By Hannah Ondiek
We join all Africans today in celebrating African Women’s Day, 31st July 2012. Two years into the African Women’s Decade 2010 – 2020 themed Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: a bottom up approach, we applaud women for the strides they have made while noting that there is still a lot to be done especially in terms of making grassroots part and parcel of all processes which affect and concern them.
The focus of the African Women’s Decade is reflected in the ten themes which have been chosen, including; fighting poverty, promoting economic empowerment of women and entrepreneurship, agriculture and food security.
Today we focus on rural women and how we can make them count.
Former World Food Program Executive Director, Josette Sheeran stated “Breaking the cycle of hunger and poverty at its roots begins with women.”
Sub-Saharan Africa is the second highest region with the highest share of female employment in the agricultural sector.
Women in Africa still lack political influence for example, in Zimbabwe women make up 75% of the members of the Farmers Union but only 5% of the officers are female.
Girls receive less education especially in rural areas
Women comprise 43% of the labour force in developing countries ranging from about 20% to 50% in sub-Saharan Africa. Even when rural women are engaged in wage employment, they are more likely than men to be in part time, seasonal and or low paying jobs this is partly because women have less education and work experience than men. (employment trends)
Women are less likely than men to own land or livestock, adopt new technologies, use credit or other financial services, or receive education or extension advice.
Gender inequality is a major cause and effect of hunger and poverty. It is estimated that 60% of chronically hungry people are women and girls (food trends)
Given the same access as men to agricultural resources women can increase production in developing countries by 20% – 30%. This can raise the total agricultural production in developing countries by 2.5 – 4% which could reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12 – 17% (100-150 million people). (facts from UN Women) 
Agriculture is the most important source of employment for women in rural areas but new jobs in high-value; export-oriented agro-industries offer much better opportunities for women than traditional agricultural work.

women empowerment through information

Call to action
Women’s rights activists must lobby for better policies and laws relating to rural women. They include land rights for women. Organizations especially women’s organizations in Africa should look into the provision of information, communication technologies (ICT’s) that can help in transmission of information which will be beneficial to women. Provision of financial services in the form of loans and financial advice to rural women is also imperative.
The 56th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women  was dedicated to rural women, with rural women leaders present and participating in various sessions and making their voice heard. This needs to be built on, and we need to include rural women in all levels of decision making, which means not simply that they are paid lip service to, but that they are part and parcel in the planning, design, implementation and monitoring and evaluating of various processes.
We applaud all organizations especially those working in sub-Saharan Africa for the work on rural womens empowerment and hope we will continue working together to achieve the AWD objectives in the lives of all women in Africa.
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