This is what we know: Women are capable. Women are resourceful. Women are enterprising. We also know that across the globe women – millions of women – are prevented from reaching their full potential day after day, year after year. Invisible barriers resulting from gender inequality and a lack of investment stand firmly in their way.
But if given half a chance, we now also know that women have the potential to change the course of their own lives while also putting their children – and even their communities – onto a path towards a healthier, more prosperous future. And because the majority of women in low-income countries live outside cities, rural areas in particular are fertile ground for enormous economic growth. Society as a whole would be the ultimate beneficiary.
This year, the 56th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) will focus on the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication as well as in development generally. The International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) and its partners will take a deeper look at the critical role agriculture initiatives can play to this end, during a UNDP-hosted event as CSW kicks off on Feb. 27.
Over the next few weeks, ICRW experts will blog on the lives of rural women we have encountered around the world, and the lessons they taught us about economic empowerment and development. We see tremendous potential, from India to the under-irrigated fields of East Africa and many places in between and beyond.
Put a cell phone in a rural woman’s hand and it might help her reach bigger and better markets for the honey she produces. Give her access to credit and she can purchase the mobile water pump that will enable her to grow and sell crops during the dry season while her husband holds down a job. Help her own livestock and land, and she will be able turn those assets into a source of income.
As a result, she will likely win respect and gain value in the eyes of her family and community for contributing to the household’s coffers. She may then be entrusted to make important financial decisions such as whether to save her new-found income, re-invest it or pay for the food and education her children need to become productive adults. In short, she is empowered, her family is stronger and the household is put on the pathway to economic growth.
More and more, various sectors of the global community have embraced the promise of this formula, from nonprofits and charitable foundations to multi-national corporations and a multiplying number of social enterprises that are mobilizing everywhere. Many of these groups – including ICRW – are forging new partnerships to explore this largely untapped source of future growth and prosperity.
Sarah Degnan Kambou is ICRW's president.
Read the blogs in our Rural Impressions series:
Pedaling for Water
Small Earnings Mean Survival for Rural Afghan Women