By Hadiza Mohammed-Aliyu
The UN General Assembly, in its resolution 62/16 of Dec. 18, 2007, designated Oct. 15 as International Day of Rural Women to recognise and celebrate the achievements and struggles of the female gender toward improving their lives, their families’ and communities.
The day is annually celebrated around the globe to bring to the fore, the critical roles and contributions of rural women, including indigenous women, and has “Rural Women Cultivating Good Food for All” as its theme for 2021.
The invaluable contributions of rural women to development in many countries of the world cannot be over-emphasised.
The contributions are seen in the crucial roles they play in sustaining rural households, accounting for a substantial proportion of the agriculture labour force, including informal work, and perform the bulk of unpaid care and domestic work.
In most African countries including Nigeria, even when rural women farmers are productive and enterprising as their male counterparts, they are less able to access land, credit, agricultural inputs, markets, and high-value agrifood chains and obtain lower prices for their crops.
Structural barriers and discriminatory social norms have also continued to constrain women’s decision-making power and political participation in rural households and communities, hence, women and girls in rural areas lack equal access to resources and assets.
The female gender also lack equal access to public services, such as education and healthcare, including water and sanitation, while much of their labour remains invisible and unpaid, even as their workloads become increasingly heavy due to the out-migration of men.
Globally, with few exceptions, every gender and development indicator for which data are available reveals that rural women fare worse than rural men and urban women, and that they disproportionately experience poverty, exclusion and the effects of climate change.
On what rural African women and girls can gain from the commemoration of the international rural women day, the African Union Commission (AUC) Department of Agriculture Rural Development, Sustainable Environment and Blue Economy (DARBE), organised a virtual meeting on Oct. 15 to celebrate women, where participants agreed that rural women constitute one-fourth of the world’s population.
The African Union also agreed that rural women play critical roles in national economies of most African countries as they engage in crop production, livestock care, fetch fuel and water for families, predominantly labour providers in agri-businesses and agro-industries, and as such, they should be recognised and be included in decision-making processes at all levels of governance and in rural settings.
The union says economic empowerment of rural women is key, and that if given equal access to productive resources, agriculture yields will rise and will substantially reduce hunger in Africa.
Some of the objectives of the virtual meeting are: to share lessons and experiences for enhancing land rights that can promote women’s contribution to building sustainable food systems, increase awareness on the need to enhance agricultural mechanisation for women “so as to retire the hoe to museum”, as well as recommend practical and operable solutions to challenges facing rural women in food systems and agricultural trade.
On its part, UN Women highlighted the roles played by rural women and girls in sustaining communities, societies and nations.
The body noted that the International Day of Rural Women offers renewed opportunity to commit to different ways of organising the world to the recent UN Food System Summit so that rural women benefit equally from their productivity, with good food enjoyed by all.
In Nigeria, late Maryam Babangida, wife of former President Ibrahim Babangida, deepened the quest for improved living conditions for rural women and girls through the launch of the Better Life Programme for the (African) Rural Woman in 1987.
Prior to the launch, Babangida held consultations with stakeholders such as the Directorate for Food and Rural Infrastructure and women organisations about economic and social constraints affecting rural women after visiting Igbologun and Ilado-Odo villages in Lagos in 1986, where she found out that the villages had no clean water and power distribution infrastructure and decided that actions should be directed toward rural development.
In 1987, a workshop on the role of rural women in development was held in Abuja, which led to the establishment of the Better Life for Rural Women programme, conceived to have direct impact on the lives of rural women, described as the most sidelined, poorest and therefore the most vulnerable in African nations.
The objectives of the programme were to reduce maternal and child mortality by increasing basic healthcare facilities for women, provide income generating opportunities in agriculture and cottage industries, to integrate rural women into national development plans and develop education training for women.
However, the programme did not go far and had to stop due to change in government in the country.
Maryam Babangida also established the National Commission for Women in Nigeria and the Maryam Babangida National Centre for Women Development in Abuja.
She left indelible footprints on the sands of time and a legacy of inestimable value.
Meanwhile, on the occasion of the 2021 International Day of Rural Women, the Federal Government poured encomiums on Maryam Babangida, Founder of the Better Life for Rural Women programme at the launch of “Her Majesty”, a 15-minute film designed to chronicle and amplify the struggles, challenges and contributions of the Nigerian rural woman.
The Minister of Women Affairs, Dame Pauline Tallen, who eulogised the late Babangida for her efforts toward assisting rural women to get better lives, noted that the 15-minute film was to honour women who played significant roles in economic development through food production, building agriculture and rural development.
As women from all walks of life converged on Abuja on Oct. 15 to mark the rural women day and launch of the film, Tallen also commended Hajiya Aisha Babangida, the daughter to Maryam Babangida and Chairperson, Better Life Programme for the African Rural Women, for putting together the initiative aimed at promoting the welfare and rights of rural women.
She lamented that the problems of rural women were compounded by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, noting that “it is no gainsaying, that rural women are the key agents for development. They play catalytic roles toward achieving transformational economic, environmental and social changes required for sustainable development.
“Rural women and girls ensure food production and form a large proportion in agricultural workforce, yet they face persistent cultural and structural constraints that prevent them from enjoying their human rights and hamper efforts to improve their lives as well as others around them.”
She said that the ministry had in the last one year collaborated with relevant organisations to provide relief assistance including food and hygiene materials (washable face mask, detergent, bathing soap, sanitizer etc.) to about 3,060 households/vulnerable women and girls worst affected by the COVID-19 in the six-geo-political zones and the FCT.
The ministry is also implementing the second phase of Presidential National Cooking Gas Project Cylinders distribution and Economic tree planting project in additional 15 states to reduce deforestation, drudgery and health hazards among rural women, she added.
She assured the readiness of the ministry to continue to give necessary push and support policies and programmes that would uplift the status of rural women.
Tallen also called on public-spirited individuals and organisations to support digital technology, improved and better amenities for rural women with a view to reducing poverty and enhance their status.
She urged affluent women to assist fellow women, especially those in rural areas, to have better lives.
On her part, Aisha Babangida called for synergy among humanitarian Non-Governmental Organisations to harmonise operations to make the desired impacts on the lives of the underprivileged rural women.
The goal, she said, was to create awareness of the crucial roles women play in the society in ensuring food and nutrition security, eradicating poverty and most especially improving the well-being of rural women and girls.
In a remark, the Director-General, National Centre for Women Development (NCWD), Asabe Vilita-Bashir, lamented the increase in hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity mostly affecting women.
According to her, climate change and insecurity, banditry, farmer/herdsmen clashes, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic has further worsen the situation of food security in Nigeria and rural women are the ones most affected.
She said “the NCWD has continued to uphold the tenets of its initiator to advance issues and concerns of rural women and ensure food security for women. The centre promotes the livelihood and wellbeing of rural women through its Women Development Centres Activation Project at the 774 local government areas of the federation.”
In conclusion, there are many things government can do to help rural women and girls to enjoy better lives, as other citizens and NGOs also offer assistance to uplift their status.
Countries can support rural households, especially women and girls, to cope with high food prices by putting in place or expanding food assistance and social safety net programmes that take into consideration men and women’s different roles and responsibilities within households and the different behaviours they adopt in times of crisis.
Through food assistance schemes, governments can provide households with food rations to compensate for lacking food supplies. This includes giving households food stamps or vouchers that people can exchange for food, implementing school feeding programmes where meals are given to children in school, and food-for-work programmes where people are given food rations in exchange for work on public projects like building roads.
Social safety net programmes also work, except that they provide households with cash to buy food and other necessities instead of food rations. These programmes include cash transfers where governments give periodic payments to households, and public work programmes, similar to food-for-work programmes, except that they compensate people in cash.
Food assistance programmes are advantageous for rural women who are traditionally responsible for obtaining food and ensuring good nutrition for the family. These programmes may reduce women’s need to take on additional work to earn more income to buy food and, in some cases, increase their decision-making power in the household.
School feeding schemes are also helpful because they motivate parents to keep children in school in times of crises, ensuring that they receive the nutrients they need and maintaining their chances at better opportunities later in life. These schemes are particularly important for girls, who tend to be pulled out of school before boys.
Cash transfers are also instrumental in supporting women, especially when the transfer is directed to them, and public work programmes that are designed to include them have many beneficial effects, including improving access to credit since their participation in the programme is often viewed as a guarantee of repayment.
By building programmes that take into consideration rural women and men’s differentiated needs and resources, governments can better strengthen rural communities’ resilience and ability to cope with high food prices and food price sparks in the long run, reducing the burden on rural women and girls, which at the end, will help them to do other things toward achieving their desires in life. International Day of Rural Women and its benefits to Nigerian rural women and girls. (NANFeature)
** If used, please credit the writer as well as the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).