The vice president and minister of Women's Affairs says that more than a third of the global female workforce is engaged in agriculture. Her Excellency Aja Dr Isatou Njie-Saidy made the statement Friday while delivering her annual message in commemoration of the International Rural Women's Day Celebration.
Celebrated every year on October 15th, this year's theme is 'Women and farm land for food security'. The day was set aside specifically to honour rural women. The idea was put forward at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 and the day was selected, as it is the eve of the World Food Day, to highlight rural women's role in food production and food security.
VP Njie-Saidy said: "Globally, more than a third of the female workforce is engaged in agriculture while in regions like sub-Saharan Africa including The Gambia, more than 70% women are employed in this sector, producing more than 90% of local stable food and over 99% of horticultural products."
She recalled that in adopting its resolution on the observance of the day, the UN General Assembly in December 2007, cited two reasons; one recognising the fact that security, peace and social progress and the full enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, require the active participation of women in all spheres of the economy; and two -to acknowledge the contribution of rural women to food security.
"For the women of the world, the day symbolises a wider meaning. It is an occasion to review how far they have come in their struggle for quality peace and development. It also presents an opportunity to unite, network and mobilise our efforts and resources for meaningful change in order to address the double deprivation and discrimination that rural women face daily in some circles," she said.
VP Njie-Saidy pointed out that rural women form the backbone of the agricultural labour force across much of the developing world, saying the recent global food crisis as a result of climate change has impacted negatively on the price and production of food, which has led to food insecurity, high prices in both developed and developing countries alike, which if not adequately addressed, may lead to further food insecurity and disasters.
"Therefore, the three basic elements of food security ie availability of food, that is to say sufficient food production, economic and physical access to usable food products and finally nutrition security must be ensured by all in order to enhance agriculture and rural development and thus, improve food security," she added.
VP Njie-Saidy also told the gathering that most rural women find themselves employed in the agricultural sector comprising of 78% of the economically active population who work in agriculture compared to just 57% of men. She observed that women play a critical role in the rural economies of both developed and developing countries alike, stressing that some are however, smallholder farmers and are unskilled agrarian wage earners whose massive contribution does not translate to the desired improve social status.
She continued: "Their limited capacity and skills to embark upon viable agro-based and entrepreneurial activities, adequate ownership and control over resources such as adequate fertile and developed land and modern agricultural equipment, coupled with their triple roles, impede efforts for rural women to graduate into the large-scale national mainstream livelihood economy. To this end, more efforts are needed towards improving the capacities of rural women particularly women farmers, who are in areas where there are no facilities such as access to roads, markets, transportation, storage and preservation facilities."
The vice president further stated that the Gambian rural women in particular like other rural women in developing countries participate in crop and livestock production, provide food, water and fuel wood for their families and engage in off-farm activities to diversify their families' livelihoods.
She added that in addition, the women carry out vital functions in caring for their children, elderly people and the sick stressing that the government of The Gambia in recognition of these immense contributions of rural women in both local and national development as encapsulated in the Women's Acts 2010 revised in 2012, takes into account their special needs at all levels of development planning (institutional, programme and policy levels).
VP Njie-saidy also outlined the countless efforts of the government and non-governmental organisations over the years towards ensuring the socio-economic advancement of not only rural women, but also Gambian women in general. She said that as part of efforts to address the challenges faced by Gambian women, the Gambia government since 1994 has been providing support to women farmers through the agricultural extension services, provision of mechanised farming equipment through the personal donation of the president of the Republic, establishment of markets outlets for local produce, training and agricultural development projects, such as Lowland Agricultural Development Project(LADEP) Rural Finance and Community Initiative Project (RFCIP), the Small Holder Integrated Project (SHIP) and the Gambia National Agricultural Investment Plan (GNAIP).