Investing in Rural Women Is Investing in Prosperity
By Meghan Ott, Women for Women International Intern
Today marks the International Day of Rural Women. This is important because 45 percent of the world’s population live in rural areas and women in these areas face a disproportionate amount of marginalization and poverty.
Women like Joyce, a South Sudanese woman who experienced violence at the hands of her husband. In fact, she joined Women for Women International’s program in 2014 because she needed to get herself and her two children away from her abusive husband. After spending time learning about agriculture, finances, business, and her health and rights, Joyce gained confidence and was able to create a vegetable garden. Using her income from selling vegetables, she was able to send her children to school and provide them with nutritious food. This allowed her to feel brave enough to leave her husband and start a new life.
“I am an independent woman and live happily. I don’t even think of being supported by my husband anymore. I can support myself,” Joyce told Women for Women International about her transformed life.
And women like Mukonondo, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), who was struggling to provide for herself and her family. After she joined WfWI’s program, she gained the knowledge she needed to have a more sustainable farm and increase her family’s income. In addition to earning an income, she noticed that she had gained new respect in the eyes of her neighbors and husband for being an independent business woman.
In Afghanistan, Rwanda and South Sudan, where Women for Women International has served two hundred thousand marginalized women, 70 percent or more of the population live in rural areas. While women face violence, discrimination and inequality around the world in different types of communities, WfWI’s experiences and data from other global organizations show that rural women have much less access to resources than their urban counterparts and are more isolated, less likely to access education, and with fewer economic empowerment opportunities. For example, according to UN Women, rural women who work for wages are more likely than men to hold seasonal, part-time and low-wage jobs, in most countries. Rural women like Joyce and Mukonondo make up 70 percent of the worlds small holder farmers, and they face untold hardships – with limited access to clean drinking water, health clinics, and schools.
Research from the World Health Organization shows that women in rural areas know less about HIV and are less likely to have access to information about their health. Rural women also make smaller percentages of local councils and therefore have less decision-making power.
Lack of opportunities for women also impacts children and communities as a whole. Children living in rural areas are half as likely to be enrolled in school as children in urban areas, and when they are, the gap between enrollment rates of boys and girls in rural areas is larger than those in urban areas. There are also higher maternal and infant mortality rates in rural areas and women in rural areas are less likely to be in paid work. While one in three women around the world face violence, women in rural areas are less likely to have access to resources if and when they do.
For rural women living in marginalized communities and facing violence, financial security is essential for independence and prosperity. While they face immense pressures and obstacles, with a little support, women in rural areas can be agents of change that lift themselves and their families out of poverty. With the right skills and access to markets, rural women can rebuild their lives whether they are in South Sudan or Afghanistan.
This is why WfWI prioritizes the needs of marginalized women survivors of war, including women in rural areas who are cut off from resources, training, and educational opportunities. In Nigeria, for example, we work in rural communities in Plateau state where women rarely have access to educational opportunities. In Afghanistan, in addition to serving women in the capital city of Kabul, we serve women and communities in more rural areas in Nangarhar and Parwan. And every time we help empower women in rural areas, we see the same result: they become self-sufficient agents of change in their families and communities.
If you are interested in supporting women impacted by war, including women living in rural areas in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Rwanda and South Sudan, you can sponsor a sister for $35 a month or visit http://www.womenforwomen.org/ways-give to learn more.