The first International Day of Rural Women  was observed on 15 October 2008 and was established by the UN to recognize the vital role and contribution of rural women everywhere to agricultural and rural development and to improvements in food security and the alleviation of rural poverty. The theme continues to be of relevance today given that the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have gender equality and women’s empowerment at their core.

Rural women make up over a quarter of the total world population. In developing countries, rural women represent approximately 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force (Source: FAOSTAT), and produce, process and prepare much of the food available. They are farmers and farm workers, horticulturists and market sellers, business women and community leaders.  Rural women are the backbone of sustainable livelihoods and provide food security for their families and communities.  Their work is crucial not only for the progress of rural households and local economies, but also for national economies through rural women’s participation in agricultural value chains.

With the majority depending on natural resources and agriculture for their livelihoods, ensuring rural women’s access to productive agricultural resources will contribute to decreasing world hunger and poverty. This all makes rural women critical for the success of the new Sustainable Development agenda for 2030. However, rural women suffer disproportionately from poverty, and face multiple forms of discrimination, violence and insecurity. Fifteen years of effort under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have produced only marginal improvements in the situation of rural women. Rural women fare worse than rural men and urban men and women for every MDG indicator for which data are available. 

To do better for rural women over the next 15 years, lessons learned during MDG implementation must be taken on board. Extreme poverty is largely a rural phenomenon and resilient social protection systems, labour and product markets, governance institutions, and civil society organizations must be built so that rural women can both contribute to and benefit from sustainable development.

Agenda 2030 envisages a “world in which every woman and girl enjoys full gender equality and all legal, social and economic barriers to their empowerment have been removed”. In a message for the International Day of Rural Women, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka states that “We must take every opportunity to ensure that rural women do not lag behind, but rather lead the way” in achieving this goal.

Why do we need to achieve this goal? Here is just one reason……….

Women farmers typically achieve yields that are 20-30% lower than men. However, the vast majority of studies suggest that women are just as efficient as men and would achieve the same yields if they had equal access to productive resources and services. This would boost total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5-4.0% which could reduce the number of undernourished people in the world by 100-150 million (12-17%).

So today let's celebrate the contributions of rural women in all areas of life and look forward to giving them the tools they need to reach their potential so benefitting every member of our global society.


The State of Food and Agriculture 2010-2011: Women in agriculture: closing the gender gap for development. (2011) Rome, Italy: FAO  

World survey on the role of women in development 2014: Gender equality and sustainable development. (2014) New York, USA: UN Women

Progress of the World’s Women 2015-2016: Transforming economies, realizing
rights. (2015) New York, USA: UN Women

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