The Future that Women Want: No Time to Waste A Vision of Sustainable Development for All (1-3)
Rio+20 provides an opportunity for leaders to strengthen the foundation laid 20 years ago at the 1992 Earth Summit to build a path towards a sustainable future. Twenty years ago, UN Member States unanimously agreed that “women have a vital role in environmental management and development. Their full participation is therefore essential to achieve sustainable development”. UN Women presented a report to the 2012 Summit highlighting the priorities needed for the empowerment and participation of women in sustainable development.
Women are active in all agricultural sectors and are primarily responsible for cultivating food crops and vegetables, managing small animals and running small-scale commercial agriculture enterprises. Women account for an average of 43 per cent of agricultural jobs among developing countries, and for nearly 50 per cent in some countries in Africa and Asia. Women represent only 12 per cent of fishery labour, but over 65 per cent of the 400 million livestock keepers.
Many cultures revere the older woman who possesses a seemingly infinite amount of knowledge on natural resources—for example, which leaves to brew into a headache-relieving tea and how to preserve seeds for best yield next season. Though exaggerated by folklore, this mythical perception is firmly rooted in reality: indigenous women have spent centuries gathering, sharing and preserving botanical, agricultural, livestock, health and medicinal, nutritional, and other environmental knowledge—and taking economic advantage of it when market realities allow.
Many women-led projects have strong environmental components and benefits, as demonstrated by projects supported by various international development partners. Rwandan women farmers have successfully brought to market organic ‘women’s coffee’. In Kenya and Zimbabwe, women are protecting and planting indigenous and medicinal trees, establishing bee populations in arid areas and learning how to maintain them while processing trees and honey for sale. Women in Benin have adopted environmentally sustainable methods of oyster harvesting and are also reforesting a lagoon that will continue to provide livelihoods
to local communities for generations.
Women have greatly benefitted from the introduction of information and communication technology, which has contributed to their successful integration into the market and global value chains. Ugandan women farmers use communications technologies to interact with other parts of the country, while women fish processors in Benin use video, television and mobile phones to learn new fish preservation techniques and to sell their goods in Togo and Nigeria. In Italy, the YOURuralNET Web community allows women farm managers to share knowledge, experiences and good practices.
While progress has been made in the legislative arena, progress in implementation has been slow. For example, the Government of Tajikistan has advanced women’s land rights in the framework of the land reform process with support from UN Women. The country’s land, family and civic codes are now aligned, sex-disaggregated land-use data is being collected and many women now have access to free capacity building services. The government has financed some 75 district task forces, which work under the leadership of local women’s committees and, with support of practicing attorneys, provide free legal and other advice. Since 2003, these task forces have provided support to more than 16,230 citizens, an overwhelming 86 per cent of whom were women. The share of women owners among new farm registrations reflects this stimulus, with an increase from 2 per cent in 2002 to 14 per cent in 2008.
Despite being the main producers of food in many developing countries, very few women can access the resources or rights to fully contribute to food and nutrition security. Inadequate or discriminatory legal and social structures and cultural norms prevent women from owning land and accessing productive resources or agricultural extension services. Women’s land ownership is less than 5 per cent in Northern Africa and West Asian countries, between 5 and 30 per cent in sub-Saharan Africa and only about 25 per cent in each Chile, Ecuador and Panama.
When women do have access to land—through marriage, inheritance, land reform programmes and land markets—it is often of poor quality. A 2011 report estimated that women farmers produce 20 to 30 per cent less than men due to the differences in resource access and use.
In addition to resource poverty and lack of opportunity common among the world’s most disadvantaged populations, certain cultural norms and traditions may exacerbate women’s and girls’ vulnerabilities. For example, men of some societies eat before women, children and the elderly; men also receive the best food. Many practitioners have theorized that this results in a higher risk of malnutrition among women and children; others say no actual evidence exists to support this theory. For example, a 1996 review of literature by the International Women’s groups and government agencies back women-led initiatives
While many countries continue to struggle against cultural norms that make it difficult for a woman to even speak to—much less do business with—people outside her immediate family, others have moved ahead in securing widespread national support for empowering women in the food and agriculture sector.
By Alula Berhe Kidani, E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org, 04/08/2012