CSW62 Offers Hope for Rural Women & Girls

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

It’s Time to Recognize Women Farmers in India

Farmer. I don’t know about you, but when I hear that word, I think of a man.

Or, at least I used to think of a man. Before I went to India, that is. In India, 80% of all rural female workers are in agriculture but due to traditional gender roles they are rarely recognized as farmers. This is no news, but because of severe climate change and male work migration to cities women farmers are now more visible than ever, which creates an urgent need for them actually to be recognized as such.

So, the feminization of farming does not mean that women suddenly start taking part in agriculture work, but rather that they become visible within the agricultural sector. It means that many women across India are now taking care of both their households and their farms, while their husbands move to the cities in order to find another income to make ends meet. It means that women work for 3300 hours, while men work 1860 hours in a crop season. It means that there is an urgent need for women farmers to be recognized in order to be able to maintain a sustainable way of living.

There are a lot of initiatives in India aimed at the empowerment of small farmers. However, they are often formed to fit the average male farmer, which means that they fail to address the specific needs of women farmers. Taking care of the household and the children result in women having less time and opportunity to, for example, take part in farming training and travel to the market to sell their produce. Furthermore, if women are not recognized as farmers in the first place, they will still be overlooked when new projects for farmers’ empowerment are initiated.

Women play a vital role in food production, not only in India, but around the world. However, due to patriarchal structures they do not have equal access to land ownership. In India, 80% of all rural female workers are in agriculture, but only 9.4% own land. We know that if women could improve their economic and social status it generates more productive farms and decreases child malnutrition. If women were to be given equal access to productive resources, they could yield 20-30 % more.

Farmer. I don’t know about you, but when I hear that word I now think of strong women.

In addition to tending to their farms, they are also looking after their children, cooking, cleaning and fetching water and firewood. These women have been discriminated for ages and their skills and knowledge have not been recognized simply because they are women. It has to change. If women farmers are not recognized, if they do not have access to productive resources, if they do not have access to proper education, who will feed the next generation?

The feminization of farming has been going on for decades, and it will most likely continue. Women farmers are the future and there is an urgent need to recognize them as such. Not only in India, but everywhere.

Herd Boys in Lesotho

Young Thabo left school at nine years of age to tend sheep, goats and cattle in the treacherous mountain passes of Lesotho, in southern Africa. Despite his young age, he lived in complete isolation for months at a time, with only the company of the herd and two dogs. Thabo made the journey back to his family twice a year in the winter, so the animals could be checked, counted, and kept warm for a brief period.

Thabo’s interactions with people were strained – he was accustomed to hitting and yelling at stubborn animals to express his displeasure and get results.

If hitting and yelling worked with his herd, why not with people?

In the solitude of the mountains, Thabo’s word was law. There was no one to ask permission from and no one to guide him about what was right and wrong. In a world where aggression was a survival tactic, he knew no other way. Sexual violence, rape, and physical abuse were acceptable. Thabo believed that it was his right as a man to take what he wanted from a woman. In the herd, there was no such thing as consent.

Although Thabo’s story is startling, it is the reality for countless boys in Lesotho. For most rural families, their animal stock is their only means of providing for themselves. They cannot afford to lose their herds to thieves and stock theft is an all too common problem. Thus, they send their boys up into the mountains, away from thieving hands, to keep watch over the herds day and night. Some herd boys must even watch the herds of several families.

Without any education or guidance, the herd boys become awkward social pariahs, which only increases their feelings of isolation and loneliness.


Thabo is 17 now, and is, by his own admission, a much different person. He recently completed Help Lesotho’s six month “Herd Boy Training Program” that provides much-needed support and education for the herd boys. Topics include healthy relationships, preventing HIV transmission, reproductive health, gender equity, preventing sexual and domestic violence, the effects of drugs and alcohol, peer pressure, self-esteem, and role modelling. For Thabo, and many herd boys like him, being part of the program made him feel connected to society:

“All the issues that were being discussed are the issues that affect us as human beings. Whereas in other meetings, we felt like objects. We felt like objects because the only important things in those meetings were the animals that we are taking care of, not us.”

His coping mechanisms no longer include hitting and yelling. He understands that women deserve the same respect he does. He recognizes gender equity doesn’t imply that men are inferior. He feels a sense of self-worth. He knows that he is intrinsically valuable as a person, not just as an animal guardian.

But perhaps the most astounding thing about Thabo is that despite the hardships he has faced and the abandonment he has experienced, he now believes that he can make a difference in his community. He feels compelled to share what he has learned, particularly about gender-based violence and HIV transmission, with other herd boys. Thabo now proudly acts as an ambassador for change in the very community that shunned him.

At 17 years of age, he has turned his life around.

Why “Eating Local” Isn’t Enough: Violence Against Female Farmworkers

This post is written by Adrienne Lloyd

Farm to table, cage-free, local, organic, sustainably-sourced, humanely-raised. As someone who does my best to be intentional about what I eat and where it comes from, I find myself gravitating towards food label trends and buzzwords such as these. And, they are, of course, not trends without reason: just a quick scan of the Netflix documentary section reveals that you will not be hard-pressed to find films revealing the problematic nature of corporate food chains worldwide. However, with each conversation I have or engage in about ethical and sustainable food systems, it becomes more and more clear that in our discussion about the farm to table journey of our food, we consistently fail to consider a crucial player in this supply chain: the farm workers themselves.

According to a white paper sponsored by the Kresge Foundation, Health-related Inequities Among Hired Farm Workers and the Resurgence of Labor-intensive Agriculture, “America’s 1.8 million hired farm laborers are among the nation’s most vulnerable employees.” Although a majority of hired farm workers are vulnerable to grueling work conditions, low pay and lack of access to healthcare, for women working on farms in the United States, this vulnerability is only intensified in the form of vulnerability to sexual violence.

A recent community study found that 80 percent of female farmworkers interviewed reported experiencing a form of sexual violence at least once while working on the farm. Another study found that 60 percent of the female farmworkers interviewed reported some form of sexual harassment. For context, according to Human Rights Watch, approximately 24 percent of farmworkers are female; about three percent are under 18, many of whom are girls.

Although statistics are hugely important in that they give an idea of how many women and girls are affected, it’s worth thinking further about why women farmworkers are so much more vulnerable to sexual violence in the fields in the first place.

The short answer?

Intersecting vulnerable identities.

The long answer?

Vulnerable Farmworker Identity Characteristics: (Human Rights Watch)

  • 78 percent of farmworkers in the United States are foreign-born.
  • Only 30% of farmworkers report speaking English “well.”
  •  75 percent of farmworkers across the U.S. are unauthorized workers.
  • The average highest grade completed among farmworkers is eight grade.

Vulnerability embedded in the Agricultural Workplace:

  •  Farm work is often in remote areas.
  • Male farmworkers make up well over 75 percent of the farm workforce.
  • The work requires women to bend over and crouch, leaving them more physically vulnerable.
    A majority of field supervisors are men; with the power to hire, fire and assign hours, women are vulnerable to this power imbalance.

These intersecting vulnerable identity characteristics begin to explain why sexual violence against women is so pervasive that the fields are often referred to as the “green motel” or fils de calzón, a phrase that literally translates to “field of panties.” Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers union, sums this problematic prevalence well: “It’s almost like sexual harassment is part of the job.”

So, next time you’re having a friendly supermarket debate about whether to buy organic or local strawberries, I challenge you to join me in adding a third question to consider: Who picked the strawberries and what is their work environment like? There may not yet be a bright label announcing that the box of strawberries in your hands was picked by women who felt safe in their workplace, but there was also not always a label for organic either until we as consumers spoke up about it.

What does speaking up look like for you? Consider:

  • Starting a conversation at dinner about what food justice means and what groups do not have access to it.
  •  Reading up on organizations doing work around defending female farmworkers’ rights like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Coalition of Imokalee Workers.
  • Adding your voice to amplify the Fair Food campaign, a consumer powered, worker certified movement to ensure safety and justice for all farmworkers.

SDG 2: The future of Agriculture for African Women

September 2015 marked a key step in global development’s future. U.N. member states convened the Sustainable Development Summit to adopt the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Goal 2 of the new agenda is to “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture”.

The SDGs don’t just represent a new level of ambition on eradicating hunger and malnutrition, they’re about leaving no one behind and about getting to zero for all not just some. The ambitious aim to eradicate hunger completely by 2030 seems a great next step. Extreme hunger and malnutrition remain a huge barrier to development in many countries. 795 million people are estimated to be chronically undernourished as of 2014, often as a direct consequence of environmental degradation, drought and loss of biodiversity. Over 90 million children under the age of five are dangerously underweight. And one out of four people still goes hungry in Africa.

The new SDGs will take on the challenge of solving chronic poverty and advancing global development in an integrated style. Goal 2 clearly addresses hunger, food security and for the first time sustainable agriculture. This Goal has eight targets including ending hunger and malnutrition, in particular amongst vulnerable groups; ensuring resilient agricultural systems that increase productivity and respond adaptively to climate change; and improving agricultural markets with increased rural infrastructure, technological advances, and better market performance for small-scale food producers like women, family farmers, and indigenous group. The SDGs aim to end all forms of hunger and malnutrition by 2030, making sure all people, especially children and the more vulnerable,  have access to sufficient and nutritious food all year round. This involves promoting sustainable agricultural practices, improving the livelihoods and capacities of small scale famers and allowing equal access to land, technology and markets. It also requires international cooperation to ensure investment in infrastructure and technology to improve agricultural productivity.

It should be clearly understood that food security is not just about getting everyone enough nutritious food. It is also about access, ending waste, moving toward sustainability, efficient production and consumption. Irrigation and other investments in agriculture and rural development can help many and build pathways to sustainable future growth. My hope is that Goal 2 will strengthen this process of investing in agriculture for global development with its enhanced attention to both food security and sustainable agriculture.

Women produce more than half of the world’s food, yet own only two percent of titled land and receive less than 10 percent of credit available for small businesses. These inequalities must change if we ever hope to break the cycle of poverty and hunger in rural areas of the developing world. When women are given economic opportunities, they make investments that benefit not just themselves but their families and their communities. In Africa, where women are responsible for much of the continent’s agricultural production, sustainable agriculture depends on women adopting sustainable practices. Governments together with community based organizations need to initiate comprehensive farmer training programs for grassroots women. These trainings should cover topics such as organic soil management and proper use of organic fertilizers, crop rotation best practices, conservation methods, agro forestry and sustainability of farms cultivated by these Women. For women farmers, it is always hard to access the resources available due to the patriarchal contexts under which many of these farming businesses operate.

Due to cultural norms, women don’t reap the rewards of their labor.  Whatever they get from the crops that they grow doesn’t come to them most of the time. If sub-Saharan Africa is to eliminate extreme poverty, this has to change. Women need to be empowered in agriculture in order to increase productivity as when women have resources from their production they will always reinvest it in their children and in their households. Many changes have to take place for empowering women who work in agriculture, such as aligning laws in sub-Saharan Africa with international norms on women’s rights. Women need to be allowed to own land and have equal access to resources and basic public services and our governments should also get involved in the process of changing societal norms and breaking barriers to women’s economic empowerment.

If we enable and support rural women farmers to innovate and use climate-smart practices, it’s not only hunger and poverty that will decline: Economic growth will increase, jobs will be created and families, communities and countries will reap the benefits of women’s empowerment. It’s time we help women harness the power of agriculture as a tool not only for ensuring food security and improved nutrition for all, but for gender equality and women’s empowerment as well.

Illustrations for the SDG campaign have been made for Girls’ Globe by artist Elina Tuomi.

Ending Hunger: The Time to Begin is Now

The 22nd African Union Summit, with the theme Agriculture and Food Security, could not have come at a better time than this. African leaders and civil society organizations are meeting to reaffirm their commitment to food security and adopting new measures to save millions who face imminent danger. Agriculture is Africa’s backbone and contributes over 70% of the GDP in many countries.

Famine is not a new phenomenon and is as old as recorded history and has adversely affected much of Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite the giant strides that have been taken to “arrest” the situation, famine has remained elusive.

With the emergence of new threats like climate change, now is the time to take decisive action.

The most challenging aspect has been to find the pathways to use to divert such a catastrophe. As a young leader from Rwanda, I believe that in order for the world to achieve food security, we need a holistic approach that includes both government and civil society organizations. I am proud to be the voice of those women who could not be able to be here and upon my return to Rwanda, I will be able to implement and share my experiences with thousands of young women.

I envision a world where women are economically empowered and for this to take place, women should be given the means.

Photo Credit: Fintrac Inc. via USAID Flickr
Photo Credit: Fintrac Inc. via USAID Flickr

Trainings on modern agricultural practices would go a long way in making them self-reliant. Provision of pest resistant seeds to vulnerable communities would also be a step in the right direction. Land reform programs that address the existing unfair distribution of land are needed so that women are brought on board. Such measures that promote food security will make it easy for the implementation of other programs that are related to sexual and reproductive health of women.

I applaud African governments, World YWCA, YWCA Rwanda and other stakeholders for the existing partnership in a bid to promote food security in Africa.

RobinahMy name is Kyambadde Robinah Salinge. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Social Sciences and I am completing my Master’s degree in International Relations at Mount Kenya University Kigali-Campus. I am the Project Manager of SRHR project at YWCA Rwanda. I am privileged and honoured to be attending the 22nd African Union Summit, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Great thanks goes to World YWCA and YWCA Rwanda who have made it possible for me to be at the AU Summit, where I have got the chance of sharing more about the problems my fellow young women and I are facing in Africa.