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Joint Statement of the Rome-Based Agencies delivered by Cornelia Richter, Vice-President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) at the 62nd session of the Commission on the Status of Women

Location: UN Headquarters, New York, USA

11 March 2018


Distinguished Guests,

LadLadies and Gentlemen

On behalf of the three Rome-based agencies of the United Nations -- the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Food Programme (WFP) and my own agency, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) - I would like to thank the Commission on the Status of Women for its foresight in choosing the empowerment of rural women and girls as the focus of this 62nd session.

At this historic moment, women around the world are standing up and making their voices heard on injustice, gender inequalities and sexual coercion. But while women in cities can march together to gain strength and power through solidarity, those who live in remote communities, far from their capitals and out of sight from the media, risk being left behind.

Today, around 1.7 billion women and girls live in rural areas. That is more than five times the total population of the United States. It is more than one-fifth of all humanity.

Rural women and girls often face inequalities, exclusion and injustices. They often lack authority in their homes; control over household finances; a voice in their communities; and in too many cases, even autonomy over their own bodies. As the Report of the Secretary-General notes – on virtually every gender and development indicator, rural women fare worse than rural men and urban women.

It is our responsibility, as representatives of the United Nations, to make sure the human rights of rural women and girls are recognised and fulfilled.

If we fail to act for the empowerment of rural women and girls, we will not fulfil our commitments to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.


Globally, there has been progress including important gains in food security and nutrition, maternal mortality as well as in the percentage of girls now receiving primary education.

It is a good start, but we still have more to do. Evidence shows that in every region of the world, women are more likely than men to be food insecure.

They are also more likely to be poor. This year’s CSW report notes that rural women and girls tend to be less educated, with less access to information, learning opportunities and labour markets than rural men and boys.

And rural women spend more time than men doing the unpaid care and domestic work that underpins our communities and food systems. This systemic inequality can trap women in poverty.

Discrimination in access to and ownership of land is of particular concern, because land tenure is associated with higher agricultural production and more sustainable livelihoods. Women are more than 40 per cent of the agricultural labour force globally – and the majority in many low and lower-middle income countries – yet they are less than 20 per cent of agricultural landholders.

Rural women and girls as agents of change

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

The Rome-based agencies are fully committed to gender equality and the empowerment of women in order to reduce rural poverty, achieve Zero Hunger and meet the nutritional needs of women and girls, ensuring that no one is left behind. We have seen, through our work on the ground, how empowering rural women and girls can not only reduce poverty and improve food security, nutrition and agricultural production, but can also lead to better school attendance, economic growth and social change.

Let me share some examples of the work of the Rome based Agencies:

For decades, the RBAs, together with partners, have been spearheading the fight to secure rural women’s rights, both globally and at country level.

For example, the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) – with technical support from FAO, IFAD and WFP – endorsed the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forestry in the Context of Food Security (VGGTs) – a set of guidelines that make specific provisions to improve gender equality in both formal and customary systems, including through amending discriminatory inheritance and property laws. Governments thus have access to guidance on safeguarding the rights of women and men to own and access land, forest and fisheries resources.

In March 2016 – thanks to active support from FAO, IFAD, WFP, and UN Women – the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) adopted its landmark General Recommendation 34 on the rights of rural women. Recommendation 34 recognizes the significant contributions that women make, and provides practical guidance on mainstreaming rural women’s empowerment issues in policies and programmes.

Through the Joint Programme on Rural Women’s Economic Empowerment, the three Rome-based agencies and UN Women are contributing to wide ranging improvements in the living conditions, productivity and rights of rural women. More than 40,000 women and 261,000 household members in seven countries have already benefited from this Programme. The Programme is also supporting governments to develop and implement agricultural policies designed to truly transform rural women’s lives.

Rural women and girls need to participate in policy dialogues and decision-making process that affect their lives. For decades, FAO has promoted women’s active participation and leadership in rural institutions through strengthening the national capacity, and supported Member States to adapt agriculture, food security and nutrition policies programmes, and investment plans that meet the specific needs of rural women and girls.

FAO has been conducting gender-sensitive assessments in close collaboration with the national institutions to identify areas for intervention, and has contributed to the implementation of social protection programmes to strengthen the livelihoods of rural women.

Through Farmer Field Schools (FFS), FAO has worked together with IFAD, WFP and other UN agencies, as well as governments and NGOs, to enhance the skills and knowledge of farmers.

An important aspect of the Farmer Field Schools methodology is the promotion of joint decision-making of women and men at the household and community levels.

The FFS have proven to be highly effective in not only improving farmers’ technical skills, but also changing social dynamics by strengthening gender relations and helping to build mutual trust within the targeted rural communities. Currently, the Farmer Field Schools are being implemented in over 90 countries.

At IFAD, women make up a full 50 per cent of people reached by the projects we support. And in several areas, particularly rural finance, women participants outnumber men. Gender equality is one of IFAD’s four key mainstreaming areas because we know we will not be able to eradicate poverty and hunger unless we empower women and girls.

IFAD aims to bring about transformative changes so that women are economically empowered, have a more balanced workload, and an equal voice and influence.

Purchase for Progress (P4P) is a WFP initiative that aims to build a more resilient agricultural sector by creating opportunities for smallholder farmers to be competitive players in agricultural markets. WFP contributes to local economies and supports the resilience and productivity of rural communities by purchasing from smallholder-farmers and encouraging national governments and the private sector to do the same. Working mainly with farmers’ organizations, P4P provides training and assets to improve crop quality. It also facilitates access to finance and promotes marketing.

Women are actively targeted – for decision-making roles, receipt of time and labour-saving technologies, and market access.

Call to Action

Throughout our work, we have learned that the empowerment of rural women and girls is both possible and essential. All of the SDGs hinge on the realization of SDG 5 – Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

So where do we go from here?

First, we must continue eliminating legal barriers to rural women’s empowerment and integrate gender equality into the institutional and political architecture at all levels. Governments, development agencies, NGOs and other actors need to work together to guarantee equal rights for women and men without distinction, including equal access to and control of productive assets like land and water, and to services such as education, training, credit, social protection, health, and emergency assistance.

Second, we must ensure that agricultural policy decisions are based on a sound understanding of gender dimensions. Agricultural policies and programmes must pro-actively foster gender equality. Making rural women’s voices heard at all levels of decision-making is crucial.

Third, we must build the human capital of all rural people: women and girls; men and boys. Quality education and on-going transfer of information and practical skills will broaden the range of choices women can make. With increased capacities, confidence and bargaining power, rural women can fully contribute, alongside men, to the development of their communities.

Fourth, we must invest in technologies that reduce women’s workloads. Poor rural women typically work about 12 hours more per week than men. Often, this is unpaid, unrecognised, and undervalued labour. Free of this time constraint, rural women will be better positioned to engage in productive paid work, invest in their own health and education, or lead their communities.

We must also look at how to make digital and mobile technology more affordable and accessible to rural women and girls so that they have better connections to essential information, services and markets.

Fifth, we have to strengthen rural organizations and institutions and make them more gender-aware. Women and men have to be equally served by rural institutions – as producers, processors, traders, employees, employers, and above all as rights holders.

Sixth, to improve our understanding of the contributions that rural women make and the challenges they face, we need to improve the collection, analysis, and use of sex-disaggregated data on agriculture and food security. This will help establish a firmer basis for targeted interventions.  It will enable stakeholders to monitor changes. And it will hold policy-makers to account.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Empowering rural women and girls requires strong and strategic partnerships. That is why the Rome-based agencies collaborate with the Member States, other UN entities and development partners, and a broad range of civil society and private sector institutions.

Let me conclude by thanking the Commission on the Status of Women for addressing the empowerment of rural women and girls and by reassuring you that FAO, WFP and IFAD, in cooperation with our partners, stand ready to lead the global effort to empower women in agriculture - essential to achieving the SDGs.

It is up to all of us to come together because the “time is now” for gender equality and the empowerment of all the world’s rural women and girls.

Thank you.