Last week, women’s rights organizations around Africa convened in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for a regional meeting. The aim was to agree on priorities within issues that affect women and girls in rural areas of Africa.

The meeting (CSWAfrica) was hosted by the Africa Women’s Development and Communication Network (FEMNET) together with Africa’s steering committee and delegates, and the purpose was to set the agenda ahead of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62) being held in March 2018. The theme of CSWAfrica – ‘Securing African Rural Women’s Footprint at CSW62 & Beyond’ – was in line with this year’s CSW priority theme: ‘Challenges and Opportunities in Achieving Gender Equality and Empowerment of Rural Girls and Women’.

The strategic meeting called upon African rural women to share their realities to influence policies that could lead to gender equality.

It’s important to note that rural women constitute more than a quarter of the world’s population. Rural women are leaders, producers and service providers. Their contribution is vital to the well-being of families, communities, economies and the overall achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Agenda 2063.

Moreover, rural women account for a significant proportion of the agricultural labour force and produce the majority of food grown in the world, and still perform most of the unpaid care work. Yet their rights and contributions have largely been overlooked.

Rural women continue to experience unequal opportunities within healthcare, education, infrastructure, food security, nutrition, technology and general access to information. They can be disproportionately affected by gender based violence, sexual exploitation, harmful practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM), child and forced marriages and are often subsequently denied access to justice.

Rural women can face more difficulties than men in accessing public services, social protection, employment and markets due to cultural norms, security issues and the formidable lack of identification documents. Women without identification cards cannot access healthcare, education, pensions, applications for property title or deeds and other social services. They are also unable to exercise their right to vote.

Additionally, while women have equal property ownership and inheritance rights, gender disparities in land holdings persist worldwide.

Even where governments have put legislations and policies in place to protect the rights of rural women and girls, their realization still remains a pipedream due to lack of awareness. Continued gender imbalances with our patriarchal society jeopardize the realization of existing laws and policies.

Conferences such as CSW provide a valuable platform for nations to focus on the acceleration and implementation of regional and global declarations geared towards the achievement of gender equality. CSW62 offers a perfect opportunity for building alliances to achieve gender equality and to empower rural women and girls.

“You can judge a nation, and how successful it will be, based on how it treats its women and its girls.” – Barack Obama

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