Author: James Ayodele, March 30 2017 - International Women’s Day 2017

Women in cities may be heading companies and making key decisions but in rural areas they are suffering great hardship, poverty, inequality and hunger.

On the International Women’s Day 2017, in the serene and gorgeously decorated conference room of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in Rome, Italy, diplomats, experts, students and women groups gathered for a great parley.

What did they talk about?

“How can we go the extra mile to end poverty and hunger among rural women,” said Michel Mordasini, Vice-President International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

“We need to urgently step up our work with rural women and end all forms of discrimination against women and girls,” he added.

The three “big” Rome-based food and agriculture organizations - FAO, IFAD and the World Food Programme [WFP] - narrated, and with video documentaries, some of their achievements in supporting rural women.

One beneficiary of FAO’s support is Betty Nduga, a widow in Uganda who has established a commercial nursery to raise and sell wilt-resistant coffee seedlings. Her nursery now employs other rural women, some of whom are household heads.

She said: “After I had learned how to raise coffee seedlings I started to operate this nursery as a business enterprise to be able to look after my family.”

Another beneficiary of an IFAD-supported project in Guatemala, Maria Ana, now has a local cloth-making business.

Displaying one of her colourful products, she said: “The IFAD project gave us opportunity to obtain a loan and helped us to set up our own business. This is the design we are now making and people like it a lot. It has 20 colours, the texture is fine and soft. I really like to make it. It sells well here and abroad.”

Beyond the eloquent speeches, experts gave staggering data that “put number to what we already know about inequality in women employment.”

“The market value of women’s work that is not paid is estimated to be a quarter or a third of some countries’ GDP,” said Amir Abdulla, WFP Deputy Executive Director.

“For every dollar a man makes a woman earns only 77 cents,” said Maria Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General Climate and Natural Resources.

Mr Abdulla gave elaborate and candid advice on how to help rural women escape hunger:

“There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women. Rural women need more agricultural inputs, credit, capital, technology, innovation and transport. They need the rights to independently own and pass on the tenure of their land, they need command of agricultural inputs and they need to be connected to markets and agricultural entrepreneurship. We must recognise, understand and re-distribute unpaid care and domestic work. Recognising that women should be equal and outright decision makers in the crops planted, inputs and other resources will lead to true food security.”

Discussions at the event were summed in the address of José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director-General: “Women play a very important role in agriculture and food systems and the future of global food security depends on recognising and harnessing their potential.”

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