IFAD Asset Request Portlet

Asset Publisher

Statement by IFAD President on the occasion of 8 March: Empowering young rural women: Inspiring futures

Esteemed Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to welcome you to IFAD for this shared Rome-based agency celebration of International Women's Day. I would like to extend a special welcome to José Graziano da Silva, the Director-General of FAO - and Sheila Sisulu, the Deputy Executive Director of WFP – who will be addressing you in a few minutes.

We also have the privilege of being joined this morning by Her Excellency Angie Motshekga, Minister for Basic Education from South Africa;  and Her Excellency Ertharin Cousin, US Ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Agencies in Rome – who will shortly be joining WFP as its new Executive Director. Welcome.

Gender equality and women's empowerment have always been at the core of IFAD's efforts to reduce poverty, for reasons of both development effectiveness and justice. These two elements are inseparable; you cannot have one without the other.

We know that enabling women to have more equal access to economic opportunities and services is not only a matter of justice – it is also one of the most effective strategies for reducing poverty and malnutrition.
The numbers are convincing: Production on women's farms could increase by 20 to 30 per cent if women had the same access as men to agricultural resources and inputs.

Indeed, it is estimated that giving women equal access would reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100 to 150 million people.
And we know, from a number of studies, that when women earn money, they are more likely than men to spend it on food for the family.
Women hold the key to ensuring food and nutrition security.

What we see in the field is equally convincing. I have just returned from Cameroon, where I met a group of women in the village of Minkoa who have increased their incomes and are transforming their lives thanks to improved cassava varieties, production and productivity increases and access to rural finance. Their families can afford to eat, send their children to school and they can afford to dream of a better future.

One of these women, Susanne Nke, had a message that I would like to share with you. She said:  "We hope that for the Village Committee of Consultation of Minkoa, Lekié and Cameroon, the theme of International Women's Day does not just remain a slogan... The rural women of our villages must really reach full autonomy. The arduous nature of their work must be reduced. We want to move from the hoe to the tractor. To transform our lives we need modern equipment, water, electricity, telephone…and why not internet?". 

She makes a good point. If we truly want to eliminate poverty and hunger for all children, women and men, we must empower women. We must create the conditions for women throughout the developing world to have the same opportunities as Ms Nke. We have a duty to recognize the contributions of women, and to remove the obstacles they face. As Michelle Bachelet said this week: "Empowering women is not just good for women, it is good for all of us."

This year for Women's Day we at the Rome-based agencies are focusing on young rural women. 

Today's generation of young people is the largest in history. At a time when the world population has topped 7 billion and is heading towards 8 billion, we need these young people to be the farmers and rural entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

Young rural women face a triple disadvantage. They are held back by location, by age and by gender.

These young women face the same obstacles as boys living in rural areas – they are limited by lack of access to land, markets, finance, education and training. And their youth limits the amount of control they have over their lives.

But young women, particularly in rural areas, also are held back by cultural and social norms. As a result, they are even less likely than boys to finish school and are more likely to be married early, with the added risk of multiple births, ill-health, and gender-based violence.
It is these bleak prospects, and a desire for better lives, that so often compel young women to abandon their villages and migrate to urban areas or across borders, putting them at risk of exploitation and trafficking.

We need to create vibrant rural areas where young women, as well as men, have a range of employment opportunities; where they see an attractive future for themselves.

Working with adolescent girls and young women presents a unique opportunity to transforms lives, not only of the young women themselves but also of future generations.

When these young women have access to resources and service, they can become powerful agents of change in their families and communities. They are the future leaders, farmers, businesswomen, teachers and mothers of tomorrow.

This is not just our vision for today's youth, but their own vision for themselves.

Three weeks ago, IFAD hosted a special meeting to address youth in agriculture. Thirty-five young women and men attended, representing farmers and producer organizations from around the world.

These young people all agreed that there is an urgent need for a new rural reality based on a positive image of farming as a dynamic business. They demonstrated a refreshing creativity, dynamism and desire to take advantage of new opportunities. We must not let them down!

International days are an opportunity to draw world attention to important issues – but we must remain focused on these issues each and every day of the week, and not just on the official day.

I know we will all do our part. At IFAD, we expect to have a new gender policy in place this year to improve our work in closing the gender gap. And I know gender equality will be a factor in all the work our agencies do together.  Our Results Measurement Framework (RMF) will be a constant watchdog of how true we are to our commitments.     

I will now hand the floor to my colleagues from FAO and WFP for some introductory comments. I am sure their comments will be thought-provoking, and I look forward to lively discussion in our panel and Question and Answer sessions afterwards. 

Thank you.

Rome, 8 March 2012