Unsung Heroes: The Invaluable Role of Rural Women in a Changing World

By Hillary Essien | Oct 16, 2023

On October 15th, the global community rallies to commemorate the International Day of Rural Women. This celebration provides a vital platform to recognize and celebrate the incredible contributions of rural women, shedding light on their indispensable roles in agriculture, community development, and the global quest for sustainable development. 

The United Nations declared October 15 as the International Day of Rural Women in 2008, to recognize the critical role played by rural women in achieving economic stability and social progress. The idea was to give voice and visibility to the countless women who work tirelessly to sustain rural communities and economies worldwide.

Rural women make up a significant portion of the agricultural workforce in many countries. They are involved in planting, cultivating, and harvesting crops, tending to livestock, and managing family farms. Their dedication and hard work are fundamental to the production of food and the livelihoods of rural communities. These women make up about 43 per cent of the agricultural workforce but in developing countries, they are responsible for producing between 60 and 80 per cent of all food.

In Nigeria, women account for 75 per cent of the farming population, working as farm managers, and suppliers of labour.  According to the  United Nations, women in rural areas have the potential to raise agricultural production to levels that would feed up to 150 million people. Despite their importance, they face difficulties accessing land, insurance, credit and extension services, and see even more differences in income, compared to their male counterparts. Closing these gender gaps would not only increase global GDP by about US$1 trillion but would also reduce the number of people facing food insecurity by about 45 million.

These women are instrumental in the achievement of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Their participation in sustainable agricultural practices, environmental conservation, and poverty reduction is vital for the global agenda of creating a more equitable and sustainable world. Their work is crucial to global food production, contributing significantly to the first SDG of ending poverty and hunger (SDG 1) and ensuring food security (SDG 2). Their efforts are also crucial in achieving SDG 5, which seeks gender equality and empowering all women and girls. 

At the United Nation’s General Assembly this year, it was noted that SDG 5, based on 14 indicators created to measure its progress, had not been met. The indicators were focused majorly on legal rights, healthcare and education.

Through sustainable farming practices, rural women improve soil health, reduce pesticide use, and promote biodiversity. Their work aligns with SDG 15, which aims to protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems.

Each year, the International Day of Rural Women focuses on a specific theme. In 2023, the theme centres around Rural Women Cultivating Good For All”. This theme underscores the essential role that all rural women and girls, including indigenous and tribal women, play in agricultural labor, particularly in developing nations. These women are responsible for sowing seeds, harvesting crops, processing and preparing food grains and distribution.

This theme underscores the adaptability and ingenuity of rural women in the face of challenges, including climate change and economic uncertainties. It acknowledges their ability to find innovative solutions and lead their communities towards a more sustainable future.

The International Day of Rural Women serves as a poignant reminder that the world's rural women are an indispensable force for positive change. Their tireless efforts, resilience, and innovation are crucial to creating a more sustainable and equitable world. As we celebrate this day in 2023, it is essential to recognize and support the needs and aspirations of rural women, ensuring they have equal opportunities and a voice in shaping the future of their communities and the world.