Rural women from around the world met this week to discuss the challenges and highlights of working to empower women in their countries and communities, at an event sponsored by UN Women, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the NGO Commission on the Status of Women Forum and other partners, including the Center for Women's Global Leadership, the Conference of NGOs in Consultative Relationship with the United Nations, and the Feminist Task Force.
“Rural Women's Speak-Out” brought together more than 100 women whose discussions and findings were shared with a four-member panel of guest respondents. This included UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet, along with UN Women Deputy Executive Director Lakshmi Puri, Eva Crowley from the Food and Agricultural Organization, and Charlotte Bunch of the Center for Women's Global Leadership.The women activists spoke in depth on the need for their governments to formulate clearer policies that benefit rural women. It was also observed that other countries, particularly in Latin America, had good laws, but that these were too rarely enforced. Representing North America and Europe, JoAnn Todd of the Anglican Consultative Council, a sheep farmer, stressed that economic changes had sometimes disadvantaged women in developed countries, leaving women in small towns increasingly isolated, with little access to services such as transport, health care or counseling.Many of those speaking encouraged international organizations to develop closer ties to rural women, with greater outreach, both in formats that they could use and understand, and in more languages, particularly indigenous ones.Environmental concerns were also high on the women's agenda. Activists highlighted that in Africa and Latin America, the sale of forested land had increased rates of violence against women, both in the rural regions, and because this causes many families to migrate to cities where women are vulnerable to various forms of violence.Responding to the women, Ms. Bachelet stressed that, as well as representing the interests of rural women at national and international levels, UN Women's objective is to empower and support them. This will ensure that rural women can hold governments to account, and contribute to national economic solutions and inclusive growth.“To get out of poverty we need to scale up capacity,” she said. “You know what to do very well, and these projects are on the ground to support your capacities. We can encourage governments, but we need you lobbying with governments to build strong constituencies”.Ms. Bachelet also emphasized the importance of supporting rural women to attain decision-making positions, and to empower them economically. “My mother once said to me, my love, if you want, you can marry… but you can do much better than that!” she told the women, to a round of applause. “When women don't have economic independence it's very difficult to have our rights respected.”