Thursday, March 8, 2012

International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day. It is a celebration, a call to action, a time for reflection, a day to inspire. In the past year, as in all years, women have made new discoveries in science; acted to change their communities; taught children to read and write; worked with their partners to create loving homes; gained new freedoms; and grown and cooked food for their families and local markets. In the past year, as in all years, women have also been hungry; struggled to feed their children; suffered from preventable illnesses; died in childbirth; survived violence both inside and outside their homes (and sometimes, not survived); and faced unequal access to agricultural land, tools, knowledge, and credit.

This year, the theme for the United Nations celebration of International Women's Day is "Empower Rural Women: End Hunger and Poverty".  In explaining the theme on their website, they write:

"Key contributors to global economies, rural women play a critical role in both developed and developing nations — they enhance agricultural and rural development, improve food security and can help reduce poverty levels in their communities. In some parts of the world, women represent 70 percent of the agricultural workforce, comprising 43 percent of agricultural workers worldwide.

Estimates reveal that if women had the same access to productive resources as men, they could increase yields on their farms by 20–30 percent, lifting 100-150 million out of hunger."

In some parts of the world, women produce most of the food grown for home use. Research has demonstrated that women who have secure land tenure -- that is, women who own or otherwise have full control over their agricultural land -- produce more food per acre, put more time and resources into improving their land, and are more likely to live above the poverty line. And yet women are often denied land ownership, access to agricultural education, and development dollars that are poured, instead, into high-value crops for export.

When women are given access to business opportunities, whether it is through micro-enterprise programs like the Grameen Bank and Kiva or through non-profit development organizations like Bead for Life and Heifer International, they are less likely to live in poverty. And because poverty is one of the best indicators of food insecurity, women with opportunities are also less likely to be food insecure.

Women have the ability to raise their families out of poverty and food insecurity, but if women continue to have restricted access to land, capital, opportunity, and education, "ending hunger and poverty" will remain a theme of International Women's Days for years, if not decades, to come.

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