Manuel Otero

Innovative Policies for Rural Women

A massive movement is currently sweeping through a large part of the world, shedding light on a monumental problem: discrimination against women.

Although primarily urban based, this movement is also manifesting itself in rural areas, where women are at a double disadvantage compared to urban women. The responsibility for bridging the gap between men and women, and women in rural vs. urban areas lies not only with governments but also with civil society, both must commit to leveling the playfield.

From an urban perspective, studies about gender relations in rural areas resemble a sort of daguerreotype portrait, a sepia colored photograph taken in the contemporary era.

The perception of the role of rural women is reflected by phrases such as “she helps out with chores in the field” or "she has no economic responsibilities,” which confirm a widespread lack of recognition for the work women carry out in rural areas.

Manuel Otero, Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA)
Manuel Otero, Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA)
Manuel Otero,
Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA)

The truth is that in addition to playing a key role in the home, women are also heavily involved in production activities. This dual role of homemaker and responsibilities for production development, are fundamental to the stability and survival of their families.

Despite the progress achieved in recent years with respect to women’s empowerment and gender equality, women in rural areas remain the primary caretakers of children and the home, and are also responsible for preparing meals as well as collecting firewood and water. However, these domestic chores are not recognized as work; they are considered “natural and compulsory.”

Almost 40% of rural women in Latin America and the Caribbean, compared to 14% of rural men, do not earn their own income. Furthermore, less than a third of rural women own the plots of land on which they live.

Different indicators, testimonies and experiences “cry out” for resolving rural women’s invisibility and their lack of or insufficient access to land ownership, production resources, funding, connectivity, drinking water, education, training, health and justice.

Changing this reality necessitates the creation of a large coalition for social transformation, aimed at driving the implementation of solid, long-term public policies for the benefit of rural women, with a steadfast determination to neutralize discrimination. Achieving this transformation would be the best tribute we could pay to women farmers on the International Day of Rural Women, established by the UN eleven years ago.

Innovative and effective policies should focus on creating incentives for young women to develop and implement innovative ideas in their native places. Among them it should be considered: resolving the lack of services that lead rural dwellers to migrate, especially given the fact that their retention depends directly on rural women; taking advantage of designations of origin for agricultural products; and recovering traditional arts and crafts, which represent new market niches within a framework of sustainability.

One of the obligations of society today is the creation of new, more numerous opportunities for discriminated populations to overcome their situation. The first step in this transformation process is shining the spotlight on the issues to gain a deeper understanding which would allow defining and executing true lasting solutions that will elevate the life of rural women, their families and communities.

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