International Women's Day

Change is necessary for rural women in the Pacific

Rural women must not be overlooked in policy decisions

News | 08 March 2018
Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands
Suva (ILO News) - As the world celebrates International Women’s Day, the ILO joins the UN system in placing the spotlight on rural women, a group often overlooked despite their enormous contributions. Rural women contribute significantly to agricultural production and food security, and to the management of natural resources. However, deep inequalities persist and they continue to be left behind. Rural women make up over one-fourth of the world’s population and between 41 and 60 per cent of its agricultural workforce. They are farmers, wage earners and entrepreneurs. Women from indigenous and tribal communities are often custodians of traditional knowledge that is key for communities’ livelihoods, resilience and culture, as well as for strong climate action.

Yet, rural women are more likely to be informal, low-wage workers without any social protection, and many work without pay for a family enterprise – and that means their work is largely unrecognized and undervalued. They also shoulder a disproportionate amount of unpaid care and household work. In addition, women’s presence in rural workers’ and employers’ organizations remains low, leaving them without voice and representation. They are at high risk of abuse, sexual harassment and other forms of gender-based violence.

Change is necessary and will benefit all.

Rural women must not be overlooked in policy decisions that can drive empowerment and improvement: policies for productive employment with equal opportunities and treatment; policies to promote entrepreneurship; policies that support affordable child and eldercare. Tackling legislative, social and cultural barriers to equal access to land, finance, technology and markets will go a long way to empower rural women. Employers’ and workers’ organizations can reach out to rural women so that through organization they gain increased voice and influence. Cooperative forms of organization also have a role to play. Social norms that render women more vulnerable to violence and harassment must be tackled with determination. At the same time this needs to be backed by effective legal and policy frameworks and enforcement mechanisms which cover rural and agricultural workers.

Mr. Donglin Li, Director, ILO Office for Pacific Island Countries, said “Despite the progress achieved and the commitments made to further improvement, women’s prospects in the Pacific are still a long way from being equal to men’s."

“Whether it is about access to employment, wage inequality or other forms of discrimination, we need to do more to reverse this persistent, unacceptable trend by putting in place policies tailored to women, also taking into account the unequal demands that they face in household and care responsibilities.”

Mr. Li stated “It is more than time to redouble our efforts to bridge the gaps that deny rural women access to decent work.”  “The ILO is committed to supporting Pacific Island Countries to help empower women, particularly through entrepreneurship, business development and increased female labour force participation rate.”