The general discussion on the empowerment of rural women in economic, political, and social life across the world was informative and encouraging. Over the past few years, I have spent time working in West Africa and was particularly inspired by the addresses given by representatives from Mozambique and Cameroon. They highlighted a number of key issues and challenges facing rural women in their countries: food security, health care, education, and economic opportunity. I was hopeful and excited about government policies focusing on the active participation of women. In order to create sustainable development, it is imperative that women are fully-engaged agents in this process.
The speakers highlighted several initiatives aimed at empowering rural women, moving toward gender equality, and reducing the “gap” between policy and practice. For example, providing equitable access to primary school (including non-formal opportunities and incentive programs for women in rural communities), providing healthcare facilities and pre-natal assistance, training centers for nurses, improved agricultural techniques, sustainable use of natural resources, policies to protect women against violence, and placing women at the center of decision-making. According to the speakers, promoting the social and political participation of women in rural areas will strengthen civil society. This discussion prompted me to reflect on my experiences in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, where women have become actively engaged in advocacy campaigns illustrating the challenges facing local villages.
Another speaker from Bangladesh identified the need to guarantee equal rights and opportunities for rural women, as well as mainstream the issue of gender into government policies. By doing so, development programs will create scenarios in which women can take the lead in transformative change. I was also captivated by the discussion of food security as a human right. A theme throughout the discussion, food security and nutrition is critical to the plight of rural women and their families. By establishing strategies to address food security, local, national, and international actors will enhance the lives of so many people. The focus on food security as a human right reminded me of similar comments made by President Carter at an event I attended in Seattle a month ago. Reflecting on this powerful discussion, I feel encouraged and inspired by the progress being made in several contexts, while realizing there are still many hurdles to overcome.