Robynne Anderson, Main Representative to UN, World Farmers Organisation
As the Rio+20 negotiations progress, the contributions and challenges faced by one half of the world’s population remain largely ignored and underrepresented. Most of the world’s poor live in rural areas and are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity. Half of that population – women – faces additional vulnerabilities and constraints, but also constitutes the backbone of communities’ livelihoods, well-being and food security.
Given the critical role women play in the life of rural communities and economies, and the persistent challenges and inequalities they face in performing those roles, it is critical that the outcomes of the Rio+20 reaffirm the importance of their functions and contribution and undertake concrete actions to increase the empowerment and capacity of rural women.
Women account for 60% to 80% of smallholder farmers and produce 90% of food in Africa and about half of all food worldwide. Yet in sub-Saharan Africa, only 15% of landholders are women and they receive less than 10% of credit and 7% of extension services.
Inequalities go beyond access to resources and the sharing of household tasks and caring activities. Women tend to be employed for labour-intensive tasks, generally earn lower wages than men and are more likely to be paid at piece rate. For example, in the casual agricultural labour market in Africa, women's casual wages (whether in cash or in kind) are usually half of men's wages.
|Areas where we need to empower women smallholder farmers:|
Yet, women are key to food and nutrition security and sustainable development. Estimates suggest that policies that address gender inequalities could, conservatively, increase yields on women’s farms by 2.5% to 4%. This additional yield could reduce the number of undernourished people in the world by 100-150 million.
Rio+20 aims at closing implementation gaps and providing new impetus towards sustainable development. To do so, closing the gender gaps and addressing inequalities should be the very first priority for governments. We need to empower rural women through policies that help them in growing food, marketing their produce, adapting to a changing climate, but also that support their caring activities and enable them to connect and lead their communities.
Among the priorities for Rio+20 for rural women, there are a number where concrete commitments can be made in June and where there exists strong evidence of the positive impacts these actions could have.
Improving access to secure land tenure should be a very first step. Without secure access, women face ongoing instability, are vulnerable to changes in their family situations, and lack the kind of guarantee needed to access financial services. The Committee on Food Security just finalised its Voluntary Guidelines on Governance of Tenure of Land and these should form the basis of a proactive commitment from governments in Rio to address the glaring inequalities that exist in this area.
Access to resources, such as land, needs to be supported by knowledge and access to information. Extension services worldwide have suffered from declining public financial support – this trend needs to be reversed and specific attention needs to be paid to shaping and creating extension services and other knowledge sharing and information systems that meet the needs of women and to which they can easily have access. Decision makers in Rio should commit to increasing support for extensions services and, building on new communication technologies, support the creation of information-sharing systems that empower women and give them access to markets, price information and agronomic knowledge.
Women also need access to the support services that can help them be leaders for their communities and mitigate risks. Improving access to financial services, in particular credit and insurance, as well as creating supportive structures such as cooperatives and leadership training, should be key elements of governments’ commitments to closing the gender gap in rural areas and truly empowering women.
Rio+20 is an opportunity that should not be missed. Empowering and investing in rural women makes sense, not only for women, but for everyone.