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Location:

07 February 2020

FAO headquarters,

Rome, Italy

8 March 2017

 

Excellencies,

Esteemed Colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

How can we go the extra mile to support rural women to end poverty and hunger? The need to step up our work with rural women is urgent and vital. Delivering the universal commitments of ending hunger and poverty, and creating a world of opportunity for all, by 2030, requires not only a massive scaling-up of efforts and investments in rural areas, but also a deliberate and unambiguous focus on and targeting of rural women.

Today in many rural societies, women still lack access to the resources and credit they need to farm productively or build businesses. They have fewer market opportunities than men, and frequently have weak or non-existent land rights. And too often, they are not given an equal voice or authority in their homes and communities.

Rural women face unique challenges and heavy workloads indeed. In productive activities, as farmers, laborers or micro-entrepreneurs, women are often unpaid family workers or self-employed, and are exposed to precarious jobs, receiving low pay. And as we know, they also spend many additional hours daily on domestic work including collecting water and firewood, preparing and cooking food, transporting goods and caregiving.

At IFAD, we have learned from our experience in the field that overcoming gender inequality is integral to transforming rural areas. Better income, education, health and decision-making power for women have a direct and dramatic impact on the well-being of the whole family, as well as on the nutritional status and health of the children.

Similarly, we know that achieving sustainable agricultural development and resilience to global risks such as climate change or water scarcity would be "mission impossible" without fully involving rural women, capitalizing on their knowledge, skills and engagement.

Over the past eight years, IFAD has made significant advances in addressing gender inequality as part of President Kanayo Nwanze’s resolve to improve the lives of rural women. We have formalized our commitment to women's empowerment and equal opportunity in our Gender Policy, in our Targeting Policy and in our Policy on Engagement with Indigenous Peoples.

In light of this year’s global theme for International Women’s Day – “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50:50 by 2030,” I am very proud to say that today 50% of all rural people receiving services from IFAD-supported projects are women. Of those 57 million women, about 12 million have benefitted from gender empowerment initiatives. Women also represent close to 70% of participants in our capacity-building programs for community management, business skills and micro-entrepreneurship, versus 40% ten years ago. Similar strong results are reported in IFAD-assisted microfinance institutions, where today women account for 54% of active borrowers and 63% of voluntary savers.

To address the challenge of rural women's workload, IFAD contributes along two main tracks. First, we invest in improving women's access to time and labour-saving technologies. Interventions include the introduction of fuel-efficient cook-stoves, solar energy, biogas systems and village woodlots managed by women. IFAD also supports investments in water management and infrastructure for multiple uses in homesteads to save time on water collection. Such interventions further create opportunities for kitchen gardens and rearing small animals for improved family nutrition and income generation. A recent study on IFAD's water-related investments found that women have saved about two hours a day, on average, freeing time and energy for other activities.

The second track is to contribute to transforming the gender relations in the home and community, through household methodologies and support for women's income-generating activities and increased decision-making. Since 2009, IFAD has been working with partners to develop this approach. We started in Uganda, getting men and women to talk to each other to create a shared vision for their household, identify obstacles and opportunities, and discuss fairness, including the division of labour and how decisions are made in the household. Today, there are thousands of individual stories of women and households that succeeded, through this approach, to turn situations of hopelessness into flourishing small businesses and achieving their vision of children at school or building a permanent house. The methodology worked so well that we have now scaled it up to reach more than 75,000 households in eight countries.

These achievements tell us once again the high relevance – the centrality – of a robust agenda on gender equality and women's empowerment for sustainable agriculture and rural development. At IFAD, we avail of a clear and accountable pathway for action. The true challenge will be to achieve gender mainstreaming in all IFAD country strategies and operations, and scaling up transformative gender impact. We are fully determined to make it happen. And we know that we can count on our many partners in this endeavour, particularly our colleagues at FAO and WFP.

But we are also aware that we are accountable for gender equality and women’s empowerment not only in our work in the field, but in our own organization. This is one area that still holds challenges. According to the latest UN System-wide Action Plan on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-SWAP) IFAD now exceeds expectations in 8 out of 15 categories and meets expectations for another three. But four years after the first UN-SWAP report, we are still only approaching expectations for capacity-building for staff.

In particular, the percentage of women at a senior level is still below our target for 2015. Clearly this is an area where we should and we must do better. Pushing the agenda of equality for women means also pushing ourselves to do better, especially in our own institutions.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,

On this International Women’s Day I would like to call on each of us here to step up our efforts in creating a world of greater equality between women and men. Stepping it up doesn’t mean trying a little harder. SDG 5 calls for nothing less than to “End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere” by 2030. If we are seriously committed to this vision then “step it up” means to employ every possible resource at our disposal for the cause. It means devoting ourselves to this issue not only on International Women’s Day, but every day. At IFAD I reaffirm our commitment to do so.

Thank you.