Women in action and actions for women

by Francesca Aloisio

If women want to change their status they need to be the agents of that change. And social change is the goal of the Joint Programme on Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women (RWEE).

While it is still a pilot (it was launched in 2012) and underfunded, RWEE has already shown impressive results in terms of women’s empowerment and livelihood improvement. About 3,500 women have received training to improve agricultural technologies and farming methods, while a total of 18,000 women and their households have benefitted from it.

These results could not have been achieved if it wasn’t for a key word in the programme’s title: ‘joint’. RWEE is the result of the partnership of four UN agencies that came together to achieve gender equality in seven different countries around the world.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) work in close collaboration, handling different areas regarding their mandate, but all aiming to educate and empower women.

As mentioned by Lourdes Magana de Larriva, Advisor at the Delegation of the European Union to the UN, and co-chair of the Network for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment, rural women are more likely to be left behind despite the aim of Sustainable Development Goal number five: to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls. RWEE recognizes rural women as key actors for sustainable development, working to realize women’s rights. We are talking about economic, social and political rights.

RWEE presented at a side event of the 43rd session of the Committee on the World Food Security (CFS). The full-house appreciated hearing about the success stories from Liberia, Guatemala, Nigeria, Kyrgyzstan, Ethiopia, Nepal and Rwanda, but also the challenges confronting the programme.

In Niger, women, men and young people gather together in groups to discuss the problems they face and to find solutions. "The interactions and exchanges among men and women have encouraged mutual understanding," says Biba Saley, leader of one of the Dimitra clubs established in Dosso, Niger.

Some of the women who turned their life around thanks to this programme include women in Niger; in Nepal; Ethiopia; Rwanda; and Kyrgyzstan.

One of the main actions to support the empowerment of women in themselves in rural communities is to improve their skills in agriculture. This leads us to the issue of food sovereignty.

Talking to Sophie Dowllar, from the World March of Women in Kenya, she points out the importance of food sovereignty and building a feminist economy as an alternative for women.

World March of Women is an international feminist action movement that aims at eliminating all forms of violence and discrimination against women and looks at the root causes of poverty. "Our priority is to ensure that women are free of hunger first, because we cannot say just be happy if you're hungry, we cannot say that we need peace and you're hungry," explains Sophie.

The beneficiaries of the movement are "Grassroots women who are tilling the land every day, who are connected with their families down there and that do everything they can to ensure that they have good food,” she says.

But what exactly is rural women economic empowerment? Empowering rural women has several meanings. It means enabling women to be recognized as a fundamental part of their community. It means teaching them how to read and write so they can go to the bank and sign a pay slip without help from others. It means building confidence. It means equal access to resources and food production increases. It means educating men and eliminating domestic violence.

Knowledge and resource sharing seems to be a primary ingredient for progress, as shown by the partnership of UN agencies in RWEE and by the World March of Women experience. In fact, every year, on April 24th, World March of Women celebrates with 24 hours of feminist action, where they exchange seeds across countries and build worldwide connections.

The road to achieve gender equality in rural areas is still long, but the initial steps seem promising!

This blog was originally written as the live coverage for CFS43.