October 15th is International Day of Rural Women. It is a day set aside to recognize the indispensable role and the contributions of rural women, especially in the area of food security, poverty eradication, agricultural development and in fact, rural development in general.
Women at the rural areas are facing a lot of challenges. As we celebrate this year’s International Day of Rural Women I want to use this medium to highlight some of the challenges facing women at the rural areas. With hope that those concerned will take note and act accordingly to address some of these challenges.
Discriminations against Women is quite obvious in the rural areas. Here in most African communities, women are not allowed to participate in the council of elders which is the highest governing body where major decisions are taken. Rural Women can only take orders from their husband, even when those orders are not in their favour.
Oppressive cultural practices: here are so many oppressive cultural and traditional practices in rural areas. Unfortunately, a good number of them are not favorable to women. For instance, the Female Genital Mutilation, widow inheritance and oppression, couple with domestic violence.
Poor farming equipments: Most of the food that are consumed in the society are produced by rural women. Unfortunately, these women have no access to mechanized farming equipments. They depend only on poor manual tools, which are energy consuming, with poor result.
Bad roads: Most of the roads leading to farmland and even in most parts of the rural areas are in bad shape. The major challenge facing women at the rural areas is the means to transport farm products from farmland to the nearest market places. As a result most farm produce are abandoned in the farmland where they get rotten.
Poor Storage system: Most of the food and even fruits that are produced by rural women are seasonal. Unfortunately, the system of storage is so poor that these poor women have no means of preserving their produce. They watch helplessly and hopelessly as their produce get spoilt due to poor storage system.
Poor power supply: Power supply remains a mirage in rural areas. Most of the rural dwellers have no access to stable power supply. That is one of the major reasons why the youth are trooping out of the rural areas, thereby leaving their poor parents in darkness and suffering.
These challenges notwithstanding, most of the food that are consumed in the areas and even in the cities are produced by women. Rural women are the most hardworking group in the society. Most of the farm land are maintained by women. Few days before market day these women will go to farm, harvest their products, process them. If it is cassava, for instance, they will be the ones that will pill them, grind them, and after processing them, the next day, they will still be the ones that will take them to the market for sell.
After selling their goods this same women will still do the shopping. meanwhile on that same market day the men will gather together in the name of elders meeting where they will relax with gallons of palm wine. As soon as the poor woman comes back from the market she will drag herself into the kitchen and start cooking. Most of the rural women usually cook with firewood and you can imagine the heat that emanates from firewood. After cooking she will still be the one to serve and service her husband. A woman that does all these deserves the respect of all. She must be celebrated!
The book of Proverbs celebrate such women in the following poetic words: ” Who can find a capable wife? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will not lack anything good. She rewards him with good, not evil, all the days of her life. She selects wool and flax and works with willing hands. She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from far away. She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and portions for her female servants.
She evaluates a field and buys it; she plants a vineyard with her earnings. She draws on her strength and reveals that her arms are strong. She sees that her profits are good, and her lamp never goes out at night. She extends her hands to the spinning staff, and her hands hold the spindle. Her hands reach out to the poor, and she extends her hands to the needy. She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all in her household are doubly clothed. She makes her own bed coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple. Her husband is known at the city gates,
where he sits among the elders of the land. She makes and sells linen garments; she delivers belts to the merchants. Strength and honor are her clothing, and she can laugh at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom and loving instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the activities of her household and is never idle. Her sons rise up and call her blessed. Her husband also praises her: “Many women are capable, but you surpass them all!” Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the LORD will be praised. Give her the reward of her labor, and let her works praise her at the city gates.” (Proverbs 31:10-31)
The rural women and the capable woman of the book of Proverbs shares something in common – and that hard work. rural women are the most hardworking people in the society. They are the ones that get things done both in the family and in the communities. As Margaret Thatcher rightly declares, “If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman.” As long as rural women is concerned, action speak louder than words. They are homebuilders. The home is incomplete without women.
These vital roles notwithstanding the Holy Father, Pope Francis observed, “Unfortunately today we see how the figure of woman as an educator in universal fraternity is blurred and often unrecognized due to many evils that afflict this world and which, in particular, affect women in their dignity and in their role… However, women have a key role to play in a serene and effective way.” The united Nations also affirms what the Holy Father said concerning women, especially those in the rural areas, according to them, “women and girls in rural areas suffer disproportionately from multi-dimensional poverty. While extreme poverty has declined globally, the world’s 1 billion people who continue to live in unacceptable conditions of poverty are heavily concentrated in rural areas. Poverty rates in rural areas across most regions are higher than those in urban areas. Yet smallholder agriculture produces nearly 80 per cent of food in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa and supports the livelihoods of some 2.5 billion people. Women farmers may be as productive and enterprising as their male counterparts, but are less able to access land, credit, agricultural inputs, markets and high-value agrifood chains and obtain lower prices for their crops.” In most African Communities women don’t even inherit landed property. That makes it very difficult for them to engage in Agricultural development. Whatever they do is at the mercy of the man who owns the land.
However, the United Nations describes women as key actors in building community, “Women are powerful change agents to address climate change at scale. They are key actors in building community resilience and responding to climate-related disasters. Women tend to make decisions about resource use and investments in the interest and welfare of their children, families, and communities.8 Women as economic and political actors can influence policies and institutions towards greater provision of public goods, such as energy, water and sanitation, and social infrastructure, which tend to matter more to women and support climate resilience and disaster preparedness.”
For women to achieve all these we must give them the necessary encouragement. I will also use this medium to appeal to our law makers to revisit the traditional right of land inheritance. If women at the rural areas are allowed to inherit landed properties they will not just solve the problem of food scarcity they will even contribute greatly in the eradication of poverty.
I wish our hardworking women, especially rural women, Happy International day of rural women!