By Jimoh Babatunde
Rural women constitute one-fourth of the world’s population and they play a critical role in the rural and national economies of most of the African countries.
In most parts, they participate in crop production and livestock care, provide food, water and fuel for their families, and engage in off-farm activities to diversify their families’ livelihoods.
So in recognising “ the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty,” the Department for Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment Agriculture of the African Union marked this year’s International Day of Rural Women by bringing together high-level speakers and panellist to discuss the vital role that rural women and girls play in building food system and participating in trade.
Speaking during the virtual meeting moderated by Dr Janet Edeme, the Commissioner for Agriculture Rural Development Sustainable Environment and Blue Economy(DARBE), AU Commission, Amb. Josefa Sacko, said it is critical for the contributions of women to sustainable food systems in the continent to be recognised as they ensure the sustainability of rural households and communities.
She added that they participate in crop production and livestock care, provide food, water and fuel for their families and engage in most off-farm activities to diversify their families’ income.
Josefa Sacko noted further that rural women are predominantly labour providers in agriculture and agri-businesses as they represent about 50% of the labour force in the sector.
“It is, therefore, critical that their contributions to sustaining food systems in the continent are recognised and celebrated.
“It is also equally critical to recognise that despite their major role in agriculture production and sustaining rural livelihood, women and girls in rural areas suffer from persisting gender inequalities and discriminatory sociocultural norms and practices.”
Sacko said they have less access to land, credit, agricultural inputs, markets and extension services constraining their productivity, food security and nutrition contribution.
“Moreover, they are often excluded from decision making within their households and communities.”
She noted that if rural women had equal access to productive resources, the productivity gap between men and women in the rural areas would disappear and agricultural yields would rise substantially resulting in a significant reduction of hunger and food insecurity in the continent.”
Regrettably, Sacko said despite the vital roles that rural women play in the agricultural sector, they do not enjoy the fruits of their labours and suffer from deep-rooted marginalization.
President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, Sahle-Work Zewde, added that the few hard-won gains on women empowerment in Africa after Beijing are being eroded by the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change.
She said giving priority and more opportunities to women is not an option, but a necessity, “ besides being a matter of rights, it is also a manifestation of good economics.
You cannot thrive when you ignore the majority of your population.
Speaking on the objectives of the celebration, Dr Janet Edeme, Head Rural Development Division, Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment, African Union Commission, said they intend to raise awareness of rural women’s participation in food systems, with a focus on their needs and rights, highlighting their contributions to national and household food and nutrition security;
“To bring together different stakeholders to discuss key considerations, challenges, gaps and opportunities concerning promoting women’s ability to participate in agricultural take, especially in the context of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA);
“Share lessons and experiences for enhancing land rights that can contribute to promoting women’s contribution to building sustainable food systems;
“Increase awareness on the need to enhance agricultural mechanization for women’s as a means of retiring the hoe to Museum, and recommend practical and operable solutions to challenges facing rural women in food systems and agricultural trade.
After deliberation, participants at the virtual meeting acknowledged that the empowerment of rural women and girls is essential to building a prosperous, equitable and peaceful future for all on a healthy planet.
They also acknowledged the success of the African Continental Free Trade Area will not solely be assessed on its impact on trade, but also, on how it affects the development trajectory of Africa altogether and that gender inequalities still plague economies and societies around the world; consequently, they hinder the ability of women to participate in trade.
Particiapants noted with concern that despite positive achievements registered recently in decisionmaking, women, the largest proportion of Rural Women, still remain at-risk and impoverished due to the challenges caused by social, economic and political marginalization, gender-based violence and discrimination against women.