-in the margins of the 4th session of the African Union Specialized Technical Committee (STC) on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Addis Ababa.
The side event heard from rural women in Ethiopia and Tanzania on the opportunities that rural women represent for the Beijing+25 meeting to be held in March 2020.
In his opening remarks on behalf of FAO and WFP, Chimimba David Phiri, FAO Subregional Coordinator for Eastern Africa and Representative to the African Union and UNECA observed that rural women still lacked access to productive resources, opportunities, and public services such as land and financial resources. He noted the importance of empowering women to reduce poverty in Africa where agriculture employs 60 percent of all employed women. He further added, “women’s economic empowerment goes hand in hand with realizing Africa’s aspirations of zero hunger by the year 2025 and attaining goal 2 of the sustainable development goals.”
In Africa, women are the backbone of the agriculture sector; they produce 80 percent of the continent's food. Rural women play an important role in all agri-food value chains, as workers, traders, entrepreneurs, and owners of a substantial share of small and medium-sized enterprises. Ensuring women’s economic empowerment is in line with the pledge of ‘leaving no one behind’ within the framework of the Sustainable Development Goals.
A panel discussion during the event featured two rural women from Ethiopia, Asnakech Mekonnen from Oromia Region and Valerie Browning from Afar Region; a successful female entrepreneur Zena Mshana from Arusha, Tanzania; as well as Kristie Drucza, an international gender expert and Founder of Includovate - Innovate for Inclusion Research Institution. The panel highlighted existing challenges and proposed solutions for enhancing the role of rural women.
The challenges included the lack of productive resources such as land and capital, persistent droughts and natural hazards, lack of education and awareness, high levels of food insecurity, and harmful traditional norms and practices. As for solutions, the panelists observed that development actors should invest in building the capacities of women through awareness-raising, and ensuring that rural women benefit from financial support to scale up investments in agriculture. They also indicated that rural women-focused programmes must be holistic and should have a community-based bottom-up approach for better outcomes.
The event noted that the engagement of rural women in decision-making was key to impacting change. Moreover, correct data and methodology are important to determine what the ideal interventions should be. Therefore, programmess should focus on tailored solutions to respond to context-specific challenges that rural women face. In addition, development actors should support countries to shift from labor-intensive traditional agricultural practices towards mechanization to alleviate the drudgery of farm work for women.
In efforts to alleviate the multitude of challenges rural women face in selected countries, FAO, WFP, IFAD, and UN-Women are providing financial resources and technical assistance to countries to ensure that poverty reduction policies and other women-friendly programmes adequately reflect rural women’s perspectives. The FAO/WFP/IFAD joint program, for example, boosts women’s rights to land and tenure and effective participation in rural labor markets as well as in decision-making.