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The 56th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women

The 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW-56) will take place at United Nations Headquarters in New York City from February 27 to March 9, 2012. The theme of CSW-56 is “the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenge.” This session will also review the progress of the theme of CSW-52: “financing for gender equality and the empowerment of women.”

Rural Women

According to the Women’s World Summit Foundation (www.woman.ch), Rural women comprise more than one quarter of the total world population. Five hundred million women live below the poverty line in rural areas. Women produce 60–80 percent of basic foodstuffs in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean. Women perform more than 50 percent of the labor involved in intensive rice cultivation in Asia. Women perform 30 percent of the agricultural work in industrialized countries. Women head 60 percent of households in some regions of Africa, and women meet 90 percent of household water and fuel needs in Africa. Women process 100 percent of basic household foodstuffs in Africa.

Rural communities have unique needs and vulnerabilities because of a lack of infrastructure, limited access to markets, and the stresses of industrialization and urbanization on rural environments. The United Nations (U.N.) estimates that “70 percent of the developing world’s 1.4 billion people in extreme poverty live in rural areas”. Due to societal roles, climate change and limited access to resources, rural women are often left more vulnerable than their urban counterparts. According to the U.N. Population Fund, as the world becomes more urbanized, the world’s rural population often becomes more vulnerable because it must bear much of the weight of urban consumption.

Article 14 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) adopted by the United Nations in 1979 focuses “on the particular problems faced by rural women, including the areas of women’s participation in development planning, access to adequate health care, credit, education, and adequate living conditions.”

There have been significant breakthroughs in child and maternal health through technology and resources, but child and maternal mortality rate remain high in rural areas because of limited access to health care. Since rural women may not have adequate access to doctors, nurses or midwives, childbirth is still an extremely risky time for both mother and child. For example, fistula is common and has devastating physical and social consequences (the U.N. estimates that up to 100,000 new cases of fistula develop each year, even though it is largely preventable with the proper support at childbirth). Migration is also a major issue for rural populations and brings its own health risks and consequences; the U.N. suggests that “HIV prevalence rates can be unusually high among mobile populations. HIV/AIDS therefore disproportionately affects the agriculture, transportation and mining sectors, which rely on large numbers of migrant workers.” This severely affects rural women whose husbands are migrant workers and may pass HIV to them, and rural women who are caregivers to those with HIV/AIDS take over the caregiving responsibilities of those who have died from AIDS.

Rural children are less likely to attend school because of a lack of quality education and safe transportation to and from school (25 percent of rural children in developing countries do not attend compared to 16 percent of urban children, according to U.N. reports). Safe transportation is especially important for female children because of the risk of sexual violence when they must walk long distances to school. Environmental problems from climate change or the destruction of natural resources also affects women and rural food security since it often makes their everyday tasks of getting clean water and food more arduous and time consuming. When women must spend more time doing unpaid household labor they have less time to engage in moneymaking activities; this pattern is perpetuated when female children are relied on to help with this work instead of being able to go to school. When women have the opportunities to contribute to the family income, it increases access to and control of other resources such as credit and land ownership—a move toward equality is important because women make up 20–30 percent of agricultural wage workers, but less than 2 percent of the land in the developing world is owned by women.

The United Methodist Church realizes that in an increasingly industrialized and urbanized world the challenges and needs of rural communities can easily become overlooked and hidden while the products of the rural communities are taken for granted. With technological advancements there is great potential for improving the quality of life for rural communities, but so far this potential has yet to be realized. Instead some technological advancements create greater risks for rural communities through the destruction of natural resources and the environment. A lack of infrastructure (roads, water supply, sewers, electricity and telecommunications) plagues many rural communities especially in developing countries and leave people vulnerable. The United Methodist Church shows its commitment to rural communities through project support and Resolutions 3391–3392, Rural Issues and Rural Communities in Crisis, in The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church, 2008.

United Methodist Women Work With Rural Communities

Recognizing that rural communities are disproportionately affected by poverty, hunger and injustice, the United Methodist Women has long been committed to the needs of rural women, children and youth through education, service and advocacy. United Methodist Women has been working in partnerships with other organizations at the global, regional and national levels to empower rural women and improve quality of their life.

The majority of our global projects are designed to assist women, children and youth in rural areas to address issues of inadequate education and health care, leadership development, economic empowerment, and violence against women. The projects include training about and advocacy for women’s rights, support for education for rural women and children, health services and skills, and support for sustainable economic development programs. 

One of our primary goals is to enhance capacity of grass-roots organizations to organize and address issues of primary concerns in their communities. Education, training, and services for women are particularly important for improving life in rural communities because women generally use their resources on food and other necessities for their family more than men do.

Last Updated: 04/11/2014

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