The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Spare a Thought for Rural Women

The 56th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) started on February 27, 2012 in New York with participants grappling with the economic status of rural women. The theme for the CSW 2012 session is "Empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges".

It is drawing the world's focus towards women's invaluable but unrecognised contribution towards human development.

One of the keys to the rural women's empowerment lies in the male-dominated domains like credit, land and technology sectors.

Women sustain more than 50 percent of agricultural activity in developing countries and in fact, constitute two-thirds of the agricultural labour force in some African countries.

According to agriculture experts, women grow and sell 80 percent to 90 percent of the food in sub-Saharan Africa. In Africa, up to 80 percent of all fish and shellfish caught by local fisherfolk are cleaned, dried, smoked and marketed by women and children.

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) states that men receive most of the agricultural extension services, new technologies and credit, while women are the caretakers of the food supply chain.

If women were given the same resources as men, there would be significant increases in agricultural productivity, reports IFPRI.

According to researchers, the last few decades have also seen an upsurge in countless examples of low-cost technologies which have removed part of the drudgery experienced by women who farm and process food.

Women's groups have developed these technologies and techniques and the communities themselves led by women and external sources have financed both of these.

Sociologists have noted that these programmes and technologies, aimed at improving the way women farm, have clearly had their impact on the income and material quality of their lives and on agricultural production.

IFPRI observes that access to technology for women, requires education, information and finance.

Under-investment in women's education has high costs in terms of lost agricultural income. The reluctance of most banks to invest in women's enterprises, which have little or no collateral, reflects the present situation towards the empowerment of women.

In some African countries, according to the International Women's Network, women farmers receive less than 10 percent of the total credit allocated to small farmers and only 1 percent of the total credit allocated to agriculture.

Noting that most decisions, including the fate of rural women, are influenced at the political level, slightly more than five African countries have managed to put more women in Parliament.

Eleven African countries surpass the 11,7 percent female quota in the United States House of Representatives.

If progress in the empowerment of the rural women is to be sustained and advanced, then major investments must be made towards developing women in agriculture, technology, business and politics.

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