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Statement by Gilbert F. Houngbo President IFAD, at International Women’s Day 2018

Empowering rural women and girls through ICTs

Location: Rome, Italy

07 March 2018


Executive Board members and Permanent Representatives,

Colleagues from the Rome-based agencies,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to this year’s celebration of International Women’s Day.  

IFAD is proud to be hosting today’s event in collaboration with the other Rome-based agencies.

I am very pleased to be joined by the Food and Agriculture Organization's Assistant Director General, Kostas Stamoulis and by the Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme, Amir Abdulla.

I would also like to thank our keynote speaker, Danielle Nierenberg, and each of the panelists who will share their insights and knowledge with us today.

The topic of empowering rural women and girls through ICTs is an important one. Technology has the power to transform lives, and it is our jobs to get it into the hands of those who need it most.

Today, around 1.7 billion women and girls live in rural areas. They make up 22 per cent of the global population. As men leave rural areas in search of better opportunities, women are increasingly the farmers of the world.  In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, they make up more than 50 per cent of the agricultural labour force in many countries.

The Commission on the Status of Women has chosen rural women and girls as the focus of the upcoming 62nd session, which will begin in a few days. This is a positive step toward recognizing both the needs of rural women and girls and the contribution that they make to their families, communities and societies.

Despite their key role in food production, women are more likely than men to face severe food insecurity – 7.9 per cent versus 7.3 per cent globally; and 25.2 per cent compared with 23.7 per cent in Africa. They are also very likely to be poor. More than 80 per cent of women in low-income countries are in vulnerable employment.

The pay gap between rural women and men can be as much as 40%. It is time for this unjust and inequitable situation to change!

 ICTs offer important tools for empowering women, increasing their influence and amplifying their voices.

Access to mobile-based financial services, remittances, and weather-index insurance has direct consequences on the financial inclusion of women. Access to mobile-based information services on agricultural production and weather forecasts can help women produce more and better. Access to market information can help them sell at higher prices.

In order for these benefits to have their maximum impact, they must be supported by broader efforts in gender equality. So let me take this opportunity to talk briefly about the work IFAD is doing to empower rural women and girls economically and socially.

IFAD has long recognized that we must empower women if we want to eradicate poverty and hunger. Gender is one of our four mainstreaming areas, along with climate and environment, nutrition and youth employment. These issues are critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. But it is also important to develop transformative approaches that consider the interlinkages between them. 

Women make up a full 50 per cent of the rural people reached by the projects we support. And in several areas, women outnumber men. This is particularly true of rural finance, where women make up 61% of savers and 65% of borrowers, enabling them to build their businesses and strengthen their resilience to risk.

Our aim now – together with our partners – is to achieve transformative change for women by addressing the root causes of gender inequality. As you know, these causes include prevailing social norms, entrenched attitudes and behaviours, and discrimination and social systems.

The household methodologies – which IFAD piloted together with partners – are one of the most effective and widely applied gender transformative approaches. IFAD is working with OxfamNOVIB, Procasur, a large network of local NGOs and other partners to expand the use of these innovative methodologies. 

Over 40 projects across Africa are using the participatory methodologies to promote equitable relations within the household, a fairer division of labour and shared decision-making.

IFAD also has a close partnership with our sister agencies here in Rome on gender. The Joint Programme on Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women was launched in 2014. More than 41,000 women and 213,000 household members have already benefitted from its work in Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Nepal, Niger and Rwanda.

This coalition of FAO, IFAD, UNWOMEN and WFP is capitalizing on each agency’s mandate and institutional strengths to generate sustainable and wide-scale improvements in the living conditions, productivity and rights of rural women and girls.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

ICTs and the media are already boosting economic opportunities for women living in remote, rural areas. Not only do they enable women to participate more actively in the economy, they can also reduce the education and literacy divide, promote the political and social empowerment of women, and support the inclusion of women in decision-making.

 Let us all work together – as Rome-based agencies, as development partners, as governments – to ensure these powerful tools, supported by robust frameworks for gender equality, reach the hands of rural women and girls, and are effectively used to overcome some of the challenges lying ahead as we join efforts to meet the sustainable development goals.

Thank you again for joining us for today’s celebration.