International Women’s Day

Change is necessary for rural women

In a statement to mark International Women’s Day, ILO Director-General, Guy Ryder, says that rural women must not be overlooked in policy decisions.

Statement | 08 March 2018
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As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, the ILO joins the UN system in placing the spotlight on rural women, a group often overlooked despite their enormous contributions: they contribute significantly to agricultural production and food security, and to the management of natural resources. However, deep inequalities persist and they continue to be left behind.

Rural women make up over one-fourth of the world’s population and between 41 and 60 per cent of its agricultural workforce. They are farmers, wage earners and entrepreneurs. Women from indigenous and tribal communities are often custodians of traditional knowledge that is key for communities’ livelihoods, resilience and culture, as well as for strong climate action.

Yet, rural women are more likely to be informal, low-wage workers without any social protection, and many work without pay for a family enterprise – and that means their work is largely unrecognized and undervalued. They also shoulder a disproportionate amount of unpaid care and household work. In addition, women’s presence in rural workers’ and employers’ organizations remains low, leaving them without voice and representation. They are at high risk of abuse, sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence.

Change is necessary and will benefit all.

Rural women must not be overlooked in policy decisions that can drive empowerment and improvement: policies for productive employment with equal opportunities and treatment; policies to promote entrepreneurship; policies that support affordable child and eldercare. Tackling legislative, social and cultural barriers to equal access to land, finance, technology and markets will go a long way to empower rural women. Employers’ and workers’ organizations can reach out to rural women so that through organization they gain increased voice and influence. Cooperative forms of organization also have a role to play. Social norms that render women more vulnerable to violence and harassment must be tackled with determination. At the same time this needs to be backed by effective legal and policy frameworks and enforcement mechanisms which cover rural and agricultural workers. There will be an opportunity to pursue these issues at the International Labour Conference in June 2018 in the discussion on violence and harassment in the world of work, with the possible adoption of new international labour standards.

It is more than time to redouble our efforts to bridge the gaps that deny rural women access to decent work.