International Day of Rural Women

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By Ruth Owino

The first International Day of Rural Women was observed on 15 October 2008. This day, was established by the General Assembly in its resolution 62/136 of 18 December 2007. The Day recognizes “the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.” The International Day of Rural Women is purposely held before World Food Day, in order to highlight the role played by rural women in food production and food security.

The idea of honoring rural women with a special day was put forward at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, in 1995. A worldwide empowerment and educational campaign is annually organized since 1997, the day was previously celebrated across the world for more than a decade before it was officially a UN observance. The International Day of Rural Women is a global observance and is not a public holiday. Celebrations and events take place in more than 100 countries around the world.

Rural women play a critical role in the rural economies of both developed and developing countries. In most parts of the developing world they participate in crop production and livestock care, provide food, water and fuel for their families, and engage in off-farm activities to diversify their families’ livelihoods. In addition, they carry out vital functions in caring for children, older persons and the sick. In many of the world’s poorer countries women play a vital role in the rural economy. They are involved in crop production and livestock care, provide food, water and fuel for their families, and carry out other activities to diversify their families’ livelihoods.

However, with little or no status, they frequently lack the power to secure land rights or access to vital services such as credit, inputs, extension services, training and education. In rural areas especially in the developing countries, inheritance claims are handled by male dominated administrations which make inheritance decisions based upon personal and discriminatory view rather than on legal basis. Worse of all, many African countries are yet to pass laws that enable women access to financial institutions, matrimonial and family property.

Without legal protection, women are at risk of becoming landless, either through women inheritance, widowhood or selling of properties by their husbands. By gaining ownership of rightfully owned land and inherited property, women are empowered to gain income and security, hence reducing poverty and lower cases of domestic violence. Exclusion of women in accessing land leads to urban migration into the slums. Their vital contribution to society goes largely unnoticed.

World rural Women’s Day aims to empower women and make them aware of the rights, by bringing rural women out of obscurity at least once a year – to remind society how much they owe to rural women and to give value and credit to their work. This year, the rural women are being called upon to claim their right to land and inheritance. Owning and inheriting land is an effective way to improve their families, communities, social, economic and political status.

As the world will be commemorating Rural Women’s Day, we are calling upon the African governments to:
1. Revise laws concerning marriage, family and inheritance.
2. Abide and be signatories of the various international treaties that protect women’s rights; Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), Beijing Platform for Action (1995), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women- CEDAW (1979), World Food summit Plan of Action (1996) and Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (1998).
3. Provide equal access for women to land and inheritance
4. Establish a system for monitoring land administration institutions.

Facts:
• Rural women comprise more than one quarter of the total world population.
• 500 million women live below the poverty line in rural areas.
• Women produce 60-80% of basic foodstuffs in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean.
• Women perform over 50% of the labor involved in intensive rice cultivation in Asia.
• Women perform 30% of the agricultural work in industrialized countries.
• Women head 60% of households in some regions of Africa
• Women meet 90% of household water and fuel needs in Africa.
• Women process 100% of basic household foodstuffs in Africa.
• Women produce half the world’s food, but own only 1% of its farmland.
• Two thirds of the illiterate adults in the developing world are women.

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About FEMNET

FEMNET (The African Women's Development and Communication Network) is a pan African, feminist organisation working to advance the rights of women and girls in Africa. FEMNET has carved a niche in Informing and mobilizing African women in order for them to participate and influence policies and processes that affect their lives. FEMNET has hundreds of members in over 40 countries in Africa as well as in the diaspora. It has played a critical role in building the women's movement in Africa since inception in 1988.

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