Joint ILO/IFAD/FAO side event at 56th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women

During this side event, three powerful speakers ─ Ms Ronnie Goldberg (Vice-President of the US Council for International Business), Ms Rehana Riyalawala (Secretary of the Indian Self-Employed Women's Association/SEWA) and Ms Shireen Lateef (Senior Adviser on Gender of the Asian Development Bank/ADB) ─ addressed the topic "Rural Employment and Agriculture" in an active dialogue with some 85 women and men participants.

The event was graciously chaired by the Philippines Minister for Social Welfare and Development, Hon. Corazon Juliano Soliman, herself an activist committed to giving rural women strong voice. The business perspective was covered by Ms Goldberg, the view point of labour by Ms Riyalawala, and the policy context by Ms Lateef. A representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) introduced the theme, and ILO gave a closing summary that included the latest joint research and advocacy, carried out with support from FAO and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). This highlighted the fact that women comprise 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force in developing countries, and agriculture is the most important source of employment for women in rural areas in most regions. Yet rural women suffer many decent work deficits: they are more likely than men to hold low-wage, part-time and seasonal employment and tend to be paid less than men, even when their qualifications are higher than men’s.

Ms Goldberg provided examples of empowerment, which she noted were a business necessity if nations were to develop using their full labour force. She cited "wireless reach" projects that extend communication to under-served rural communities to assist them in access to market information, Coca Cola's "5x20" plan to help women with their products in the value chain of production, and the ILO Women's Entrepreneurship Development Programme which has improved over recent years the skills and business knowledge of more than 60,000 women.

SEWA's huge success in empowering rural and marginalized women stems from its commitment to stamp out the neglect and lack of bargaining power such women have suffered for generations. Conscious of the food and financial crises that hit women not only as producers but consumers, SEWA engages in a large number of services such as providing credit, seeds, enabling facilities, social security, and crop insurance, as well as self-confidence training to help give women voice.

The ADB's loans and grants to governments strive to empower rural women, so that they can grow and improve their productive capacity. By including requirements concerning women beneficiaries in the projects it supports (e.g. quotas), ADB actively promotes the generation of decent jobs for women who otherwise might have been ignored in development efforts. ADB is careful to check that equal pay for work of equal value is respected in all its projects, and it prioritizes activities that will enhance rural women's skills, including building on traditional strengths in communities where possible.

Questions by participants covered a wide range of issues: What is the role of government and how to coordinate policy responses at the national level?; How to balance introducing job diversity and new industries to rural areas without undermining traditional occupations (e.g. when encouraging rural women to engage in construction and maintenance of rural infrastructure)?; How to recognize women as farmers so that rights flow to them?; How can the rule of law extend to remote rural areas (so that, among other things, violence against women and girls can be redressed)?; How to engage rural men together with rural women in seeking decent work so that voice and empowerment can benefit the whole community?