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Message by Juan Somavia Director-General of the ILO on the occasion of International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is celebrated on 8th March of each year. This year’s event focuses on recognizing the important contribution of rural women across the world to the well-being of their families and communities and in sustaining societies and economies.

Type: Statement
When: 06 March 2012
Where: Geneva, Switzerland

Today we celebrate International Women’s Day by recognizing the important contribution of rural women across the world to the well-being of their families and communities and in sustaining societies and economies. We call for action to ensure that all rural women can live and work in dignity.

Women comprise around 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, and more than 70 per cent of the labour force in some agriculture-intensive economies. Working as farmers, wage labourers, and entrepreneurs, rural women also take on a disproportionate share of the responsibility of caring for children and the elderly. Through these multiple roles rural women have a fundamental part to play in achieving rural development.

Rural women are paid less than men and often lag behind in access to education, training, technologies and mobility. They also work longer days than men, taking both paid and unpaid work into consideration. Much of their work remains unrecognized because it is not remunerated and confined to the domestic sphere. With a continuing economic crisis it is expected that in most countries women’s unpaid work is likely to increase, diminishing their ability to engage in productive activities.

Rural women everywhere face gender-related constraints that limit their access to decent work as well as their productivity. Enhancement of women’s productive capacity depends on better access to decent jobs and control over productive resources. If they are given the opportunity to realize their full potential all stand to benefit.

It is time for change and it is timely to recall that there is a decent work route out of poverty.

With gender equality a guiding principle, the ILO promotes decent work for all. Promoting respect for fundamental principles and rights at work and social dialogue, promoting employment creation and enterprise development, and improving access to social protection, the ILO supports rural women’s fight to live in dignity, through access to more and better jobs.

This agenda empowers, it is a pathway to sustainable development. With integrated action, it enables women and men to break the vicious cycle of poverty.

Applied to the rural economy what does it take?

  • Respecting freedom from discrimination as a fundamental right supported by all policies affecting the rural sector;
  • With freedom of association, organization gives strength and voice to rural women;
  • Ensuring that equity and equality begin early with action to keep girls as well as boys in school up to the minimum age for entry into employment – respecting the right to freedom from child labour;
  • Enhancing women’s capacity to engage in productive work – through education and training, opening up their access to productive resources and expanding employment opportunities including through support for rural enterprises, infrastructural development and in promoting rural green jobs;
  • Building social protection floors gives a basic level of security – it also empowers and helps to sustain local economies;
  • Organization in cooperatives, associations and unions also provides channels for productive activity and the delivery of services; and
  • Pursuing integrated local development strategies that are gender sensitive and supportive of decent work.

A decent work approach can go a long way towards closing the gender gap in agriculture and enabling rural women to work out of poverty. The impact would be great. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates for example that reducing the poverty gap would reduce the number of undernourished people worldwide by as much as 100 to150 million.

There is much good experience to draw upon and scale up, backed by international support in policy and practice.

On this day, I applaud rural women and ask everyone to recognize their contributions. It is time to unleash the full potential of rural women so that they can take their proper place in efforts to achieve a fair and equitable global economy.

Tags: decent work, rural employment, women workers

Regions and countries covered: Global

Unit responsible: Department of Communication (DCOMM)

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