Zambia: Rural Women Key Players in Sustainable Growth

Zambia last joined the global community in commemorating the International Rural Women's Day.

This was meant to appreciate the role of the rural women in eradicating poverty and fighting hunger.

United Nations Women (UNWomen) clearly observes that rural women continue to fare worse in almost every aspect of development than their male counterparts and for this reason, the organization calls for action to empower rural women.

UNWomen notes that the global gender gap in food security has risen dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, with more women and girls going hungry.

For this reason, rural women can be key actors to achieve zero hunger and play a key role in achieving other global goals that include ending poverty.

This is despite the rural women being undervalued, with their rights under threat.

Women and girls in rural areas suffer disproportionately from multi-dimensional poverty.

UNWomen explains that while extreme poverty has declined globally, the world's one billion people, who continue to live in unacceptable conditions of poverty, are heavily concentrated in rural areas.

Poverty rates in rural areas across most regions are higher than those in urban areas and yet, smallholder agriculture produces nearly 80 per cent of food in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, besides supporting livelihoods of some 2.5 billion people.

UNWomen notes that women farmers may be as productive and enterprising as their male counterparts, but they are less able to access land, credit, agricultural inputs, markets and high-value agrifood chains and obtain lower prices for their crops.

Structural barriers and discriminatory social norms continue to constrain women's decision making power and political participation in rural households and communities.

Women and girls in rural areas lack equal access to productive resources and assets, public services, such as education and healthcare, and infrastructure, including water and sanitation, while much of their labour remains invisible and unpaid.

This is in spite of their workloads becoming increasingly heavy due to the migration of men.

Globally, with few exceptions, every gender and development indicator for which data is available shows that rural women fare worse than rural men and urban women and that they disproportionately experience poverty, exclusion and the effects of climate change.

According to statistics, rural women form a quarter of the world's population and work as farmers, wage earners and entrepreneurs.

Additionally, less than 20 per cent of landholders worldwide are women.

Further, women are concentrated in both unpaid care and household work and their role in subsistence farming is often unremunerated.

Additionally, their contribution to the rural economy is widely underestimated.

In Zambia, the Government says it is determined to support rural women because of their contribution to the social and economic development of the country.

During the recent commemoration of the International Day of the Rural Woman held in Chongwe, Vice President WK Mutale-Nalumango said rural women have continued to show their resilience in various sectors, such as agriculture and protection of natural resources.

Ms Mutale-Nalumango, who was speaking in a speech read for her by Local Government and Rural Development Minister Garry Nkombo, said rural women play a critical role in food production for national and food security.

The theme for this year's International Day of the Rural Woman was; 'Rural Women Cultivating Food for All.'

She said it was for this reason that the Government is creating deliberate programmes to support the rural woman.

"These programmes will help to accelerate the involvement of girls and women in development and the Government will roll out various empowerment initiatives for the women who are agents of transformation in various sectors," she said.

The Vice President further said rural women are important stakeholders in the preservation of natural resources which are a vital component of sustainable development.

"Rural woman must not be neglected if sustainable development is to be a reality. The Government will continue supporting rural women because it recognizes the role that they play at both household and national level level," Mrs Mutale-Nalumango said.

Chongwe Mayor Christopher Habeenzu said empowering women will help the Government to accelerate development among neglected communities.

"Empowering the rural women, who are the most neglected, will assist to enhance their contribution in society. The rural women participation at different levels of governance must also be recognized and appreciated because they are the custodians of the moral fiber of society," Mr Habeenzu said.

UNWomen called for appreciating of the rural women around the world.

The organization said the women need to support as they are the unsung heroes of resilient communities and custodians of natural resources.

UNWomen said in a statement that the theme for the International Day of Rural Women shed light on the essential role that rural women and girls play in the food systems of the world.

"From production of crops to processing, preparing and distributing foods, women's labour, paid and unpaid, feeds their families, communities and the world. Yet, they do not wield equal power with men, and as a result, they earn less income and experience higher food insecurity," the statement said.

It said despite the planet's capacity to provide sufficient and good food for all, hunger, malnourishment and food insecurity are rising in many parts of the world. It also said the COVID-19 pandemic, along with climate crises, have made matters worse.

'Some 2.37 billion people did not have enough to eat in 2020 and that's 20 per cent more than the year before,' the UNWomen statement said.

In its latest report entitled 'Beyond COVID-19: A Feminist Plan for Sustainability and Social Yustice", UNWomen called for rebuilding the broken global food system from the bottom-up by supporting rural women's livelihoods to produce and distribute diverse and healthy food crops.

With less than 10 years to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including zero hunger (which is goal number two), and gender equality (which is goal number five), UNWomen is working to support rural women and girls around the world to build their resilience, skills and leadership.

UNWomen further said this year's International Day of Rural Women offered the world a renewed opportunity to commit to build on the vision of the feminist plan and on the outcomes and multi stakeholder commitments of the recent United Nations Food System Summit, so that rural women benefit equally from their productivity, with good food enjoyed by all.

The organization said rural women are important for a world free from hunger and poverty.

'Achieving gender equality and empowering women is not only the right thing to do but is a critical ingredient in the fight against extreme poverty, hunger and malnutrition,' the UNWomen statement said.

On average, women make up more than 40 per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, ranging from 20 per cent in Latin America to 50 per cent or more in parts of Africa and Asia.

Yet they face significant discrimination when it comes to land and livestock ownership, equal pay, participation in decision-making entities, and access to resources, credit and market for their farms to flourish.

UNWomen said improving the lives of rural women is vital to fighting poverty and hunger.

'Giving women the same opportunities as men could rise agricultural production by 2.5 to 4 per cent in the poorest regions and the number of malnourished people could be reduced by 12 to 17 percent,' the organisation said in a statement.

There is need to recognize the role of rural women who are the unsung heroines in the food systems of the world.

The rural women also empower local communities with equal opportunities for all.

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