Widows can fall into
pass on knowledge to their children have a serious im- abject poverty, as they are often not entitled to
pact on agricultural practices and food security. inherit property and may not receive any support
from their late husband’s relatives. They may even
Increased mobility, improved transport systems and
be victims of violence, evicted from their homes
greater movement of people can contribute to a chang-
and robbed of their household possessions.
ing pattern of HIV/AIDS. For example, studies from India
report increased income for men and decreased options A study from Zambia showed that in the wake of
for poor women as contributing factors in the growth the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the percentage of house-
of sex for sale. According to one estimate, 11 per cent holds headed by widows in rural Zambia increased
of truck drivers are HIV-positive, as roadside prostitution from 9.4 to 12.3 per cent between 2001 and 2003.
has increased in recent years. These men bring the risks Furthermore, within one to three years after the
of infection home to their wives.68 death of their husbands, widows who headed
The links between property rights, HIV/AIDS and the households in rural areas, on average, controlled
position of rural women have become evident in many 35 per cent less land than they had prior to their
parts of Africa. According to FAO, women in households husband’s death. The study found that women
affected by HIV/AIDS are particularly vulnerable to pov- in relatively wealthy households are particularly
erty. Without formal and clear title to their land, women vulnerable to losing land after the death of their
often lack the resources to ensure sustainable liveli- husbands. The study also revealed that widows in
hoods for their families. For example, in such countries both patrilineal and matrilineal villages are equally
as Namibia and Uganda,69 where land law and property likely to lose their rights to land.
rights are made up of a complex system of overlapping Source: A. Chapoto, T. S. Jayne and N. Mason (2007),
statutory and traditional law, the rights of women to Security of Widows’ Access to Land in the Era of HIV/
inherit, own and manage land may be neglected. The AIDS: Panel Survey Evidence from Zambia, Policy
FAO study found that over 40 per cent of widows had Synthesis Food Security Research Project—Zambia
lost cattle and tools, seized by relatives after the male Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, Agricultural
head of household had died. When women lack title Consultative Forum (Lusaka, Zambia: Michigan State
to land or housing, they have a narrower range of eco- University), No. 22.
nomic options and they may face homelessness, pov-
erty and violence, contributing to the impoverishment
of the entire family.70
Changing patterns of labour
The response to HIV/AIDS in rural development must
involve an integrated and gender-sensitive approach, In recent years, population movements have accelerated
focusing on a range of issues across all sectors, includ- both within countries and across national boundaries.
ing HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention campaigns, At the global level, there were 191 million international
legal rights, expanded access to HIV services, new so- migrants in 2005. Nearly half of all migrants worldwide

October 2008

are women, with women being more numerous in de- Saharan Africa are permanently headed by women,
veloped countries than male migrants.73 While in the either widows or women who are single, divorced
past women traditionally accompanied or joined male or separated from their partners.79 Many more farm
family members, they increasingly migrate on their own households are de facto headed by women while men
for employment.74 are away.
A number of different migration patterns exist in rural With increased migratory flows and the absence of hus-
areas. These movements are from rural to rural areas, bands or male members of households, women take
as young women join the agro-industry workforce; from over traditionally male tasks and responsibilities. The
rural to urban areas, when girls and adult women leave women left behind potentially face difficulties, such as
for towns and cities to enter the service and manufactur- increased burdens on their time, inadequate access to
ing sectors, including the export processing zones; and resources, and restrictions on their ownership of prop-
international, as women move abroad to work in a di- erty and participation in decision-making. In Uganda,
verse range of occupations, including as nannies, maids, for example, while male smallholder farmers often out-
factory workers, teachers and nurses.75 migrated, leaving women responsible for cultivation
The forced migration of women also takes place because and management, the men still retained ownership and
of conflict and natural disasters, as well as through traf- control of decision-making.80 This resulted in delayed
ficking in women and girls for the purpose of exploita- decision-making, which adversely affected animal health
tion, including prostitution and forced labour. Women are and crop productivity. In some cases, because of the ab-
trafficked in different ways: they are kidnapped, sold by sence of the husband, the woman had to move in with
their families or given false promises of well-paid jobs. her husband’s relatives and control over resources was
Trafficking is driven by the demand for cheap labour, passed on to other male relatives.
the growth of the commercial sex industry and restric- The impact of the additional workload on women is
tive immigration policies.76 considerably noticeable in areas where social support
Migration generally results in the redistribution of tasks systems and services are weak or eroded. Often chil-
and responsibilities among those left behind, and there dren, particularly girls, are called upon to assume do-
is evidence of a strong impact on gender relations. Mi- mestic tasks, thereby compromising their own education.
gration can be an empowering experience for women— Women employ different strategies to compensate for
both those left behind when men migrate and those who the loss of male labour. They may organize labour ex-
migrate themselves—allowing them to exercise greater change with other women, work longer hours them-
autonomy over their lives.77 selves or, if they have means from remittance and other
Different migration scenarios need to be taken into income sources, hire additional labour. They also adopt
account when considering the impact of migration such strategies as reducing the area under cultivation
on rural women: the situation of women left behind or switching to crops that may be less labour-intensive
when other family members migrate; the situation but also less nutritious.81
when women themselves migrate; and the effects of Female heads of households often face greater ob-
the return of women migrants to their countries of stacles than male heads of households in meeting the
origin. Each type of scenario has different costs and needs of their households, because of lower economic
benefits. For example, migration of young family units and social status, lack of resources and lack of control
can result in an ageing rural population in rural areas. over agricultural income, and a heavy workload that
Independent female migration may create increased may reduce their overall productivity. Their situation
independence for women but have other short- and is further exacerbated when they receive few or no
long-term consequences for families that are not al- remittances.
ways taken into account.78 Despite these problems, male migration can bring
When women are left behind substantial benefits to the women left behind in ru-
ral areas, including increased empowerment. The most
In many areas, male migration has contributed to a rise obvious benefit is increased family income through re-
of female-headed households, a phenomenon that has mittances. Women may also have an opportunity to
challenged the traditional patterns of gender-based acquire new skills and capacities. Running a household
roles in rural areas. For example, it has been estimated in the absence of adult male members can help women
that approximately one third of the households in sub- gain more self-esteem and independence.82

October 2008

When women migrate migrants contribute to greater quality of life, better

health and education, and investments in housing or
The migration of women is governed by gender norms businesses. However, the effects on children left behind
regarding the appropriateness of their migrating alone, when women migrate are increasingly identified as
their role and position within their families, the level of problematic. Generally, men do not necessarily take on
their social and economic independence, and the avail- additional domestic roles. Negative outcomes of migra-
ability of networks that provide information on and fa- tion on families left behind include an increase in social
cilitate access to employment.83 problems, such as low educational achievements, early
Lack of access to resources at home, particularly productive pregnancy or increased drug use among children.
land, is one factor that contributes to women’s migration An often-unexplored dimension of women’s migration is
from rural areas.84 Women also migrate in order to escape the personal cost experienced by many migrating women
the hardship of rural life and patriarchal and social control. who leave their families behind to provide economic re-
There are also many positive pull-factors that encourage sources.89 While men’s absence is mostly perceived as
rural women to migrate, including attractive income earn- part of their responsibility as providers for their fami-
ing opportunities at the intended destination.85 lies, women migrants may receive social blame for not
When women migrate in search of new job opportuni- fulfilling their traditional roles as caretakers.90
ties, they may develop new skills, attitudes and behav- When migrants return
ioural patterns and decide to build an independent life
rather than resume their former roles. For many women Women who migrate and return, whether temporarily
migrants, the migration process may contribute positively or permanently, bring new skills from their migration
to their self-esteem, because they have to assume more experience. Some programmes facilitate the return of
responsibilities and gain new experiences as migrants. In professional migrants with special skills to their coun-
addition, their remittances often provide an important tries of origin in order to support economic develop-
source of cash income for the family and increase their ment. An example is the United Nations Development
standing in their households and communities.86 Programme–operated TOKTEN (Transfer of Knowledge
through Expatriate Nationals) project, which supports
The extent to which this positive effect materializes de-
temporary return to the country of origin.91
pends on a number of factors, including the legal status
of migrants and the general attitudes toward migrants, Returning migrants often have to renegotiate their
as well as the gender-specific policies and practices in re- position within the household and community. Long-
ceiving countries.87 The nature of the migratory networks term migrants may not wish to resume their traditional
women use for assistance in finding a job and/or for a work and prefer to engage in different activities that
safety net in times of emergencies is also important. Net- earn better income or bring higher status. Men tend to
works based on patriarchal control can weaken women’s resume their decision-making position in the household.
ability to take advantage of new opportunities, such as Women migrants are generally less likely to fit easily back
exposure to new values, roles and market demands. In into their former roles. They may be more inclined to chal-
addition, middlemen or agencies can play a central role lenge the established gender roles and prevailing customs
in organizing the migration of rural women, with the in the family. This can create strong conflicts, leading to
possible risk of exploitation. domestic violence or women’s re-migration.
Migrant women are often uninformed about their rights Although immigration policies make circulation of mi-
and obligations, which leads to different forms of exploita- grants difficult, the pressure to leave again tends to be
tion, including harsh and dangerous working conditions; vi- strong when the money sent home by a female migrant
olence by employers; low pay; confiscation of identification has been used differently than anticipated (spent rather
documents; and deportation. The effect of gender-based than saved or invested). This leaves neither savings nor
discriminatory behaviours is often compounded by their an economic base for the future, which for single women
status as foreigners and by racist treatment in the receiv- can diminish their prospects of getting married or caring
ing countries. Migrant women may enter illegally in the for economic dependants. However, if returning female
receiving country or be recruited for mostly unskilled and migrants have accumulated income, they may have the
low-paid jobs that provide little protection from abuse.88 opportunity to set up a business in their home village,
The absence of women who migrate can have a sig- such as microenterprises or trading activities, which may
nificant impact on families and communities left be- elevate their social status and allow them to serve as role
hind. On the positive side, remittances from women models for other rural women.

October 2008

The impact of remittances

Globally, money sent home by migrants increased from ral Filipino migrants important agents of change
US$ 102 billion in 1995 to an estimated US$ 232 billion in their rural communities. The remittances from
in 2005.92 In general, migration increases remittances to these women migrants are critical for the access
rural areas and strengthens market linkages between ru- of many rural households to food, clothing, health
ral and urban areas. Although remittances from migrants care, education and other subsistence items. Re-
have the potential to improve the quality of life of rural mittances have also provided the capital required
to purchase landholdings. Findings from the study
households, their long-term impact and importance for
demonstrated that remittances have played a pos-
sustaining rural life differ from context to context.
itive role in enhancing gender equality in rural
One country where female migrant income seems to be areas in the Philippines. The value of the remit-
especially important to rural livelihoods is Bangladesh. A tances has contributed to an increase in the status
study of Bangladeshi female garment workers found that of women at the household and community levels.
these workers provide about 46 per cent of their fami- Some women have used the remittances to shift
lies’ income and, according to a 1997 survey, about 23 per from unpaid subsistence agricultural work to the
cent of unmarried garment workers were the main management of small businesses. The investment
earners in their families.93 Often this money is used for of remittances in the education of children, includ-
permanent improvements in the livelihood of the rural ing girls, has also contributed to social advance-
household or extended families, for example through the ment and empowerment of women.
construction of improved housing.
Source: United Nations International Research and
The effect of remittances on rural areas depends on Training Institute for the Advancement of Women
who controls such income and the way in which it is (INSTRAW), International Fund for Agricultural
spent. Sometimes women left behind determine how the Development (IFAD) and Filipino Women’s Council
money is to be spent; in other cases, the male migrant (2008), Gender, Remittances and Development: The
or other male family members in the rural community Case of Filipino Migration to Italy (Santo Domingo,
make these decisions. The distinction is important, since Dominican Republic: INSTRAW).
there is a tendency for income controlled by women to
be invested in the household and its members, rather A study of women migrating from the Dominican Repub-
than spent on consumer items.94 lic to Spain illustrates how women shifted from sending
Remittances from men tend to arrive less regularly than remittances to their husbands to sending them to other
those of women, and men take a larger share of their earn- women, such as mothers or sisters, because the latter
ings for their own personal use (alcohol, cigarettes or a complied better with the intended use of the money for
second family) and to buy consumer items (such as radios, basic goods and investment in health and education.96
bicycles and cars), even in instances when their income Women in Suriname tend to turn to other female fam-
may be needed for household survival. By contrast, women ily members who have migrated to the Netherlands for
are more likely to send money home for investment in remittances and cash support when they do not want to
productive inputs (such as cattle or fertilizers). However, (or cannot) rely on the male family members.97
the gender-specific differences in remittances behaviour Given the importance of women’s migration for both
should not be overgeneralized, as they are influenced by countries of origin and countries of destination, it is cru-
sociocultural factors in different countries.95 cial that gender perspectives are integrated into all poli-
cies and programmes on migration in order to empower
The impact of remittances from migrant women and protect and promote their human

Filipino women rights. Governments, international organizations includ-

ing the United Nations, civil society and the private sec-
A recent study by the International Research and tor should improve the protection of migrant women’s
Training Institute for the Advancement of Women rights, and their safety and security, in particular through
(INSTRAW) investigated the impact of migration steps to protect them from labour abuses, sexual exploita-
and remittances on gender equality in the case of tion, trafficking and other situations of exploitation. This
Filipino women who have migrated to Italy. The is particularly important for rural women, since lack of
employment opportunities abroad have made ru- information can make them vulnerable to traffickers.
Migration policies need to enhance migrant wom-
en’s employment opportunities, access to safe housing,

October 2008

education, language training in the host country, health Steps should be taken to reduce the cost of remittance
care and other services. Migrant women need access to transfers by encouraging competition in the remittance
education and communication programmes to learn of transfer market and by providing financial literacy train-
their rights and responsibilities under international and ing to the migrant women who send remittances and to
national laws. the women who receive remittances.

Critical issues for improving the

situation of rural women
A number of elements identified as critical for establish- tive health care is inadequately addressed and maternal
ing an enabling environment for gender equality and the mortality remains high in many countries, with the high-
empowerment of women are highly relevant for women est rates in sub-Saharan Africa. In every region of the
in rural areas. They include strengthening women’s ca- world, the presence of skilled birth attendants is lower
pabilities, for example through access to education and in rural than in urban areas. In sub-Saharan Africa, less
health services; increasing their access to and control than 40 per cent of women deliver with access to skilled
over resources and opportunities, such as land, credit, care, and in South Asia the figure is less than 30 per
employment, and migration; enhancing their agency and cent.102 Most pregnant women in rural areas continue to
leadership roles, including through increased participa- work while pregnant and resume work soon after deliv-
tion in decision-making; and protecting and promoting ery. The absence of timely medical care, inadequate diet
their human rights and ensuring their security, including and heavy workload often result in complicated pregnan-
freedom from violence and the threat of violence.98 cies and high maternal mortality rates.103

Strengthening capabilities Adolescent girls are vulnerable to unwanted pregnancy

and sexually transmitted infections and are among those
Access to basic services, such as health care and educa- with the highest levels of unmet needs for contracep-
tion, is a precondition for strengthening the capabilities tion. Early marriage often leads to early childbearing,
of rural women and facilitating their empowerment. with negative health consequences for young women,
Gender inequalities in access to these services vary including obstructed labour and obstetric fistula.
widely between urban and rural areas and across re-
gions and countries. Obstetric fistula—a critical
Health issue for rural women
It is estimated that at least 2 million women in Af-
Goals 5, 6 and 7 of the Millennium Development Goals, rica, Asia and the Arab region are living with obstet-
on reducing child mortality, improving maternal health, ric fistula as a consequence of prolonged obstructed
and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, labour, with some 50,000 to 100,000 new cases
are of particular importance to women living in rural developing each year. On the basis of 31 recent
areas. The achievement of these goals would increase country-level needs assessments in 29 countries, the
women’s and girls’ well-being and their ability to par- United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) notes that
ticipate effectively in the rural economy. “the typical fistula patient was young, developed
The 10-year review of the implementation of the Bei- the fistula during her first pregnancy, and lived in
a rural area”. Fistula has severe physical, economic,
jing Platform for Action revealed a lack of human and
social and psychological implications for those af-
financial resources for primary health care in rural and
flicted with it. Women with fistula are shunned by
remote areas and gaps in access to primary health care
their partners, families and communities. They live
between rural and urban areas.99 Limited health resources
in near-complete social isolation with no opportu-
may be largely invested in urban areas, contributing to nities for financial security and are especially vul-
inadequate services in rural areas,100 with negative con- nerable to malnutrition and violence. Women who
sequences for rural women. remain untreated may also face premature death
In developing countries, women have a 1 in 61 chance of from frequent infection and kidney failure.
dying from pregnancy-related causes; the rate is 1 in 15 in
sub-Saharan Africa.101 Rural women’s access to reproduc-

October 2008

During the last three decades, partnerships between gov-

ernments, NGOs and United Nations organizations have
A number of factors play a role in the persistence strengthened efforts to end female genital mutilation.
of fistula. These include endemic poverty, early There is a greater understanding of the practice as a vio-
childbearing, the lack of skilled attendants at birth, lation of human rights and of its harmful health impacts.
inadequate emergency obstetric services and the Promising experiences include the involvement of highly
lack of transportation facilities to reach such serv- visible opinion makers and community and religious lead-
ices. In addition, there is limited awareness about ers, as well as approaches that target communities as
repair possibilities, and the care provided is inade- a whole. Community-based programming initiatives by
quate because of a lack of awareness at the policy governments and civil society have been supported by
level, poor integration of services and a shortage United Nations entities to address the challenge of fe-
of trained providers for fistula care. male genital mutilation. For example, in Egypt, UNICEF
collaborated with the National Council for Childhood and
Strategies for the eradication of fistula include
Motherhood to support community-based programming
promoting legislation and policies to reduce ma-
in 40 communities that builds the capacity of those com-
ternal mortality and morbidity; raising awareness
munities to abandon the practice. In Kenya, UNFPA sup-
on sexual and reproductive health and reproductive
ported the local Tsaru Ntomonik Initiative that calls for
rights; addressing underlying sociocultural factors;
alternative rites-of-passage ceremonies. The community-
and strengthening the capacity of health systems
based organization serves as a “safe house” for an in-
to provide skilled maternity care and to manage
creasing number of young girls who escape from female
obstetric fistula effectively and sensitively, particu-
genital mutilation.107
larly in underserved rural areas.
Source: D. Jones (2007), Living Testimony, Obstetric
Fistula and Inequities in Maternal Health (Family Care
Approaches to ending female
International (FCI) in collaboration with the United genital mutilation
Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)). Several national Governments have adopted laws
and devised policies, action plans and interventions
to curb the prevalence of the practice. In Uganda,
The HIV/AIDS pandemic is a critical problem for rural
the Child Act prohibits female genital mutilation.
women, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. HIV/AIDS af-
In Ghana, practitioners and their supporters can
fects the gender-specific division of labour in the family
be prosecuted. In Nigeria, the Federal Ministry of
and the community, threatens household food security,
Health developed a National Policy and Plan of Ac-
and has a negative impact on household resources for
tion on Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation
education and health care. The illness and death of fam-
(2002-2006), which was complemented in Septem-
ily members intensify the workload of women and girls ber 2007 with the second Action Plan to Combat
and decrease the productivity of the household. The re- Violence against Women. Governments have also
sponsibilities for the care of sick family members and addressed the issue in reproductive health policies
the associated costs are further aggravated by poor de- and programmes and in training for health profes-
velopment of rural social infrastructure.104 sionals, police, judges and prosecutors.
According to a World Health Organization (WHO) In some countries, progress has been made through
estimate,105 between 100 million and 140 million girls peer educators and the increased involvement of lo-
and women in the world have undergone some form of cal and religious leaders, men and young people. In
female genital mutilation in more than 28 countries in Ghana and Nigeria, youth peer educators are trained
Africa and some countries in Asia and the Middle East. to work in schools and with out-of-school youth and
Approximately 3 million girls and women are subjected communities through house-to-house campaigns,
to genital mutilation every year. Place of residence (ru- sensitizing youth to the dangers of female genital
ral/urban differences) is one variable associated with the mutilation and the benefits of its eradication.
prevalence of the practice, together with other factors, Advocacy and awareness-raising activities have
such as age, education, religion, ethnicity and household targeted different levels of government as well as
wealth. There is, however, no consistent trend—some religious leaders and members of parliament. In
countries have higher levels of female genital mutilation Yemen, influential stakeholders, including religious
in rural areas, while other countries show no significant
differences between rural and urban areas.106

October 2008

Rural Women’s Social

leaders, have been involved in awareness-raising Education Centre: an initiative
programmes. In Ethiopia and Nigeria, alliances with from rural India
faith-based organizations have proved to be an im-
portant strategy to end female genital mutilation. The Rural Women’s Social Education Centre
(RUWSEC) in Tamil Nadu, India, is run by a grass-
Source: United Nations (2007c), report of the roots women’s organization that primarily works in
Secretary-General on ending female genital mutilation the area of the sexual and reproductive health rights
(New York: United Nations, Commission on the Status of rural women. RUWSEC was formed by 12 Dalit, or
of Women, fifty-second session (E/CN.6/2008/3)). “low-caste”, women from different villages in part-
nership with local civil society members. The or-
ganization aims to expand women’s awareness and
Gender perspectives must also be taken into account
health-seeking behaviour, and the commitment and
in other areas affecting the health and well-being of
ability of the health-care system to meet women’s
women and girls in rural areas, such as environmen-
health needs.
tal hazards. For example, about one half of the world’s
population relies on biomass and coal as the primary Expanding women’s awareness: Women are mobilized
into small groups at regular meetings in their ham-
source of domestic energy for cooking and heating. The
lets that provide women a safe space to discuss their
lack of clean fuels has a direct impact on rural popu-
health problems and other issues in relation to their
lations, with indoor air pollution causing an estimated
well-being, including sexual and reproductive health
1.6 million deaths per year, mostly of women and chil-
and domestic violence. Women are taught to analyse
dren.108 Incidence and mortality rates for malaria are
their status as women, wage workers and Dalits and
very high among pregnant women. Gender norms may are encouraged to question the disempowering inter-
affect malaria prevention and treatment, as illustrated section of caste, class and gender in their lives. The
by sleeping and work patterns, use of bednets, and de- organization has also conducted training sessions for
cisions about which family members receive medicines men and boys in order to bring about a transforma-
and medical care.109 tion in gender relations in the community.
In some contexts, the effects of economic liberalization Transforming women’s health-seeking behaviours:
have intensified women’s reproductive work in their RUWSEC encourages women to use traditional know-
communities. For example, decreases in social service ledge to initiate self-care at home and to seek attention
provision by the State and privatization of common from community health workers. RUWSEC has estab-
property resources have meant that household work, lished a clinic to provide reproductive health services
such as water and wood collection, and caring for the to local women. Data collected between 1981 and 1999
sick and older household members have become more demonstrate a rise in institutional deliveries and vol-
time-consuming, with negative consequences for wom- untary use of contraception, in addition to a decline
en’s health and well-being.110 in miscarriages and stillbirths.
To ensure that women and girls living in rural areas Influencing the health system’s commitment and
can enjoy their right to the highest attainable ability to meet women’s health needs: RUWSEC has
standard of health, governments and development partnered with local leaders and health workers to
partners, including civil society, need to develop provide reproductive and sexual health services to
rural women. In a recent initiative, a group of local
gender-sensitive health-care systems and social
government women leaders were trained on wom-
services and ensure rural women’s access to infor-
en’s health issues to increase their involvement in
mation and services throughout the life cycle. The
monitoring local health providers.
training curricula of health workers in rural areas
should include comprehensive, mandatory, gender- Source: P. Balasubramanian and T. K. Sundari Ravin-
sensitive courses on women’s health and human dran (2007), “Rural women take reproductive mat-
ters into their own hands”, ARROWs for Change:
Women’s, Gender and Rights Perspectives in Health
The following box provides an example of a good- Policies and Programmes, vol. 13, No. 1 (Kuala Lumpur,
practice health intervention that is designed to pro- Malaysia: Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Center
mote all aspects of well-being, including sexual and for Women (ARROW)).
reproductive health in particular.

October 2008

Maternal mortality and related morbidities must be re- latrines. The costs of schooling, in terms of fees, uniforms
duced through effective strategies that ensure access to and books, and low earning opportunities reduce the in-
affordable, comprehensive, quality maternal health-care centives for sending girls to school. The lack of female
services, including skilled birth attendants and emergency teachers and curricula that are geared towards male
obstetric care, as well as prenatal and postnatal care. Na- needs and interests and/or perpetuate gender stereo-
tional legislation and policies need to be developed and im- types and discriminatory attitudes and behaviours may
plemented to eradicate customary or traditional practices make school unattractive and irrelevant to girls and their
detrimental to the health of women and girls, particularly families. Policies that prohibit pregnant or married ado-
female genital mutilation. Context-specific approaches are lescent girls from attending school further reduce girls’
required to take into account ethnic and socio-economic opportunities. Marriage systems that require the bride
differences among women in rural areas. to reside with her husband’s family may reduce the in-
Policies, strategies and programmes on HIV/AIDS need centive to invest in the education of daughters.
to ensure the full integration of gender perspectives, The importance of girls’ labour often means that fami-
including women’s full access to prevention, treatment lies are not prepared to lose this labour input by sending
and care in rural areas. Men and boys must be reached girls to school. Sustaining livelihoods through diversifica-
with information to encourage their more active involve- tion places increased demands on women’s time, causing
ment in prevention and caregiving. them to rely increasingly on the labour of girls. This may
Critical factors contributing to women’s health also include jeopardize educational opportunities for girls, or even
improved rural infrastructure, the transfer of appropriate result in the complete withdrawal of girls from school.
technologies for safe water, sanitation and waste manage- Inequalities in education and skills acquisition explain,
ment in rural areas, and the development of safe and af- in part, why women benefit less than men from new
fordable energy sources, which would reduce dependence economic opportunities and also help explain the high
on traditional fuel sources for cooking and heating. number of poor women.115
There are both equality and efficiency reasons for remov-
Education ing the gender bias in access to education and training.
Studies in many countries have shown that education for
Data from 2000 indicated that about 113 million children
of primary school age were not in school, 97 per cent of girls is one of the most effective ways of reducing poverty.
them lived in developing countries, and three fifths of Female education, especially post-primary education, is
them were girls.111 Gender inequalities in access to ed- associated with improved child vaccination rates, health
ucation are prevalent in the rural areas of low-income care and nutrition, reduced fertility rates, and increased
countries. Rural areas account for 82 per cent of children female productivity in economic activities.116
who are not in primary school in developing countries, Both formal and non-formal education can play a crit-
as a result of factors including the need for their labour, ical role in the achievement of poverty eradication.
the low levels of education of their parents and lack of Women and girls in rural areas, particularly those who
access to quality schooling.112 are dropouts and living in poverty, need to have access
About 64 per cent of all illiterate adults in the world to non-formal education, such as adult literacy classes
are women; and only 77 per cent of girls/women over and livelihood skills programmes, to improve their liveli-
the age of 15 are literate, as compared to 87 per cent of hoods and enable them to participate in decision-making
men.113 The situation varies considerably between coun- processes at the household and community levels. Older
tries and regions; the percentage of illiterate women and women are often unable to attend literacy and other
girls ranges from 92 per cent in the Niger to less than training classes because of their heavy workloads.117
1 per cent in Barbados and Tajikistan. In some countries, A number of steps have been identified as critical for
such as Jamaica, Lesotho, Qatar and Uruguay, a higher improving educational opportunities for girls and achiev-
proportion of women than men are literate.114 ing equality in enrolment and completion of schooling
A variety of factors account for the unequal access to at primary and other educational levels. These include
education and the lower levels of educational attain- making education affordable, for example by making
ment of women and girls in rural areas. These include primary education free and compulsory, reducing fees
issues relating to security, such as the distance between to expand girls’ access to secondary and higher levels of
home and school; the lack of transport, which may make education, and providing financial incentives for send-
it dangerous for girls to travel to school; and insufficient ing girls to school. Initiatives to improve safety for girls
safety in schools, including the lack of such facilities as in schools include building schools close to girls’ homes,

October 2008

providing appropriate sanitation and recreational facili- and Gender Equality highlighted progress on property
ties as well as boarding facilities, securing safe routes rights for women as one of the key strategies to sup-
to and from school and providing transport. Steps to in- port the achievement of the Millennium Development
crease the enrolment and retention of girls in schools Goals.119 There is increasing recognition that food secu-
and to ensure relevant high-quality education for girls rity and family well-being are dependent on protecting
include training more women teachers and making cur- or enhancing women’s rights to land.120
ricula and textbooks gender-sensitive. Documented landownership or land-use rights can be criti-
Increasing girls’ ability to attend school and extra- cal for women in rural areas. Joint titling increases their
curricular activities also requires investments in public protection in cases of abandonment, separation, divorce or
infrastructure projects and quality public services, such death of spouses. Recent research suggests that property
as transport, water, sanitation and sustainable energy, ownership increases their bargaining power within the
in order to reduce the amount of time girls spend on household and their status as citizens in the community,
everyday routine household maintenance tasks. At the and may protect them from domestic violence.121
same time, efforts need to be made to change attitudes
Globally, however, women own very little agricultural
that reinforce the gender division of labour.
land, although they produce about half of the world’s
In addition to increasing the access of women and girls food. Customary practices and laws in many countries
to formal education, the specific educational and skills limit women’s acquisition of and access to land and, as
development needs of rural women need to be addressed, a result, also constrain their effective participation in
particularly in the following areas: entrepreneurship— decisions at the family and community levels on criti-
including financing, management and marketing, and cal matters related to agriculture.
farm and household management; off-farm employment A review by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the
opportunities; and nutrition and health, literacy and United Nations (FAO) pointed out that women’s right to
leadership. All training programmes need to take into land may be curtailed by de jure direct discrimination.
account the specific constraints faced by rural women, For example, family law provisions may restrict the le-
including in relation to time and transport. gal capacity of married women, or formal inheritance
Access to and control over rights may exclude women. Indirect discrimination may

resources and opportunities also limit women’s rights. An agrarian reform initiative
may refer solely to male-dominated categories, such as
The capacity of rural women to take advantage of new permanent agricultural workers. Women’s rights can
economic opportunities and improve their well-being is also be undermined by the interactions of customary
influenced by their access to productive resources. There and statutory law. Even if there is no formal discrim-
is extensive evidence that access to and control over re- ination, women’s rights to land may be restricted in
practice. For example, women may lack the education
sources for women in rural areas is mediated by local
to advocate for their rights, or socio-economic factors
sociocultural, political and economic factors that often
may pressure women to renounce land rights in favour
result in gender inequalities.
of male relatives.122
Land A joint study by FAO, the International Fund for Agri-
Most households in rural areas still depend on land and cultural Development (IFAD) and the International Land
natural resources for their basic subsistence. Access to Coalition (ILC) assessed the status of compliance of a
arable land is essential for improving agricultural pro- number of States parties with article 14 on rural women
ductivity and ensuring food security. Without secure land and other related articles of the Convention on the Elim-
rights, farmers have little or no access to credit, rural ination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women,
organizations, irrigation systems and other agricultural especially with regard to access to land and property, in
inputs and services. Ownership of land is also important the context of land or agricultural reforms. The report
for social status. In 2002, 815 million hungry people lived assessed the extent to which reforms respected wom-
in the developing world, with a concentration in rural en’s rights, and the ways by which women’s access to
areas among the landless or among farmers with plots land and property, inheritance and legal support was en-
too small to provide for their needs.118 sured. The study found that in all the countries reviewed
International attention to women’s property and inherit- women and men had unequal rights to land.123
ance rights has been growing over the past decade. The Since the 1980s, titling programmes of Governments and
Millennium Project’s Task Force 3 on Primary Education international agencies have promoted the privatization

October 2008

of customary land and the formalization of land rights emphasis must be placed on enforcement of such leg-
as a means to protect access to and control of land and islation and the establishment of relevant mechanisms
enhance access to credit, agricultural resources and serv- at local levels. Governments should carry out gender-
ices. Titling programmes do not normally target women. sensitive land reform processes. Gender sensitization
While considered “gender-neutral”, in practice many such training must be provided to all cadres of staff work-
programmes are gender-biased for a number of reasons. ing on land reform.
First, laws regulating formal adjudication and registra- Access to credit and other rural finance services should
tion of property rights usually do not give attention to
be improved in order to strengthen women’s potential
gender equality, thereby leading to de facto gender bias
to purchase land, property and other assets needed for
in application. Second, laws relating to property owner-
agricultural production.
ship and management (such as inheritance and contract
or tenancy laws) tend to grant title for family/household Water and sanitation
property (land or housing) to just one person in the fam-
ily, usually the “head of household”, who in the majority Water is an important productive resource, essential for
of cases is male. Third, other legislation, such as family health, domestic hygiene, and care for children, older
law, has direct influence on property rights, which can persons and the sick, as well as for crop production and
lead to de facto gender bias. livestock. In the changing rural economy, water man-
agement is an increasingly important issue. Growing
Women’s customary rights to land (access or use rights,
populations, urbanization, agricultural intensification
for example) are not legally recognized, and women may
and climate change contribute to greater scarcity of,
run the risk of losing those rights in practice in titling
and competition for, water resources. Investments in
programmes. As land becomes a marketable asset, fam-
water and sanitation contribute to economic growth,
ily and community members, who in the past may have
sustainable development, improved health and well-
respected a woman’s access rights to land, may ignore
being and poverty reduction. Goal 7 of the Millennium
or violate those rights. This is particularly the case with Development Goals, on environmental sustainability,
widowed and divorced women. Women may thus be un- includes a target to “halve by 2015 the proportion of
able to claim any ownership rights during the transition to people without sustainable access to safe drinking
private property regimes, and may also lose their former water and basic sanitation”.
user rights under the customary regime, making them
Since women play a central role in the provision and
landless. This has detrimental impacts, since customary
management of water, access to clean, reliable sources
rights to land and other natural resources are critical for
of water has a marked effect on the amount of time
poor women to be able to engage in and benefit from
women and girls have for other activities. HIV/AIDS and
agricultural, livestock and forest-based production.
other diseases can significantly increase household needs
Even where legal reform has been cognizant of the for water to nurse the sick.
needs, priorities and rights of women, the agencies and
The following box illustrates how water provision that
processes associated with implementation may not be
improves women’s access to clean, reliable sources of
gender-responsive, particularly in contexts where women
water can have a positive impact on rural women and
are not recognized as full and equal participants in the
their families and communities.
economy. The staff of titling programmes and other
land reform programmes are often not gender-sensitive
and do not view women as legitimate clients for their The water supply programme
activities. Women themselves often lack the skills and for rural population in
confidence to approach institutions that have tradition- Morocco (Pager)
ally been the domain of men.124
The Water Supply Programme for Rural Popula-
Increased gender-sensitive research and collection of tion (PAGER) project was introduced in Morocco
sex-disaggregated data on the diverse trends relating to in 1995. PAGER follows a decentralized model of
acquisition, inheritance and access to land and property water provision, whereby local authorities work
throughout the world are needed to better understand in partnership with community organizations to
the constraints women face and devise effective strat- secure water for the communities. Since PAGER’s
egies to address them. inception, the programme has expanded access to
National legislation and policies must be developed or clean water to 4 million people, increasing rural
revised to ensure women’s equal access to land and
property and remove discriminatory practices. A stronger

October 2008

Equitable and secure access to water for irrigation requires

not only measures to solve technical problems, but also
coverage to 50 per cent in the last decade. Besides strategies to address legal rights, control of resources,
reducing the time burden for women, provision of access to regulatory institutions and the impacts of socio-
water has had strong multiplier effects. For exam- cultural norms and relations.130 Existing water rights re-
ple, rural primary school attendance among girls gimes often exclude and marginalize rural women and
increased from 30 to 51 per cent between 1999 and thus constrain their ability to use water resources opti-
2003. There have also been improvements in public mally in their farming activities.131 Many small farmers,
health and sanitation. The focus on water provision including women, have limited access to existing irriga-
has been a catalyst for wider social change. The tion and water distribution infrastructure. They are often
creation of water user associations, for example, not involved in the technical management and planning
has opened up opportunities for the involvement of water and irrigation use, and their interests are there-
of rural women in community development. fore ignored or marginalized. Large-scale, influential farm-
Source: United Nations Development Programme ers may get priority access to available water before it
(UNDP) (2006), Human Development Report 2006: reaches the less influential farmers. Women farmers, who
Beyond Scarcity: Power, Poverty and the Global lack the necessary power in the local irrigators’ commit-
Water Crisis (New York: United Nations). tees and connections with the water authorities, may
find themselves confined to night-time irrigation, which
Despite some progress, rural areas continue, however, to exposes them to risks of violence.132
have inadequate access to safe water and sanitation. In Gender perspectives should be fully incorporated into all
developing countries, only 31 per cent of the rural pop- policies, strategies and programmes related to access to
ulation have access to safe water and basic sanitation, domestic water supplies, sanitation and irrigation. Gen-
compared with 73 per cent of the urban population.125 der analysis can, for example, contribute to more effec-
Urban-rural disparities are particularly great in sub- tive, equitable and sustainable water management by
Saharan Africa, where only 45 per cent of the rural pop- identifying who needs water, in what amounts, at what
ulation have access to improved water resources, com- times and for what purposes. Gender-sensitive imple-
pared with 83 per cent of the urban population. mentation strategies can ensure more effective water
Provision of adequate sanitation has not kept pace with management programmes with respect to the quan-
water supply improvements.126 In the absence of sani- tity, quality and timing of water delivery and improved
tation facilities, preventable waterborne diseases, such management and maintenance.
as diarrhoea, cholera, typhoid and other parasitic infec- Policies and programmes should always link water supply
tions, claim more than 2.2 million lives each year. Other with sanitation, hygiene education and health issues in
diseases linked to poor sanitation, such as roundworm, order to ensure a positive impact on poverty reduction
whipworm, Guinea worm and schistosomiasis, are prev- and sustainable development. The provision of sanita-
alent among school-aged children.127 tion facilities should take into account the importance
Research has shown that provision of sanitation facili- of issues of privacy and security for women and girls, for
ties and hygiene education in schools can deliver many example by providing separate facilities for women and
beneficial effects. For example, separate sanitation facili- girls in schools and other community facilities.
ties for girls reduce the risk of sexual harassment and The role of women in planning, decision-making and
violence in schools, and as a consequence can increase management with regard to water resources must be
enrolment and retention of girls.128 strengthened. Women should be active participants in
user groups, such as water point committees or irrigators’
Irrigated agriculture provides some 40 per cent of the
associations. Women must also have increased equitable
world’s food and consumes 75 per cent of the world’s
access to all training, technology and credit available for
freshwater resources.129 Irrigation increases agricultural
water and sanitation improvements and irrigation.
productivity in land under cultivation, enables farmers
to grow several crops per year, and regulates the flow Energy
of water. Because it increases output, access to irriga-
tion increases household food security and household The linkages between energy sources, sustainable de-
income. Investment in irrigation infrastructure and velopment, poverty eradication and the quality of the
water distribution systems is, however, low in many de- environment are increasingly recognized. Rural popu-
veloping countries. lations depend on access to efficient and affordable

October 2008

energy sources for cooking and heating, lighting, and food street lighting improves women’s safety; and affordable
production and storage. The most basic energy sources in energy services support women’s enterprises.135
many rural areas are wood, dung and other biomass fuel.
The box below illustrates the importance of capacity de-
More sophisticated forms include charcoal, coal and kero-
velopment on gender equality and energy issues.
sene, and electricity and liquefied petroleum gas. Expanded
energy sources are needed in rural areas for mechanical
power for agriculture, irrigation, transportation, refrigera- Strengthening capacity for
tion, communications, commercial enterprises and com- gender-sensitive energy policies
munity services, including health and education.133 through networking in Africa
Women are disproportionately affected by the lack of The international network ENERGIA aims to address
modern fuels and power sources for household mainte- the gender perspectives of energy policies and to
nance and productive enterprises. Poor women in rural empower poor rural and urban women in the de-
areas of developing countries spend many hours collect- velopment of sustainable energy. Between 2005
ing and carrying firewood over long distances. With the and 2007, ENERGIA implemented the programme
increasing degradation of natural resources, they spend “Turning information into empowerment: strength-
even more time and physical effort to find and carry ening gender and energy networking in Africa” in
home the fuel they need. The time and energy spent on 18 sub-Saharan countries. With the goal of raising
these tasks limit women’s ability to engage in other pro- awareness and creating knowledge and skills, the
ductive and income-generating activities. There are seri- programme focused on strengthening human and
ous health impacts associated with burning traditional institutional capacity for integrating gender perspec-
biomass fuels, which affect women disproportionately tives into energy access in Africa. It trained energy
because of their responsibilities for cooking. experts on gender equality and energy issues and
Traditional energy policies, for example for electrification, provided training of trainers from 18 countries.
tend to focus on the needs of urban areas. Even when
The programme also undertook gender audits of en-
there is a focus on energy for rural areas, the needs and
ergy policies in Botswana, Kenya and Senegal. The
priorities of women may not be taken into account. The
audits provided in-depth analysis of energy planning,
focus on expanding the electrical grid in rural areas, for
budgets, and the institutional capacity of ministries
example, may not always provide appropriate solutions
to implement gender mainstreaming strategies and
for households, health clinics, grain milling machines
build on the linkages between gender equality is-
and small enterprises.134
sues, energy and poverty reduction and achievement
Since women’s work is often not recognized and counted, of the Millennium Development Goals.
their energy needs may be ignored by policymakers and
The programme led to changes in institutional
community leaders, and women may not benefit from
policies and action. For example, members of the
changes in energy access. Women’s low social status also
Botswana Gender and Energy Network supported
makes it difficult for them to participate in community
the Botswana Power Corporation and the United
decision-making. Investments to improve stoves, kit-
Nations Development Programme in integrating
chens and cooking fuels tend to be considered of marginal
gender issues into the Renewable Energy Rural
importance when men make the decisions about house-
Electrification Programme. Staff from the Ministry
hold purchases. Women interested in acquiring new en-
ergy equipment for their households or microenterprises of Energy in Kenya began mainstreaming gender
may lack the capital to buy it, or be unable to obtain the perspectives into Kenya’s National Rural Electrifi-
money from their husbands or other sources. cation Master’s degree. In Ghana, the Ministry of
Local Government, Rural Development and Environ-
Understanding the gender dimensions of energy policies ment created a gender desk, which will be respon-
will increase the potential to address women’s energy sible for gender and environment issues.
needs in the household and the community. Gender-
sensitive energy policies and programmes can make Source: International Network on Gender and Sustain-
modern energy services available to women and girls able Energy (2007), ENERGIA News: Newsletter of the
and alleviate such labour-intensive activities as gathering Network for Gender and Sustainable Energy, vol. 10,
firewood, collecting water, cooking, crop processing and issue 1 (Netherlands: Energia Secretariat). Available
manual farm work. Clean cooking fuels reduce exposure from:
to indoor air pollution; quality lighting allows for home pdf/en-102007.pdf
study, evening classes and income-generating activities;

October 2008

Gender perspectives should be incorporated into all en- The withdrawal of government credit support in rural
ergy needs assessments, policies, strategies and pro- areas and the increased liberalization and privatization
grammes. Gender analysis should inform all investments of the financial sector in many developing countries
in energy infrastructure in order to ensure that the spe- mean that many farmers find it increasingly difficult
cific needs and priorities of women are addressed. Train- to access credit. Farmers may lack knowledge on how
ing in gender mainstreaming should be provided to all to apply for credit, and there may be strong mutual
professional cadres working with rural energy. distrust between banking institutions and agricultural
producers. These difficulties are exacerbated for women,
Women in rural areas should be provided with capacity-
who are generally less prepared for the new economic
building in order to enable them to participate fully
conditions and less inclined to take risks.139
and effectively in energy decision-making processes at
the household and community levels. Women’s access In recent years, microcredit interventions have received
to credit should be expanded to assist them in meeting considerable attention as a means to reduce poverty
their energy needs. and empower women, with South Asia being one of the
most active regions in this respect. The results, how-
Financial services, including credit ever, have been mixed. Some studies have shown that
the bargaining power of women within the household
Access to credit and other financial services can help ru-
was strengthened by access to credit and control over
ral populations to expand their economic opportunities
income and assets. At the same time, some microcredit
and reduce poverty. Credit enables producers to sustain,
schemes have been criticized for exaggerated claims
initiate or expand production and earnings in two ways.
of benefits and achievements and for merely helping
First, short-term credit enables the purchase of such in-
the poor to survive, rather than addressing the struc-
puts as improved seeds, fertilizers, insecticides and herbi-
tural causes of poverty and inequality. Some research-
cides or the hiring of paid labour, with repayments often
ers have argued that loans to women and the pressure
made post-harvest. Second, long-term credit enables the
to repay have led to stress within households and to
purchase of appropriate technology, such as labour-saving
higher levels of domestic violence.140
tools, or facilitates the establishment of enterprises, such
as small-scale dairy, poultry or tree crop activities. Microcredit interventions remain, however, an effective
tool for poverty reduction. Evidence suggests that lend-
To be effective, however, microcredit has to be part
ing to women is more cost-effective when compared to
of a comprehensive rural development policy frame-
men, as women are more reliable credit-takers.141 Further-
work that addresses property rights, access to natural
more, women’s income is consistently utilized for expend-
resources, access to markets, extension services, new
itures that are beneficial to the entire family and the
technologies, and viable and sustainable rural financial
systems. In addition to credit, the provision of safe and wider community. For example, research findings from
flexible saving products, secure transfer facilities and a number of countries demonstrate that women spend
insurance services are also important.136 much of their income on household well-being, includ-
ing children’s education and their own health.142
Producers with limited resources, especially women, re-
ceive only a small share of formal agricultural credit even Many successful microcredit schemes have specifically fo-
in countries where they are major producers. As land is cused on reaching rural women. A good-practice example
the major asset used as collateral to obtain rural credit, is the microfinance institution of the Country Women’s
women have limited access to credit facilities. Estimates Association of Nigeria, African Traditional Responsive
indicate that only 10 per cent of agricultural credit is ex- Banking (ATRB). ATRB seeks to empower rural women,
tended to women.137 Some formal lending institutions be- who are encouraged to pool their savings and contribute
lieve that married women loan-takers are a greater risk to the bank. Based on their contribution, these women
than men, because if marriages are dissolved, the bank become shareholders in the bank. ATRB has a community-
will have problems recovering the loan. based institutional structure, and the involvement of
local leaders encourages timely repayment of loans.
Women’s lack of access to formal credit means that they
Besides individual loans, group loans are also extended
rely heavily on the unregulated informal sector to meet
to support community-based enterprises.143
their needs. Although the informal financial sector can
play a major and dynamic role in promoting development, Savings-led microcredit schemes were devised to tap
it can often, for example in the case of traditional money- into savings, a relatively underutilized and sustainable
lenders, be exploitative of poor producers.138 source of capital, which could benefit poor households.

October 2008

These schemes mobilize member savings as a potential To support women’s access to financial resources, dis-
source of capital, in contrast to the grant funding and loans criminatory lending practices should be removed and
from donors and capital markets used by most microcredit legal frameworks adopted or revised to redress biases
programmes. The National Bank for Agriculture and Rural in financial institutions that work against women’s ac-
Development (NABARD) in India, for example, has been cess to financial services.
successful in its savings-led approach.144 The following box Financial services available to women must be expanded
illustrates the experiences of a savings-led project. including—but not restricted to—the informal sector.
Financial institutions must be encouraged to under-
Savings-led microfinance schemes take research on and develop innovative financial in-
struments for improved provision of services to women
The women’s empowerment programme WORTH with reduced costs. Greater attention needs to be given
is an innovative savings-led microfinance pro- to effective saving schemes for rural women. To ensure
gramme that does not solely depend on outside that microfinance programmes effectively support rural
credit, but aims to tap into savings within the com- women, they must include training on financial man-
munity. WORTH has worked in challenging envi- agement, project management and marketing.
ronments as diverse as Cambodia, the Democratic
Republic of the Congo, Guinea, Liberia and Nepal. Extension services
Working through women’s groups and local NGOs Extension services play a crucial role in furthering the ac-
that are already active in the community, WORTH cess of farmers to productive resources, assets and new
fosters grass-roots development, enhances family technologies and in linking them to research and plan-
income, and encourages local control of resources. ning institutions. Extension personnel should identify
The programme teaches women basic literacy, nu- difficulties; provide technical advice and training; and
meracy and savings skills, enabling them to manage provide relevant inputs, such as fertilizer and seeds.
a village bank (with their own savings constituting
Agricultural extension programmes in many developing
the loan capital). The programme also encourages
countries tend to be directed primarily to landowners.
networking and knowledge sharing and conducts
In many instances, they focus on large, influential farm-
training workshops that provide an important forum
ers and neglect small farmers, who have less educa-
for problem-solving, exchange and interaction.
tion and political power.145 Since women and men are
The programme introduces literacy through group responsible for different crops and livestock, and carry
learning; enables women to save through simple, out different tasks and activities, their extension needs
practical village banking; encourages women to also differ. Women often lack access to land, and as a
borrow from their savings to develop microenter- result extension services bypass them. Extension per-
prises; enables women to generate income from sonnel are usually male, low-paid and poorly trained,
their group lending, with interest on loans remain- and they are often ill-equipped to provide technical
ing within the group to grow the loan fund and help in a gender-sensitive manner. They neglect women
be shared out as dividends; gives women the ex- farmers, in spite of their demonstrated contributions
perience and skills to manage their groups; and to agriculture and rural development.146
trains women in problem-solving and advocacy to
Given the critical role of extension services in the ag-
tackle challenges facing families and communities,
ricultural sector, such neglect has a significant nega-
including gender-based violence, water and prop-
tive impact on rural women’s farming activities and
erty rights, and HIV/AIDS, among others.
on the women’s ability to undertake improvements,
Since the programme is low-cost, replication by such as adoption of new types of crops, including non-
the women themselves is possible. For example, traditional exports. They lack critical information regard-
the WORTH programme in Nepal, which reached ing new seeds, fertilizers and technological advances
125,000 participants, required less than US$ 42 and miss out on important opportunities for training
per woman. More recent initiatives are reducing and credit. The box on page 33 describes the findings
costs even further.
of a study that reviewed the effectiveness of extension
Source: M. Pickens, M. Thavy and K. Keang (2004), services for women in south-western Nigeria.
Savings-led and Self-help Microfinance in Cambodia:
Gender perspectives should be integrated into the ex-
Lessons Learned and Best Practices (Cambodia: Pact
tension curricula and teacher training materials. Exten-
Cambodia’s WORTH Initiative).
sion officers, both men and women, should be trained

October 2008

in gender-sensitive delivery of extension services in or- The promotion of technology in agriculture in developing
der to ensure that the services reach both women and countries has often been carried out without considera-
men farmers. tion of local conditions or availability of resources, and
without consultation with the local people, particularly
Women and extension rural women.148 Successful agricultural technologies are
services in south-western Nigeria
usually appropriated by large landowners who already
have knowledge, capital and institutional connections.
A study in Nigeria that reviewed the organization Rural women generally lack those advantages and tend
and management of extension services to rural to be marginalized.
women in south-western Nigeria revealed that
Women farmers are reluctant to accept technological
only 55.8 per cent of the female respondents were
advances when the risks, particularly in terms of the
aware of the presence of village extension agents,
impact on household food security, are not known or
and only about one third of these had regular con-
are not adequately covered by risk-management strat-
tacts with these agents. The study highlighted the
egies. Technologies developed for rural areas of devel-
need for gender awareness training for both male
oping countries have not always been adapted to local
and female extension agents in order to improve
farming conditions and thus have sometimes had ad-
the delivery of extension services to women farm-
verse side effects. This has heightened the distrust of
ers. Time constraints on women farmers, due to
exogenous technology. There are instances of family
their multiple roles, reduced their access to exten-
sion services. Women’s restricted mobility, due to incomes falling, sometimes to the detriment of house-
poor transportation systems in the rural areas, also hold survival, when innovations were introduced. From
limited their levels of participation in agricultural a rural woman’s perspective, family survival is the most
extension activities. After extension agents and important consideration. If risk-averse rural women are
spouses, radio was ranked as the most important to take up new technologies and crops, the possibility
source of information on agriculture. The research of crop failure must be minimal.149
also revealed that two main reasons for low levels The problem of inappropriate and high-risk technology
of adoption of innovations among their clientele is exacerbated by the fact that rural women are gener-
were lack of labour and essential inputs. ally not involved in selecting agricultural research top-
Source: B. Adetoun (2003), “Organization and man- ics, and the research agenda does not focus on their
agement of extension services for women farmers in needs. They tend to be interested in technology that
south-western Nigeria: policy reforms and extension is suitable for small farmers or that is focused on sta-
services for women farmers in Nigeria” (Washington, ple foods, such as labour-saving devices.150 The needs
D.C.: Global Development Network). and priorities of rural women need to be systematically
taken into consideration in all research and technology
development. To make research and technology devel-
Measures should be taken at agricultural education in-
opment more gender-sensitive, women need to be con-
stitutions to increase female student enrolment, with
sulted on their specific needs for improvements as well
the goal of increasing the number of women extension
as on the implications of proposed new technologies,
workers and the representation of women in agricultural
including risk elements.
and rural development institutions.
Further research is needed on labour-saving devices at the
Research and technology household level, such as fuel-efficient stoves and food-
Agricultural research and technological innovations can processing equipment, which will increase the amount
support the rural poor in overcoming poverty and par- of time women have for productive and reproductive ac-
ticipating in the global economy. Advances in agriculture tivities, as well as for leisure and self-improvement.
have included the development of new crop varieties
and chemical inputs, as well as innovations in agricul- Information and communications
tural machinery and farm practices. Research and new technologies
technology have led to an increase in food production.147
However, effective implementation of technological ad- Access to information, including through new informa-
vances requires basic infrastructure, such as a network tion and communications technologies (ICT), is increas-
of roads, reliable supplies of electricity and sound tele- ingly important in the changing rural economy. An
communications networks. analysis conducted by FAO found that poverty among

October 2008

rural women is related to their exclusion from infor-

mation flows, communication processes and decision-
making.151 In the 2005 World Summit on the Information agricultural producers. This significantly expanded
Society, Member States recognized the gender digital their access to the Internet and helped them
divide and reaffirmed the international commitment to obtain information regarding market prices for the
women’s empowerment, without, however, specifically sale of their produce and for the inputs for their
mentioning rural women.152 food-processing activities. Women participating in
Rural women face multiple constraints that hinder them the project appreciated the economic benefits of
from accessing and using ICT. According to the Interna- the technology.
tional Telecommunication Union (ITU), limited infrastruc- In Zimbabwe, rural women are increasingly access-
ture and problems of affordability, education and training ing radio because of the Development through
impede rural women from accessing relevant technologies Radio project. The project runs 52 women’s radio
in Africa.153 Research from Indonesia indicates that even listening clubs and encourages women to partici-
though improvements have been made in access to and pate in the production of programmes based on
deployment of communications technologies, infrastruc- their developmental needs and priorities. The proj-
ture in rural areas is still limited, existing services are often ect has allowed women to pose questions to politi-
too expensive for rural women, and information relevant cal officials and the responses have become part
to their realities is very limited. Women continue to lag of the weekly broadcasts. The programme is be-
behind in accessing these technologies because of social, ing extended to women in Sierra Leone to increase
cultural, economic and educational barriers.154 their involvement in civic and political life.
Women in very poor rural households do not have the In Uganda, the United Nations Population Fund
surplus income to spend on ICT and are less likely to own (UNFPA), in collaboration with the Ministry of
such devices as a mobile phone or a radio.155 The geo- Health and Population Secretariat and district au-
graphical location of ICT facilities, gender-blind ICT infra- thorities in Uganda, initiated the RESCUER project
structure and social and cultural norms can also act as to reduce the high maternal mortality rate by im-
gender-specific constraints.156 When ICT facilities do exist proving local care and referral systems. The project
in rural areas, they tend to become men-only spaces that combined communications, transport and quality
do not encourage women’s access to these technologies.157 health services. Very-high-frequency (VHF) radios
Women’s heavy domestic workload leaves them little lei- were installed at base stations, health units, refer-
sure time and ICT centres may not be available during the ral hospital ambulances and District Medical Offi-
hours that women are free or in locations that are easily cer vehicles. Birth attendants were equipped with
accessible and safe for women.158 Another barrier is the walkie-talkies, which built confidence among their
lack of ICT information in local languages.159 patients. Rural health personnel are now able to
ICT are an integral tool for strengthening the capabili- call and provide medical advice even when there
ties of rural women. The strategic use of ICT expands is no transport available.
women’s access to health care and educational services Source: United Nations (2005f), Women 2000: Gender
as well as encourages their greater participation in po- Equality and Empowerment of Women through ICT
litical processes. Most importantly, ICT can be used to (New York: Department of Economic and Social Affairs,
generate and enhance opportunities for income genera- Division for the Advancement of Women).
tion and economic empowerment of rural women. The
following box illustrates the wide-ranging uses and im-
The gender implications of new technologies must be
pacts of ICT on rural women in Africa.
reflected in national ICT policies, so that the specific
needs and priorities of women and girls as consumers
Women and ICT: three stories and users of information are addressed and their par-
from Africa ticipation in developing and implementing global ICT
strategies is ensured.
In Senegal, Sonatel, a local telephone company,
and Manobi, a French company, provided cell- Innovative ICT initiatives that are expanding technologi-
phones with Web Access Protocol (WAP) to women cal access for rural women must be scaled up and broadly
replicated. The design and operational modalities of all
ICT facilities in rural areas should be gender-sensitive

October 2008

in order to address the constraints women face in rela- cess to all formal and informal decision-making processes
tion to location, transport facilities, opening times and in order to ensure that their needs and priorities are
security issues, and ensure their active use of such fa- taken fully into consideration. There are also an increas-
cilities. Efforts should be made to expand the provision ing number of women’s cooperatives and professional
of relevant local language content that is easily acces- bodies through which women can make themselves
sible to rural women with limited reading skills. Rural heard and advocate for decisions that support them or
women should be supported in producing their own lo- lobby against decisions that will harm their interests.
cally relevant content. Schools in rural areas should in- The following box illustrates the situation of women in
clude basic training in ICT, and equitable access of girls farmers’ organizations in different regions.
and boys should be ensured.

Enhancing women’s agency The role of women in farmers’

and leadership roles organizations

Women’s increased education and labour market par- In countries in Central and South America, grass-
ticipation has not necessarily translated into increased roots acceptance of women’s participation is dif-
participation in public life, particularly for rural women. ficult and slow. There is little involvement of rural
They have less free time than men, as they carry out women in farmers’ organizations, and usually only
subsistence agriculture for food security and work for as members. When women are elected to decision-
wages on the farms of their husbands or other farmers, making positions, it is most often as treasurer
while at the same time carrying out their critical role in and secretary.
the reproductive economy. The responsibilities women Some farmers’ organizations in Asia and Ocea-
undertake for household maintenance in rural areas not nia have drawn up clear guidelines that take into
only impede their participation in decision-making pro- account the interests of rural women and the
cesses, but also serve to facilitate men’s participation in necessity of improving their representation and
these processes.160 Low levels of education among rural participation at all levels of professional organiza-
women also limit their ability to participate. tions. In other countries, however, the situation is
According to 2005 data collected by United Cities and less conducive to women’s participation. Institu-
Local Governments, women constitute 20.9 per cent of tional obstacles include the lack of capacity-
councillors and 9 per cent of mayors at local levels.161 building of local administrators, whether men or
Governments have taken different measures to increase women, and the need for funds to implement pol-
women’s political participation, including the use of con- icies and to ensure that gender equality issues are
stitutional or legislative quotas or voluntary quotas set integrated at all levels of professional organizations.
by political parties; training for women; working with The integration of women into many African farm-
women in office to enhance their capacity to use rele- ers’ organizations has gained new momentum.
vant procedures and rules; and public awareness–raising Decision-making and managerial responsibilities
targeted at women and men. have been opened up for women, which in turn
Some countries have taken initiatives to decentralize has resulted in greater attention to the interests
decision-making to more local levels, which has in- of women farmers in the policies and development
cluded opportunities for women to increase their par- programmes of these organizations.
ticipation. For example, in India a 1993 constitutional Source: International Federation of Agricultural
amendment included a measure to reserve one third Producers (IFAP) (2000), Empowering Women in
of seats in panchayats (local governing councils) for Agriculture: Progress Made since the 1995 Beijing
women. Similarly, Pakistan’s Devolution of Power Plan World Conference (France: IFAP).
of 2000 reserved one third of seats for women at all
subnational levels.162 Assessing the impact of women in decision-making pro-
Women are thus gradually increasing their representa- cesses is complex, given the low level of women’s repre-
tion in previously male-dominated bodies in rural areas. sentation, coupled with the relatively short time women
Rural women’s participation is critical in local councils, have had access to decision-making in most countries.
trade unions and local governments, as well as in a range Women are not a homogeneous group, and their actions
of community-based organizations, such as water com- as decision makers are also influenced by their socio-
mittees and farmers associations. Women must have ac- economic class, race, religion, ethnicity and location.163

October 2008

In a survey of women local leaders in 13 Asian and Pacific

countries, women reported that they practised politics
in a different way from their male colleagues, including and that children in these areas were more likely
by having: a greater sense of social issues and the well- to be immunized and to attend government day-
being and welfare of their communities, with priorities care centres.
more likely to centre on housing, safety, clean water,
Source: J. Drage (2001), Women in Local Government
sanitation, education, the social implications of policies, in Asia and the Pacific: A Comparative Analysis of
health services, childcare, poverty alleviation and com- Thirteen Countries, Asia-Pacific Summit of Women
munity development; a commitment to improving the Mayors and Councillors (Bangkok: United Nations
environment within their communities, by taking into Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the
account physical considerations, the quality of life, and Pacific); and United Nations (2007b), report of the
environmental sustainability through local government; Secretary-General on women in development (New
different priorities, including a willingness to spend time York: United Nations (A/62/187)).
on issues that some men find trivial, such as family is-
sues, dowry problems and violence against women and
Despite these positive examples, rural women still face
children; and a focus on change and a preference for a
considerable obstacles when they attempt to participate
more democratic and transparent approach to govern-
in formal decision-making structures. Some of these con-
ance, to move away from an adversarial and, in some
straints relate to age, religion and class, and may thus
cases, corrupt image of politics.164
vary by region and by different rural contexts within
The Indian experience with reserved seats for women in countries. Common concerns, however, include the time
local municipal bodies illustrates how women’s presence required to meet domestic responsibilities, economic
and participation can change politics. Recent data show pressures, stereotypical attitudes, limited education or
that most states have at least 33 per cent women as a literacy, security issues, and opposition from family and
direct consequence of the reservation, with some states community members.
exceeding the quota. While initially women councillors
Consultation with and participation of women and wom-
were seen as surrogates of male relatives, over time
en’s groups, including farmers’ organizations, in plan-
they became leaders in their own right and gained the
ning, implementation and monitoring rural development
confidence to act independently. Women as heads of
and poverty reduction strategies, as well as in national
panchayats were found to be more sensitive to wom-
MDG reporting, should be increased. As relevant, quota
en’s needs and more supportive of the implementation
systems and affirmative action should be utilized to in-
of programmes benefiting women. Their presence has
crease the participation of women in decision-making
also made women citizens more likely to take advan-
in all areas of rural development. The positive achieve-
tage of state services and demand their rights. The ex-
ments of the use of such affirmative action measures
perience from India has shown that women councillors
should be broadly disseminated. Capacity-building pro-
have had a direct impact on policy decisions related to
grammes should be implemented for rural women to
local development in terms of infrastructure, housing,
strengthen the capabilities and self-confidence required
schools and health.165
for increased participation in decision-making.

The impact of women Gender perspectives should be systematically incorpo-

councillors in India
rated into all planning, implementation and monitoring
processes on rural development and poverty eradication,
Studies in two states in India, Rajasthan and including in poverty eradication strategy reviews and
West Bengal, found an unambiguous association MDG reporting processes. Gender-responsive budgeting
between the stated priorities of women council- should be implemented in rural areas and women’s ac-
lors—drinking water, fuel, health care and roads— tive participation in these processes promoted.
and increased levels of spending in these areas.
The broader constraints to women’s effective participa-
Several studies found that women councillors in-
tion in decision-making processes should be addressed,
vested more in the expressed development priori-
including in relation to education, income and work-
ties of women and children, particularly in drinking
loads. This will include actions to develop labour-saving
water infrastructure, housing, schools and health,
technologies and services required for reconciling family
and work responsibilities and actions to eliminate gen-

October 2008

der stereotyping in appointments and elections to bod- lence. There are few support services for abused women,
ies of local government or decision-making bodies, such and large distances to public services create additional
as water committees. problems, for example in relation to childcare. Bus and
taxi services are limited or, when they do exist, are not
Enhancing rights and security affordable for poor rural women. The police and ambu-
lance services, where these exist, react slowly. Telecom-
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Dis-
munication services are of poor quality and expensive.
crimination against Women recognizes the specific situa-
Women struggle to pay for basic necessities, travel, ac-
tion of women in rural areas and calls on States parties to
commodation, or the costs of separation or relocation.
take measures to eliminate discrimination against them.
Staff at rural courts have noted the costs of transport-
Traditional cultural practices and norms, as well as the
ing witnesses from outlying areas to courts as a con-
physical isolation of rural areas, pose special challenges to
straining factor.167
rural women’s enjoyment of their rights, including their
access to basic services, their rights to land, property and Governments and civil society organizations have taken a
inheritance, their access to decent employment and their number of measures to combat violence against women,
participation in decision-making within local governance such as provision of services for women victims of vio-
structures. Some groups of women, such as widows, in- lence, awareness-raising campaigns, and the adoption
digenous women and women heading households, are of specialized laws and procedures. For example, in the
particularly vulnerable and marginalized. Philippines, the Anti-Violence against Women and Their
Children Act of 2004 criminalizes acts of physical, sexual,
Violence against women psychological and economic abuse in intimate relation-
ships. The law allows courts to issue temporary protec-
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination tion orders and specifies that in rural contexts village
against Women recognizes in its general recommenda- officials should provide protection.168 However, women
tion number 19 that violence against women constitutes in rural areas often do not have access to services for
a form of gender-based discrimination. Violence against victims of violence and to means of redress and protec-
women persists in all regions of the world as a pervasive tion. The following box provides a good-practice example
violation of human rights and a major impediment to of community action to combat violence.
achieving gender equality. Women in rural areas expe-
rience violence within their families and communities.
Such violence can be exacerbated during armed conflict
The prevention and deterrence
of violence against women
and natural disasters.
through popular education
Violence takes many different forms, including domes-
tic violence, early and forced marriages, lack of access The Cambodian Women’s Crisis Centre (CWCC)
to health care and food, harmful traditional practices set up the Prevention and Deterrence of Violence
such as female genital mutilation, forced prostitution, against Women through Popular Education pro-
rape and sexual violence. Women are also exposed to gramme that was operational during 1998-1999.
violence in the form of exploitative working conditions The programme aimed at educating and organiz-
in inadequately regulated industries or are trafficked ing communities and police officers in 18 villages
into the sex industry. Violence prevents women from to combat all forms of violence against women.
fully contributing and benefiting from development. It The programme was based on the principle that
restricts their choices and limits their ability to act. A legislation is not enough, but must be followed
number of risk factors for violence have been identified, by a change in beliefs in order for communities,
some of which are particularly relevant for rural women. including local police, to take action.
They include women’s isolation and lack of social sup- The project called for the police and community
port; community attitudes that tolerate and legitimize members to take responsibility for the safety of
male violence; and high levels of social and economic women and girls in their communities. CWCC train-
disempowerment and poverty.166 ing sessions informed community members about
The under-resourcing of rural areas often makes wom- trafficking, domestic violence and rape. Local police-
en’s access to services and justice difficult. Research men received training on Cambodia’s Constitution,
from South Africa illustrates the difficulties women in
rural areas face when they seek help with domestic vio-

October 2008

Republic of the Congo were killed because they were

believed to be providing support to rival armed groups
penal provisions on battery, assault and rape, laws that the local villagers did not support.171
on trafficking, and the international conventions Research indicates a link between high rates of conflict
ratified by Cambodia. Volunteers in each village and high rates of HIV. For instance, in Rwanda, infection
received further training and continued to work as rates of HIV for rural areas stood at 1 per cent for rural
point persons in coalitions made up of community areas and 27 per cent for urban areas in 1992. By 1997,
members, the village chief and police. In addition, as a consequence of the 1994 genocide, urban and rural
five villages made a pact to combat trafficking of infection rates had become nearly equivalent.172
girls in their villages.
Refugee, returnee and internally displaced women and
In reviews of the programme, volunteers, girls suffer human rights abuses throughout their dis-
village chiefs and police agreed that there had placement and flight and in camp settings and resettle-
been a reduction in domestic violence since the ment. Weakened or destroyed social support structures
training took place. The use of contracts to end result in reduced security for women and girls in rela-
violent behaviour and systematic monitoring of tion to risks of harassment, violence or exploitation, and
results were positive outcomes of the partnership to problems in accessing the assistance necessary for
between communities and police to end violence survival. Difficulties faced by women and girls are not
against women. always identified and addressed in the planning and
Source: C. Spindel, E. Levy and M. Connor (2000), With management of camps, the layout of shelters and fa-
an End in Sight: Strategies from the UNIFEM Trust cilities, and the distribution of supplies in camps.173 This
Fund to Eliminate Violence against Women (New York: also constitutes a denial of their rights.
United Nations Development Fund for Women). Women who are excluded from decision-making struc-
tures in their communities in peacetime are unlikely to
become involved in decisions during conflicts or the peace
Conflict and post-conflict processes that follow. At the same time, armed conflict
situations and displacement cause gender roles and responsibili-
ties to change, as women and men are forced to as-
Existing inequalities between women and men and pat- sume different roles and responsibilities. Women may
terns of discrimination against women and girls are ex- become the main breadwinners when men are drafted
acerbated in armed conflict. During periods of armed into armed forces or are killed.
conflict and post-conflict reconstruction, gender inequali-
ties worsen and women experience abuse, psychological Armed conflict usually results in significant damage to
trauma, loss of family members, displacement and loss of the overall economic infrastructure. Women and men
resources disproportionately. Fighting forces, looting and are affected differently by post-conflict economic re-
forcible displacement disrupt rural subsistence strategies. form processes because of the differences and inequali-
The breakdown of marketing structures, the destruction ties in relation to their position in the economy (across
of marketplaces, and the looting and burning of seeds, and within sectors and formal and informal economies),
crops and livestock limit possibilities for agricultural pro- access to resources, vocational skills and educational
duction and trading. Household assets are frequently profiles, distribution of domestic responsibilities, and
sold in order to support families during conflict. In ru- mobility patterns.
ral areas, this can include the sale of crops, seeds, water The reconstruction of damaged or destroyed social sec-
rights, land, farm animals and equipment.169 tors, including health, education and social service insti-
Patterns of violence against women worsen during con- tutions, is essential to support the long-term process of
flict. Women are subject to all forms of physical, sexual social healing and integration.174 The severe disruption
and psychological violence, including murder, torture, ab- to social networks caused by armed conflict contributes
ductions, maiming and mutilation, forced recruitment, to growing numbers of marginalized groups, including
rape, sexual slavery, forced marriage, forced prostitution, war widows, child-headed households, orphans, the
forced abortion, forced pregnancy and forced steriliza- disabled and former child soldiers. Reduction and dis-
tion. Sexual violence has been used to degrade and in- mantling of State-financed social services increase pres-
timidate communities, to drive groups off land and to sure on the private sector to undertake these functions,
wilfully spread HIV.170 Rural women in the Democratic resulting in higher prices or unavailability of services

October 2008

and greater demands on women to make up for lost Governments should develop and implement adequately
services in their homes. resourced multisectoral strategies, in close coopera-
The period of transition after a conflict, however, also tion with civil society organizations, that take into ac-
provides an opportunity to create a democratic and equal count the specific contexts and challenges faced by
society if the different needs and priorities of women and women living in remote areas. Local communities should
men are taken into account at all stages. Constitutional also take responsibility for addressing violence against
and legal reform processes during reconstruction provide women more effectively and ensuring women’s access to
opportunities to establish principles of non-discrimination services and redress mechanisms.
and equality on the basis of sex in all areas, including Attention to violence against women should be fully
violence against women, marriage, divorce, custody, prop- integrated into the justice, health, housing and educa-
erty and inheritance rights, and access to economic re- tion sectors in order to ensure effective prevention work
sources. A gender-sensitive judiciary is critical to remove as well as adequate assistance to women victims/sur-
gender bias within courts in order to enforce the rights vivors in rural areas in terms of legal, health and social
of women and address crimes committed against women services. Gender-sensitive responses to armed conflict
during the conflict. Legal and other measures can promote and emergencies require systematic gender analysis to
women’s political participation in elections.175 ensure that the needs and priorities of rural women
Effective, sustainable measures are needed to end im- are fully taken into account in the planning and imple-
punity and ensure accountability for violence against mentation of humanitarian action and reconstruction
women, whether the violence occurs in the family or com- programmes. Constitutional and legal reforms in post-
munity, in rural or remote areas, or as a consequence of conflict peacebuilding and reconstruction efforts need
armed conflict. Governments have a responsibility to act to be based on the principles of gender equality and
with due diligence to prevent violence against women; to non-discrimination, including in relation to legal status,
investigate such violence; to prosecute and punish perpe- property and inheritance rights, access to economic re-
trators; and to provide access to redress for victims. sources and political participation.

Useful links and resources

on rural women
WomenWatch stream a gender perspective in its work, including in the
areas of financial services, markets, technologies, land and
WomenWatch is the United Nations inter-agency portal other natural resources (
on gender equality issues. It provides online information
on the gender equality work of the entire United Nations Consultative Group
system ( on International
Socio-economic and Gender Agricultural Research
Analysis Programme, FAO The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Re-
search (CGIAR) is a strategic alliance of countries, interna-
The Socio-economic and Gender Analysis Programme tional and regional organizations, and private foundations
(SEAGA) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the supporting 15 international agricultural centres that mobi-
United Nations was established in 1993 to promote gen- lize agricultural science to reduce poverty, foster human
der awareness when meeting development challenges. It well-being, promote agricultural growth and protect the
aims at incorporating socio-economic and gender equality environment (
considerations into development policies, programmes and
projects in order to ensure that all development efforts Dimitra
address the needs and priorities of both men and women
The Dimitra project, launched in 1994 in Brussels, Belgium,
by the European Commission, with the support of the King
International Fund for Baudouin Foundation, aims at improving the living condi-
tions of rural women. It promotes information exchange
Agricultural Development and disseminates information on gender equality and rural
The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) development, with a focus on Africa and the Middle East
website provides information on the fund’s efforts to main- (

October 2008

1 United Nations, 2000b, para. 20. following Secretary-General’s 43 Ibid.
2 World Bank, 2006. reports to the General Assembly: 44 Cotula, 2002.
3 A number of researchers have A/40/239 and Add.1, 1985; 45 Ibid.
pointed to the gains from a re- A/44/516, 1989; A/48/187, 1993; 46 Ibid.
duction in gender inequalities, A/50/257/Rev.1, 1995; A/52/326,
47 Women in Informal Employment:
including Saito, Spurling and Me- 1997; A/54/123, 1999; A/56/268,
Globalizing and Organizing
konnen, 1994; Hill and King, 1993; 2001; A/58/167, 2003; A/60/165,
(WIEGO) is a broad international
and Tibaijuka, 1994. See Grown, 2005; and A/62/202, 2007.
network of member-based organ-
Gupta and Kes, 2005; and United 16 General Assembly resolution izations, research and academic
Nations Research Institute for So- 62/136 of 18 December 2007 on institutions and development
cial Development, 2005. improvement of the situation of agencies.
4 General Assembly resolution women in rural areas.
48 International Restructuring Educa-
62/136 of 18 December 2007 on 17 For the years 2005 tion Network Europe (IRENE), 2002.
improvement of the situation of to 2007: E/2005/29-
49 United Nations, 2006b.
women in rural areas. E/CN.17/2005/12, E/2006/29(SUPP)-
E/CN.17/2006/15(SUPP) and 50 United Nations Development
5 The United Nations definition of
E/2007/29(SUPP)- Programme, 1998.
gender equality refers to the equal
E/CN.17/2007/15(SUPP). 51 United Nations Development
rights, responsibilities and opportu-
Programme, 2006.
nities of women and men and girls 18 E/2005/43-E/C.19/2005/9,
and boys. Equality does not mean E/2006/43-E/C.19/2006/11 and 52 World Bank, 2004.
that women and men will become E/2007/43-E/C.19/2007/12. 53 Kabeer, 2003.
the same but that women’s and 19 United Nations, 2004a. 54 Bell, 2003.
men’s rights, responsibilities and 20 General Assembly resolution 55 Zuckerman, 2002.
opportunities will not depend on 61/106 of 13 December 2006. 56 United Nations, 2007b.
whether they are born male or fe-
21 57 United Nations Development
male. Gender equality implies that
strategic_e.pdf Programme, 2007.
the interests, needs and priorities
22 United Nations, 2001c. 58 Women’s Environment and De-
of both women and men are taken
23 Wichterich, 2000. velopment Organization (WEDO),
into consideration, recognizing the
24 Illo, 2001. 2007.
diversity of different groups of
women and men. Gender equality 25 International Fund for Agricul- 59 Hansen-Kuhn, 2007.
is not a women’s issue but should tural Development, 2001. 60 Agarwal, 1992.
concern and fully engage men as 26 United Nations, 2006b. 61 International Fund for Agri-
well as women. Equality between 27 Food and Agriculture Organiza- cultural Development (IFAD),
women and men is seen both as a tion of the United Nations, 2006. Food and Agriculture Organ-
human rights issue and as a precon- ization of the United Nations
28 United Nations, 2006c.
dition for, and indicator of, sustain- (FAO) and Farm-Level Applied Re-
29 Tempelman and Keita, 2004.
able people-centred development. search Methods in Eastern and
30 Blackden and Wodon, 2006.
6 United Nations, 1995. Southern Africa (FARMESA), 1998.
31 Wichterich, 2000.
7 United Nations, 2000a. 62 Ibid.
32 Osmani, 2001.
8 United Nations, 2005a. 63 There are cultural as well as re-
33 United Nations, 2001d. gional differences in defining what
9 United Nations, 2000b.
34 Barrientos and others, 1999. constitutes a household and who
10 United Nations, 2001b.
35 Ibid. is the “head of household”. Gen-
11 General Assembly resolution 60/1
of 16 September 2005 adopting the 36 United Nations, 1999. erally speaking, the “head of the
37 Fontana, Joekes and Masika, 1998. household” is perceived as the per-
2005 World Summit Outcome.
son responsible for managing the
12 United Nations, 1992. 38 Barrientos and others, 1999.
household and providing or con-
13 United Nations, 2002a. 39 Smith and others, 2004.
trolling the income. Some coun-
14 United Nations, 2002b. 40 Paul-Majumder and Begum, 2000. tries have substituted the concept
15 The situation of rural women 41 Illo, 2001. of “reference person” for house-
was extensively addressed in the 42 United Nations, 2001c. hold heads in their data collection.

October 2008

64 The highest percentages are re- 96 Ibid. 136 United Nations, 2006b.
ported for Southern Africa and the 97 Kromhout, 2000. 137 Food and Agriculture Organiza-
Caribbean with 42 per cent and 98 Grown, Gupta and Kes, 2005. tion of the United Nations, 1997.
36 per cent, respectively, and the 99 United Nations, 2005a. 138 Aryeetey and Nissanke, 1998.
lowest for Southern Asia, with 139 Food and Agriculture Organiza-
100 World Health Organization, 2005.
9 per cent (United Nations, 2000c). tion of the United Nations, 2000.
101 Grown, Gupta and Kes, 2005.
65 Global Coalition on Women and 140 United Nations Research Insti-
102 United Nations Population Fund,
AIDS, 2005a. tute for Social Development, 2005.
66 UNAIDS and the Interagency 141 United Nations, 2001e.
103 Vargas-Lundius and Ypeij, 2007.
Task Team on Gender and HIV/ 142 Mayoux, 2000.
104 United Nations, 2005c.
AIDS, 2005.
105 World Health Organization, 143 United Nations, 2001f.
67 Bishop-Sambrook, 2004.
2006. 144 Pickens, Thavy and Keang, 2004.
68 Waldman, 2005.
106 United Nations Children’s Fund, 145 Food and Agriculture Organization
69 Food and Agriculture Organiza-
2005; and World Health Organ- of the United Nations, 1995a.
tion of the United Nations, 2004a.
zation, 2006. 146 Ibid.
70 Ibid.
107 United Nations, 2007c. 147 United Nations, 2006f.
71 UNAIDS and the Inter-Agency
108 World Health Organization, 2005. 148 Jazairy, Alamgir and Panuccio, 1992.
Task Team on Gender and HIV/
109 World Health Organization, 2003. 149 Food and Agriculture Organization
AIDS, 2005.
110 Chant, 1994; Kanji, 1991; and Mo- of the United Nations, 1996.
72 Global Coalition on Women and
ser, 1996. 150 Ibid.
AIDS, 2005b.
111 United Nations, 2004b. 151 Food and Agriculture Organization
73 United Nations, 2006d.
112 United Nations, 2006b. of the United Nations, 2000.
74 United Nations, 2005b.
113 United Nations Educational, Sci- 152 United Nations, 2005e.
75 Ibid.
entific and Cultural Organization, 153 United Nations, 2005f.
76 United Nations, 2002c.
2000. 154 World Bank, 2005.
77 United Nations, 2005b. 114 Population Reference Bureau, 2002. 155 Gurumurthy, 2004.
78 Ibid. 115 Pearson, 2000. 156 United Nations, 2005f.
79 International Fund for Agricul- 116 Grown, Gupta and Kes, 2005.
tural Development, 2002. 157 Gurumurthy, 2004.
117 Ibid. 158 Ibid.
80 Food and Agriculture Organiza-
118 World Health Organization, 2005. 159 Comfort, Goje and Funmilola,
tion of the United Nations, 1995b.
119 Grown, Gupta and Kes, 2005. 2003.
81 O’Laughlin, 1997; and Rodenburg,
120 Ibid. 160 Braithwaite, 1996; and Zechner
121 Ibid. and others, 2000.
82 United Nations, 2005b.
122 Cotula, 2002. 161 United Cities and Local Govern-
83 Ibid.
123 Food and Agriculture Organ- ments, 2007.
84 Beall, Kanji and Tacoli, 1999.
zation of the United Nations, In- 162 Grown, Gupta and Kes, 2005.
85 United Nations, 2005b. ternational Fund for Agricultural
163 United Nations Children’s Fund,
86 Ibid. Development and International
87 Ibid. Land Coalition, 2004.
164 Drage, 2001.
88 Ibid. 124 Lastarria-Cornhiel, 2001.
165 Ibid.; and United Nations, 2007b.
89 Ramirez, Dominguez and Morais, 2005. 125 World Health Organization, 2005.
166 United Nations, 2006g.
90 García and Paeiwonski, 2006. 126 United Nations Development Pro-
gramme, 2006. 167 Artz, 1999.
91 United Nations, 2005b.
127 United Nations, 2006e. 168 Ibid.
92 United Nations, 2006d.
128 Ibid. 169 United Nations, 2002d.
93 Paul-Majumder and Begum, 2000.
129 Gender and Water Alliance, 2003. 170 United Nations, 2006g.
94 García and Paeiwonski, 2006.
130 United Nations, 2005d. 171 United Nations Research Institute
95 United Nations International Re-
131 Meinzen-Dick and others, 1997. for Social Development, 2005.
search and Training Institute for
the Advancement of Women 132 Zwarteveen, 1997. 172 Ibid.
(INSTRAW), International Fund for 133 Lambrou and Piana, 2006. 173 United Nations, 2002d.
Agricultural Development (IFAD) and 134 Ibid. 174 Ibid.
Filipino Women’s Council (2008). 135 Modi and others, 2006. 175 United Nations, 2002d.

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October 2008

Ending Violence against Women: ment of the education and skills of the next generation.
Women often migrate officially as dependent family
From Words to Action—Study members of other migrants or marry someone in an-
of the Secretary-General other country. Many national laws on emigration and
immigration of voluntary migrants include discrimina-
The study, which addresses violence against women
tory provisions that affect the protection of migrant
as a form of discrimination and a human rights vio-
women. Refugee women and girls face particular prob-
lation, finds that such violence is severe and perva-
lems regarding their legal and physical protection. The
sive throughout the world, causing untold misery for
trafficking of people for prostitution and forced labour
women, harming families across generations, impov-
is one of the fastest-growing areas of international
erishing communities and reinforcing other forms of
criminal activity and one that is of increasing concern
violence throughout societies.
to the international community. International migra-
The study acknowledges the work of grass-roots wom- tion affects gender roles and opportunities for women
en’s organizations and movements around the world in destination countries. The 2004 World Survey ana-
in bringing violence against women into the arena lyses key issues on labour migration, family formation
of public attention and State accountability. It ana- and reunification, rights of migrant women, refugees
lyses the causes, forms and consequences of violence and displaced persons, as well as trafficking of women
against women, reviews available data and outlines and girls. It sets out recommendations, which, if ad-
States’ obligations to address such violence. While opted, will improve the situation of migrant, refugee
the study describes promising practices in the areas and trafficked women.
of law, service provision for victims and prevention,
Sales No. E.04.IV.4 • ISBN 978-92-1-130235-6 •
it also notes remaining challenges in bringing an end
to violence against women. Price $19.95

The study puts forward a blueprint for action, by dif-

ferent stakeholders, at local, national and international
The Convention on the
levels. Such action needs to involve demonstrations of Elimination of All Forms of
political commitment; the investment of resources; and Discrimination against Women
strong institutional mechanisms that can develop and
implement comprehensive approaches for the preven-
and its Optional Protocol
tion and eradication of all forms of violence against Handbook for Parliamentarians
women. Securing women’s human rights and promo- This Handbook, produced by the Division for the Ad-
tion of gender equality are crucial to this agenda. vancement of Women of the United Nations Secreta-
The study is available in English, French and Spanish. riat in collaboration with the Inter-Parliamentary Union,
offers a comprehensive and educational presentation
Sales No. E.06.IV.8 • ISBN 978-92-1-130253-0 •
of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Price $38.00
Discrimination against Women and its Optional Pro-
tocol. The Handbook presents the background to and
World Survey of the Role of content of the Convention and the Optional Protocol
Women in Development: Women and describes the role of the Committee on the Elim-
ination of Discrimination against Women, which se-
and International Migration cures implementation at the national level. It provides
A flagship publication of the Department of Economic examples of good practices and gives an overview of
and Social Affairs of the United Nations Secretariat, the what parliamentarians can do to ensure effective im-
2004 World Survey on the Role of Women in Develop- plementation of the Convention and encourage use
ment addresses key issues related to women and in- of the Optional Protocol. It also proposes model in-
ternational migration. A gender perspective is essential struments and reference materials as aids designed
to understanding both the causes and consequences to facilitate the work of legislators.
of international migration. Migrant women contribute
The Handbook is available in Arabic, Chinese, English,
to the economic development of their country of des-
French, Russian and Spanish.
tination and to the country of origin through financial
contributions from remittances, the improvement of Sales No. E.03.IV.5 • ISBN 978-92-1-130226-4 •
their own skills and their contributions to the improve- Price $18.95

October 2008

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The cover is
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Sisters, 1997,
by Edwina

This issue of Women 2000 and Beyond was prepared by the Division for the
Advancement of Women in collaboration with Jane Harrigan and Beth Woroniuk.

October 2008


October 2008

Back issues of
Women 2000 and Beyond
Back issues of Women 2000 and Beyond
are available to download from:

Women, Gender Equality and Sport

(December 2007)

Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women through ICT

(September 2005)

Women and Water (February 2005)

Making Risky Environments Safer: Women Building Sustainable and

Disaster-resilient Environments (April 2004)

Women, Nationality and Citizenship

(June 2003)

Gender Dimensions of Ageing

(March 2002)

Widowhood, Invisible Women, Secluded or Excluded

(December 2001)

Integrating a Gender Perspective into United Nations Human Rights Work

(December 1998)

Sexual Violence and Armed Conflict: United Nations Response

(April 1998)

Women and Decision-making


Women and the Information Revolution


The Role of Women in United Nations Peace-keeping


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