Gender equality

Rural women need equality now

ILO Director of Sectoral Policies, Alette van Leur, has called for urgent action to overcome the hurdles rural women face in the world of work. She was speaking during the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women at United Nations headquarters in New York, where the ILO is hosting, on March 16, a panel discussion on gender equality and decent work for rural women.

Statement | 15 March 2018
Distinguished Delegates,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women, offers a unique opportunity to reflect upon the challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls.

Women play important roles in the rural economy. They work as farmers, wage earners and entrepreneurs. Indigenous women have an important role as custodians of traditional knowledge that is key for their communities’ livelihoods, resilience and culture. In addition indigenous. Women can make a unique contribution to natural resource management.

Rural women comprise a quarter of the world’s population. Women also make up 41 per cent of the world’s agricultural labour force, a ratio which rises to 49 per cent for low income countries. Empowering rural women can have a significant impact on productivity and agriculture-led growth.

Yet, women in rural areas face constraints in engaging in economic activities. Rural women are less likely to be wage earners, and when they are, they earn less than men. Rural women are often concentrated in low-skilled, low-productivity and low or unpaid jobs with long working hours, poor working conditions and limited social protection. Furthermore, they shoulder a disproportionate burden of unpaid care and household work, including food provision, caring for children, the sick and the elderly.

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Because of gender-based discrimination and social norms, most of their work remains unseen, unrecognized and undervalued. Women’s presence in rural workers’ and employers’ organizations remains low, leading to lack of voice and representation. Rural women are at high risk of sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence. There is an urgent need to eliminate the persistent inequalities between men and women that perpetuate violence and harassment. ILO constituents have given this issue the highest priority, and in June of this year, they will be discussing the details of a possible treaty, or other international instrument, on ending violence and harassment in the world of work.

Equality of opportunity and treatment is a human right and as such enshrined in international labour standards, including the ILO Discrimination (Employment and Occupation) Convention, 1958 (No. 111), and in laws and regulations. Promoting gender equality and women’s economic empowerment go hand in hand. Both are important in ensuring that women enjoy their human rights and can contribute to inclusive and sustainable development.

What is needed to bridge the gap for rural women? Creating decent jobs, entrepreneurship training and access to education, infrastructure and finance is key. Protecting rural women from unacceptable forms of work, enhancing social protection, ensuring their voices are heard and closing the representation gap are key elements needed for transformative action, if the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is to be achieved.

The International Labour Organization (ILO)’s Decent Work Agenda offers an integrated framework for rural women’s empowerment, underpinned by international labour standards, respect for rights at work, employment promotion, social dialogue and social protection.

It is time for change and to do more, and do it better. At the heart of the SDG pledge of “leaving no one behind” there is leaving no women behind anywhere. Promoting and ensuring gender equality through decent work and productive employment, not only contributes to inclusive and sustainable economic growth. This will also enhance the effectiveness of poverty reduction and food security initiatives, as well as climate change adaptation efforts.

Decent work is at the center of the quest for rural women’s empowerment and for unleashing the potential of rural areas.

Now is the time to collectively move ahead on strategies and actions to address the challenges that rural women face in the world of work. Rural women at work – as agents of change – are the future of the rural economy. We must urgently take action to bridge the gaps that rural women face in the pursuit of sustainable development and decent work.

The ILO stands ready to contribute to the agreed conclusions, which should provide the framework for action to ensure equal treatment and equal opportunities for rural women and men including in the world of work.

Thank you.