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Statement by Cornelia Richter Vice-President of IFAD, at Celebration of the International Day of Rural Women (CFS 46)

2019 Theme: Rural Women and Girls Building Climate Resilience

Où: FAO Headquarters, Rome, Italy

Distinguished delegates,


Ladies and gentlemen,

An estimated 1.7 billion women and girls live in rural areas. That is more than one-fifth of humanity. Globally, one in three employed women works in agriculture, including forestry and fishing. They contribute substantially to agricultural production. And they perform the biggest share of unpaid care and domestic work within rural households.

Despite their important role in rural societies, rural women and girls continue to face multiple challenges and discrimination. They are constrained in decision making by structural barriers and discriminatory social and cultural norms. Climate change exacerbates existing inequalities. The World Health Organization reports, for example, that droughts in developing countries bring health hazards through reduced availability of water for drinking, cooking and hygiene. Women and girls (and their children) disproportionately suffer the health consequences of nutritional deficiencies and the burdens associated with travelling further to collect water.

Insecure land rights, or the low quality of land plots, compromise women’s climate resilience. Their lack of access to resources and assets reduces their capacity to withstand extreme weather events and the effects of climate change. The Report of the United Nations Secretary-General on “Improvement of the situation of women and girls in rural areas” highlights that on virtually every gender and development indicator, rural women fare worse than both rural men and urban women. But most, given the chance, can help build a better world – for themselves, for their families, and for their communities. Rural women and girls are powerful agents of change – able to transform rural livelihoods. A recent study of five Sub-Saharan countries found that closing the gender gap in agricultural productivity corresponds to an estimated increase in crop production of between 7 and 19 per cent..

Women make up a full 50 per cent of people reached by the projects IFAD supports. To better address the needs of rural women and girls, we have refined our targeting guidelines this year. Gender equality is one of IFAD’s four key mainstreaming areas because we know that economies that are more gender equal in terms of opportunities and benefits achieve faster economic growth and a better quality of life for all.

Let me share one example of our work with you: Tajikistan’s geography is extremely challenging for sustainable farming. Over half the country is at an altitude of 3,000 meters or more. IFAD’s livestock and pasture development project has  increased the income of 24,000 poor rural households by enhancing livestock productivity. Specific training and input packages target women headed households, which  have increased their livestock income by 47%. There are many meaningful examples of how empowering  women and improving their access to resources deliver economic and social benefits. But let us not forget: Gender equality is a human right! At IFAD, we therefore also address underlying causes of inequality within the household through gender-transformative approaches.

For example, under our Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme, we fund pilots of an enhanced gender action learning system in Madagascar. These pilot programmes enable women and men to work together to improve relations,  achieve more equitable workloads and  jointly identify solutions for shared  challenges, such as those arising from climate change.

Throughout our work, we have learned that empowering rural women and girls is both possible and essential – especially in response to climate change. We have identified four steps to empower women further:

First, integrate a gender perspective into climate change policies and involve women in decision-making at all levels on environmental and agricultural issues.

Second, ensure rural women and men have full and equal rights and equal access to and security of land and productive resources.

Third, improve the access of rural women and girls to a safe and reliable water supply, sustainable energy and information and communication technologies to build their climate resilience.

And finally, build the knowledge and skills of all rural women to boost their capacities, confidence and bargaining power.


Ladies and gentlemen,

I would now like to introduce the first keynote speaker:

Kate Gilmore has been the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights since the end of 2015. She has deep experience in strategic leadership and human rights advocacy with the United Nations, government, and non-government organizations, including the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and Amnesty International. Her roots are in social work and for some years her work has focused on prevention of violence against women. For example, she helped establish Australia’s first Centre Against Sexual Assault at Melbourne’s Royal Women’s Hospital.

Ms. Gilmore holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of New England and postgraduate degrees in Social Work from the University of Melbourne and in Community Development from RMIT. Ms. Gilmore, we are looking forward to hearing from you about the challenges and opportunities for women from a human rights perspective.




Thank you Ms. Gilmore! Your messages – particularly about the tools the international community has available to overcome the human rights challenges rural women face - have really provided us with food for thought. Now it is time for our second keynote speaker. Sirebara Fatoumata Diallo is Vice-President of the National Federation of Rural Women (FENAFER) of Mali.

Ms. Diallo is herself a farmer. She supports the efforts and energies of rural women in Mali in a stronger organisation capable of defending their interests. She has been particularly active in the fisheries sector. Together with others she founded her first fisher’s organization in 1991. In 2009, she helped establish the National Union of Women Working in the Fish Sector in Mali (UNFIFPMA). From 47 cooperatives initially, it has expanded to more than 250 cooperatives and to other agricultural activities beyond fishery. Through her work, Ms. Diallo encourages women farmers, trains them in processing agricultural products and helps them innovate when land and assets are scarce.

Ms. Diallo, we are delighted to hear from your wealth of experience about how to support women’s economic activities.