Photo: ©FAO-WFP/Ricci Shryock / FAO

Empowering rural women is a crucial ingredient in the fight against hunger, poverty and malnutrition. Women farmers walking through a field in Kaga-Bandoro, Central African Republic.

FAO/IFAD/WFP Joint News Release 

8 March 2017, Rome – Leaders from the three UN Rome-based agencies today marked International Women’s Day  by reinforcing their commitments to step up efforts to invest in the capacities of rural women as key agents of change in building a world without hunger.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) reminded the world that women and girls play a crucial role in achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, in particular, the goal of eradicating hunger and extreme poverty. 

“Women play a critical role in agriculture and food systems – not just as farmers, but also as food producers, traders and managers,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva on the occasion of the Day. “However, women still face major constraints in rural labour markets and in agricultural value chains. They are more likely to be in poorly paid jobs, without legal or social protection. This limits women’s capacity to advance their skills, earn incomes and access employment opportunities.” 

Graziano da Silva noted that the future of global food security depends on unleashing women’s potential. “Achieving gender equality and empowering women are crucial ingredients in the fight against extreme poverty, hunger and malnutrition which is strongly recognized by the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development,” he said.

IFAD President Kanayo F. Nwanze said, “We need to face the fact that we will never overcome poverty and hunger without empowering rural women.”

He added, “We have ample evidence from around the world that greater empowerment of women in rural and urban areas leads to higher economic growth and a better quality of life for women and men alike.  Despite progress, it is still the case today that rural women’s double burden of farm labour and unpaid domestic work prevents them from participating fully and fairly in income-generating activities. Improving rural women’s access to technologies that save time and labour is essential to reducing their workloads. Transforming gender relations within the family is also crucial to empowering women and enabling them to make decisions about their lives.”

WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin said, “Empowering women economically is one of the key steps to realizing gender equality and achieving Zero Hunger. The changing world of work – as patterns of economic activity shift – provides the opportunity to achieve these goals.

“Ensuring women have adequate access to land, tools, fertilizers and credit improves their lives and the lives of their families; potentially freeing millions from hunger. We also know that school meals are a powerful incentive to keep girls in class, boosting their chances of completing school and finding employment. Enabling women to seize these opportunities will transform lives and help bring the Sustainable Development Goals within reach,” she said.

Bridging the gender gap 

In developing countries, women make up 45 percent of the agricultural labour force, ranging from 20 percent in Latin America to up to 60 percent in parts of Africa and Asia. However, they do significantly more unpaid work than men – especially in providing care to families and communities – limiting their capacity to earn incomes and advance their skills.

Gender-biased social norms, laws and practices can also limit women’s access to essential assets including natural resources and education as well as social assets such as participation in rural organizations and other decision-making bodies. As a result, their ability to reach their full potential and influence decision-making in economic, social and political spheres, for example, is seriously undermined.

Measures that are crucial to ensuring rural women’s economic empowerment in the changing world of work include improving their access to economic opportunities, productive resources, jobs, health services, social protection and education. Evidence shows that malnutrition rates fall significantly when women have access to education and employment opportunities.

In addition, policies and programmes must address gender disparities in leadership and entrepreneurship, as well as the specific needs of millions of rural women working in the informal economy, by promoting their access to formal markets and value chains, innovative technologies and practices.


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