Telling the stories of rural women through SDG indicators #post2015

Clare Bishop-Sambrook, Senior Technical Advisor, Policy and Technical Advisory Division, IFAD

Informal viewpoint following participation in a side event on rural women during OWG8 meeting

During the eighth meeting of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals at the United Nations, New York (3-7 February 2014), one and a half days were dedicated to social equity, gender equality and women’s empowerment. A side event to focus on rural women in an SDG framework was initiated by IFAD and co-organized with FAO and WFP and the support of the Permanent Missions of Mongolia and Nicaragua to the UN.

At the OWG, many speakers affirmed gender equality as an end in itself, and called for a stand-along goal on gender equality as well as cross-cutting targets under other goals . UN Women is calling for a transformative goal, to further drive change and promote and monitor transformation in the structural determinants of gender-based inequality . The three components of the stand-alone goal are: freedom from violence; access to resources, knowledge and health; and voice, leadership and participation.

As we move forward in the SDG debate, it is essential to ensure that the sufficient attention is paid specifically to rural women. A factsheet prepared by UN agencies in 2012 on the progress of rural women against the MDGs - including the stand-alone goal MDG3 on gender equality - had as its main finding that ‘globally, and only with a few exceptions, rural women fare worse than rural men and urban women and men for every MDG indicator for which data are available’.

However, preparing the factsheet was frustrated by the lack of data, not only disaggregated by sex but also by rural-urban location. It also became evident that many of the 60 indicators used to track MDG progress did not resonate with the lives of rural women.

The rural dimension of the SDGs will be crucial for addressing hunger, poverty and environmental concerns. Today, more than 70 per cent of the extreme poor live in rural areas, widespread in low income countries and as pockets of poverty in middle income countries. It is estimated that smallholder farming supports the livelihoods of approximately 2.5 billion people and feeds about 5 billion. The drive to increase productivity will be vital as the urban population continues to grow, with an estimated 70 per cent of the global population living in urban areas by 2050. And in order to realise the potential of the smallholder sector, it will be essential to address gender inequalities which currently hinder production. Women farmers are major producers of food and yet their efforts are hampered by their lack of access to productive resources, inputs, technologies, services and markets.  For a useful summary on the challenges facing rural women, watch "Who Feeds Our World?" produced by the Hunger Project.

What stories do we want to be able to tell about the situation of rural women through the SDG indicators?
The three objectives of the IFAD policy on gender equality and women’s empowerment provide a useful framework for identifying indicators relevant to the livelihoods of rural women. A number of indicators identified to track progress are listed below; many have already been noted by UN Women but those marked with an asterisk are new.

SDG indicators for rural women
Objective 1: to promote economic empowerment to enable rural women and men to have equal opportunity to participate in, and benefit from, profitable economic activities: 
  • Access and control over resources: land ownership, property ownership, inheritance, use of financial services, bank accounts, secondary school enrolment and completion rates, literacy rates
  • Participation in economic activities: registered businesses *, licensed traders in agricultural inputs/ produce *, female agricultural extension agents *, female veterinary officers *, gender gap in wages in agricultural/fisheries/ forestry sector *, percentage of low pay workers in agricultural / fisheries/ forestry sector *
  • Access to and control over benefits: earning and controlling own income, mobile phone ownership, use of internet
Objective 2: to enable women and men to have equal voice and influence in rural institutions and organizations:
  • Rural producer organizations: membership*,  leadership *, leadership of federations *
  • Public institutions: seats held in local government (district and regional), national identity documentation, leadership of natural resource/community infrastructure management groups *, membership and leadership of civil society organizations active in rural areas *
  • Households:  decisions regarding large purchases, decisions regarding women’s health, decisions regarding visiting relatives, important decisions to be made jointly
Objective 3: to achieve a more equitable balance in workloads and in the sharing of economic and social benefits between women and men:
  • Access to safe water and sanitation: time spent collecting water, proportion of population using improved source of drinking water, proportion of population use improved sanitation facility
  • Access to modern/renewable energy sources: time spent collecting firewood, access to electricity, use of modern/renewable energy sources
 But in addition to these output and outcome indicators, it is essential to track whether there is any improvement in the quality of the lives of rural women. The indicators below are targets in their own right but they are also indicative of more profound changes linked to the transformative agenda. For example, if women are able to exercise their reproductive and health rights, or if there is a reduction in harmful traditional practices - such as early marriage or female genital mutilation – or a reduction in the perception that gender-based violence is acceptable behaviour, then these are indications that there has been a significant shift in thinking and behaviour change at the household level. Similarly, improvements in nutrition indicators for women and children demonstrate that women are able to exercise more voice in the allocation of household resources and prioritise nutrition benefits.

Quality of life indicators for rural women
  • Nutrition: anaemia in mothers, child stunting
  • Health: maternal mortality, adolescent fertility, sexual and reproductive health, HIV prevalence
  • Gender-based violence: sexual and/or physical violence, perceptions and attitudes that condone and justify violence against women and girls
  • Harmful traditional practices: female genital mutilation, early marriage

What needs to happen next?
As noted above, most of the indicators listed above are already in the documentation proposed by UN Women. What IFAD is bringing to the agenda is the essential need to ensure that all these data are disaggregated by rural-urban location, so that – in five years’ time – we will be able to track the progress and share the stories of rural women against the SDGs.