Did you know that the 15th of October was the International Day of Rural Women? To celebrate, I thought I would post some facts and figures provided by others about community empowerment when women own land.

Since 2008, the day has recognized “the contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty”.

Supporting women in rural areas has multiple social and economic benefits, including;

  • Women’s empowerment benefits not only women themselves, but also their families and communities.
  • Farm productivity increases when women have access to agricultural inputs and relevant knowledge.
  • Women are dynamic organizers and participants in grass-roots organizations, and are effective in promoting and sustaining local self-help initiatives.
  • Malnutrition and mortality among both boys and girls are reduced when girls obtain greater access to primary and secondary education.
  • There is a strong correlation between women’s literacy and lower HIV/AIDS infection rates.
  • Women have a strong track record as prudent savers and borrowers in microfinance programmes, using income to benefit the entire household.

“Investing” (note the economic bias in the language) contributes to food security because women work longer hours than men.

According to the World Bank, 75 per cent of the poor in developing countries live in rural areas.11 While women work the land, they often do not hold formal and clear land titles. Less than two per cent of land in the developing world is owned by women, according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).12 A lack of rights over land makes women extremely vulnerable to eviction and negatively affects their economic options. (WomenWatch)

At a seminar last week in honour of the day, researchers spoke about gender and land acquisition in rural agricultural communities.

The researchers also found that although many women spoke of ‘owning land,’ they, in fact, did not have any real legal rights to it.  Many of the joint-ownership agreements between spouses only included the husbands’ name in paperwork or granted him priority over his wife when making financial decisions.  Even land inherited from the woman’s family was often signed over to the husband without her knowledge. And in many cases, the degree to which a wife had legal protection of land rights depended entirely on the type of marriage arrangement she had with her husband.

Even in a country like Australia, I would suspect that fewer women own land than men, but in India, 70% of the female workforce is engaged in agriculture yet only 10% of women farmers own land.

Despite this attention given to the situation of rural women, discrimination remains rampant, from access to education and health care, to access to and control over land and other productive resources, to opportunities for employment, income-generating activities, and participation in public life. The rights and priorities of rural women continue to be insufficiently addressed – a situation that the International Day of Rural Women will, it is hoped, contribute to remedying.