Female farmers from various Latin American and Caribbean countries who work day to day to build a better life for themselves and their communities were the leading participants at the commemoration of the International Day of Rural Women organised by the Inter-American Institute for Co-operation on Agriculture (IICA).
María Emilia Undurraga, Minister of Agriculture of Chile, delivered a message at the event, during which participants listened to first-hand accounts that reflect women’s growing leadership role in rural areas and discussed the need to give greater visibility to the inequality gaps that affect them.
Poverty, marginalisation and food insecurity rates are much higher among rural women compared to rural men or even urban women.
“Women play a key role in rural development, making a significant contribution to the local economy, fostering the eradication of poverty, confronting climate change, guaranteeing education and nutrition for their families, and strengthening the social fabric,” explained Undurraga.
The minister warned that it is time to work together to improve the quality of life of rural women and mentioned that domestic violence and barriers to accessing new technologies are some of the most pressing issues to be addressed. “Women play a key role in driving positive changes in rural communities,” she remarked.
Sussy Rodríguez de Zura, Head of Monitoring at the Sectoral Policies and Planning Office of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock of El Salvador, stated that rural women’s vulnerabilities were aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic and called for “supporting them to eradicate violence and poverty in rural areas”.
Other participants at the event included Jolie Pollard from Belize, who created natural haircare products made from natural algae; Jussara Dantas, founder of an agricultural cooperative in the Northeast region of Brazil; Evelyn Alvarado, a cocoa farmer from Costa Rica; Petrona Pérez, a coffee farmer from Guatemala; and Lucila Quintana from Peru, a promoter of farmers’ associative activities.
“When you live in a small rural community with few resources, limitations can serve as an incentive to innovate. Rural women can overcome obstacles and try new things,” stated Pollard.
Jussara Dantas explained that the agricultural co-operative brings together some 270 farmers of the semi-arid region of the Brazilian state of Bahia. “Seventy per cent of its members are women, who grow native fruits that are made into jams, jellies and compotes. At first, we faced many difficulties commercialising the products, but we managed to access the national and international market,” she noted.
Dantas explained that women now play an active role in the food production chain and that urgent actions are needed to achieve gender equality, including access to training opportunities and political decision-making forums.
Evelyn Alvarado underscored the fact that “poverty in rural areas has a woman’s face”, explaining that “women may have good ideas, but it is very difficult for them to get funding because they do not own assets to use as a guarantee. In rural areas, men own everything, including land and animals”.
Petrona Pérez recounted how she began to grow coffee as a child in a Guatemalan village when her father migrated to the United States, explaining that she went out to sell it herself. “We must support small-scale producers, particularly through education, because everything is harder for rural women,” she said.
“The rural sector needs the associativity of small-scale producers to have representative organisations,” stated Lucila Quintana from Peru. “Today, women are on the board of directors of their respective co-operatives, but we still have a lot of work to do to promote capacity-building, digital inclusion and access to new information and communication technologies.”
During the virtual event, Liliana Jiménez Molina from Colombia and Tamisha Lee from Jamaica, both with significant experience in the agricultural sector, were recognised as delegates of the Hemispheric Platform for Rural Women.
The platform is a website launched by IICA, in August, with the aim to create networks, facilitate access to training opportunities and drive an exchange of experiences to help empower the women of the Americas who live and work in rural areas.
Jiménez is a cocoa farmer and noted advocate of rural women’s rights in the department of Cundinamarca, Colombia. She was always recognised by IICA as a #LeaderofRurality.
CAUSE OF EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES
The Colombian thanked IICA for “taking up the cause of equal opportunities for rural women” and underscored the importance of the Hemispheric Platform: “I am committed to promoting it so that rural women can influence and promote structural changes”. Jiménez invited female farmers in the region to register on the platform.
Lee is president of the Jamaica Network of Rural Women Producers and defends the rights of rural women in her country, across the Caribbean and around the world. In July, she participated in the United Nations Food Systems Pre-Summit in Rome where she made a statement on behalf of female farmers.
“The Platform provides a tool to promote inclusive food systems that promote health, well-being and smart agricultural practices. The pandemic has had a number of economic impacts that have increased inequality; that is why women must help each other and men should join the cause,” she said.
In turn, Manuel Otero, Director-General of IICA, emphasised that International Day of Rural Women is not a celebration. “We commemorate this date to point out that we have a pending debt with rural women and that we must put our words into action,” he said.
Otero expressed that the 58 million rural women in Latin America and the Caribbean are responsible for food security and preserving biodiversity, but that they suffer flagrant inequality that is manifest in every part of rural life.
“Only 30 per cent own farmlands, which are smaller in size and quality. The pandemic and resulting mobility restrictions increased the risk for women of being exposed to gender violence, a situation that was demonstrated in several countries in the region. Moreover, rural women earn only half of what urban women earn and a third of what their male counterparts earn,” explained IICA’s Director-General.
Otero announced that soon, IICA will convene a second meeting of the Forum of Ministers and Vice Ministers of Agriculture of the Americas, which was created in July in the framework of the Food Systems Pre-Summit to promote public policies that empower rural women and promote recognition of their rights. (IICA)