In most countries around the world, rural women and girls face daily challenges of access to sustainable infrastructure, services and social protection. The ubiquity of these challenges offers a large scope for change so that they no longer dominate and constrain women’s and girls’ lives.
Rural women make up 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, in work that is time- and labour-intensive, informal and poorly paid, with little social protection or income security. Child labour is prevalent in rural areas, with girls forming a significant part of the agricultural workforce.
Women and girls are responsible for water collection in 80 per cent of households without access to safe drinking water. This work is arduous and will only become harder as water shortages increase. The journey to collect water also poses safety risks. Without adequate water and sanitation facilities, women and girls are exposed to illness, violence and other risks to their safety. These deficits also hamper their ability to get a good education, earn an income and move around freely.
Fuel collection, which can take as much as five hours every day, and cooking with unclean fuels can result in long-term and even fatal health problems for women. In countries that rely heavily on fuels like coal, wood, manure or crop waste for cooking, women account for 6 out of every 10 premature deaths through household air pollution.
Sustainable infrastructure, services and social protection are central to progress. Measures to improve their delivery can bring both immediate relief and lifelong benefits. For instance, enhanced access to safe drinking water and sanitation brings gains in girls’ education when children stay longer in school, as well as increases in women’s paid work to generate goods and provide services. Extending the reach of water grids and continuous piped drinking water to rural communities is therefore an important priority with multiple benefits.
Rural women’s civil society organizations, enterprises and cooperatives are critical in mobilizing rural women, supporting their voice, agency and representation in political and economic spheres, and enabling them to influence the decisions and institutions that affect their lives.
Around the world, rural women have mobilized to secure water for irrigation and household use, and renewable energy for lighting their homes and powering small businesses. Resourcefully, rural women’s cooperatives are providing childcare services for and by their members. But small-scale solutions are not enough. They must be joined by large-scale institutional initiatives that invest in a different future, in which women and girls participate and benefit equally to men and boys.
On the International Day of Rural Women, UN Women calls upon the international community to work with rural women and girls everywhere and to invest in the sustainable infrastructure, services and social protection that can revolutionize their livelihoods, well-being and resilience.