Hillary Clinton: Liberate the economic potential of rural women to fight hunger and poverty

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been speaking out about gender equality in the international arena since at least 1995, when she delivered a forceful message on women’s rights as human rights at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. So it was no surprise that the rights of rural women figured prominently in her remarks last week at the Symposium on Global Agriculture and Food Security.

Webcast image of Hillary Clinton speaking at 18 May
symposium in Washington, DC.
Organized by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and held in Washington, DC, the symposium preceded this year’s G8 summit of world leaders. It provided a forum for high-level discussions of sustainable agricultural development and the setting for President Barack Obama’s announcement of a G8 initiative – the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition – which aims to reduce hunger and lift 50 million rural people out of poverty in the next decade. 

Secretary Clinton’s speech at the event covered a range of issues on investing in global agriculture to solve the problems of malnutrition and extreme poverty. Perhaps its most passionate section dealt with the largely untapped potential of rural women to help feed the world, a topic that is also central to IFAD’s recently adopted gender policy. Excerpts from the Clinton speech follow.

I’m sure it’s no surprise to anyone that I am convinced women are critical to our success in every field of endeavour. And this is not a matter of sentiment or personal interest on my part. This is also actually a fact-based, evidence-based statement. It has been said that the modern face of hunger is often a woman’s face, because in many parts of the world, women still eat last and eat least.

The face of a farmer is often a woman’s face as well. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, women comprise nearly half of the agricultural workforce across Africa. So if we want to support farmers, we also have to support women farmers. And that is not something that happens automatically. It has to be part of a deliberate, determined strategy that takes gender equality into account across everything we are doing.

And the results speak for themselves. The FAO estimates that if women farmers had the same access to productive resources as men – seeds, credit, insurance, land title, and so on – they could increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 per cent. And that, in turn, could raise total agricultural output so much it could reduce the number of hungry people worldwide by up to 150 million.

Now the obstacles that stand in the way of women’s equal access to resources in agriculture or anything else are, unfortunately, formidable. They include laws, deeply held traditions, lack of information, plain old inertia, and we have to overcome each and every one of them. We can’t just hope that women get the support they need as a side effect of our work. We have to push for it. And it’s not optional. It’s not marginal. It’s not a luxury. It’s not expendable. It happens to be essential, or we will never reach our goals….

When we liberate the economic potential of women, we elevate the economic performance of communities, nations and the world.