It’s time to end violence against rural women

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It’s time to end violence against rural women

©IFAD/Francesco Cabras

On the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, we reaffirm our commitment to taking action to eliminate and prevent gender-based violence globally.

Violence against women is one of the greatest barriers to sustainable development. Here, we’re answering questions about how we at IFAD are changing the economic and social structures that enable it.

What is violence against women?

Women and girls around the world – whether rich or poor, rural or urban, young or old – experience forms of gendered violence.

Violence against women can be physical, emotional, psychological, or sexual in nature. It affects both victims and perpetrators. It involves their families and communities. The echoes of violence resonate for generations.

Violence against women is an extreme manifestation of gender inequality. It infringes on their human rights and undermines their physical and mental health and their ability to be productive members of a community.

How much of a problem is violence against women, especially in rural areas?

  • One in three women and girls experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, most frequently from their partner
  • Worldwide, one in five women aged 20–24 years were married before their 18th birthday. In sub-Saharan Africa, more than one in three were married as children
  • At least 200 million women and girls aged 15–49 years have undergone female genital mutilation
  • Women in developing countries are more likely to be affected by violence. While 13 per cent of women worldwide have been subject to intimate partner violence in the last 12 months, in countries classified as “least developed”, this proportion rises to 22 per cent
  • Indigenous women are particularly vulnerable, as violence against them is often a part of the large-scale discrimination and exclusion experienced by their communities
  • 72 per cent of human trafficking victims worldwide are women and girls
  • One in two women killed intentionally worldwide in 2017 were killed by their partners or family

Why is this issue important to IFAD?

Violence affects all women, but women belonging to rural and indigenous communities are particularly vulnerable. In many places around the world, everyday activities such as fetching water and firewood, or walking home from the market after dark, expose these women to risk.

Many of these women are also affected by harmful traditional practices such as forced or early marriage and female genital mutilation. The continuation of these practices is often exacerbated by poverty.

Economic downturns due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as restrictions on movement due to lockdowns, have worsened stresses within families and communities, increasing the risk of violence.

Ending gender-based violence in all its forms is therefore not only a moral imperative – it’s also a matter of removing one of the biggest impediments to inclusive and sustainable rural development.

How does IFAD help prevent violence against women in rural communities?

IFAD helps women become economically empowered.

Economic empowerment increases rural women’s independence and reduces their vulnerability to abuse.

IFAD-financed programmes support women’s livelihoods through small-scale farming, fishing, livestock-keeping and rural entrepreneurship. Through the PPI project in Paraguay, for example, women come together into market-seller collectives to get better prices for their produce.

Initiatives like these help rural women gain access to land, credit and resources and accelerate their economic and social empowerment – which in turn makes it easier for them to achieve personal and family safety.

IFAD works with men, households and community leaders to achieve gender equality.

Many women are disempowered within their own households and communities. Meanwhile, men, too, may struggle with traditional gender roles, yet they are often overlooked by intervention programmes. Gender equality within households and communities benefits women and men alike.

India’s OPELIP project, an effort to help indigenous households gain land rights, makes sure that titles are issued jointly to husbands and wives, or directly to women who are household heads: a tangible acknowledgement of gender equality.

IFAD helps women get a seat at the table.

When women have a voice and can participate in decision-making, they are less vulnerable to violence and better able to contest it.

IFAD strengthens women’s representation in producer organizations and community decision-making bodies. Recognizing that traditional and political leaders and local government officials have a vital role to play in systemic change, IFAD works closely with such leaders – whose ranks should include women – to achieve sustainable change.

IFAD addresses the root causes of gender inequality.

IFAD uses Household Methodologies in its projects: activities that get family members working together to make shared decisions, distribute work more equally, and strengthen their relationships with each other.

Household Methodologies tackle the social norms, attitudes and behaviours that represent the root causes – rather than the symptoms – of gender inequality and violence.

In Malawi, for example, Household Methodologies are used by the IFAD-funded SAPP project to address the underlying causes of gender inequality, particularly in households affected by HIV/AIDS. These activities have helped women get a greater say in decision-making, reduce their workloads, and gain greater control over resources.