Women's Division Statement to the Fifty-sixth Session of the Commission on the Status of Women
February 27-March 9, 2012
The United Methodist Church General Board of Global Ministries is a global mission agency that has 11 million members, 800,000 of which are directly involved in justice for women through the Women’s Division. The Women’s Division supports programs related to women, children and youth in more than 100 countries around the world.
Staff in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean work with grass-roots women in leadership development, education, income generation and gender equality. Their work with rural women contributes to our understanding of current needs and realities.
We affirm the promotion of gender equality and justice from a human rights perspective. We welcome discussion of the needs and rights of rural women around the world. Rural women in all regions cite lack of access to critical resources including health, education, transportation, rural economic development, personal security and other concerns. These access issues must be understood within the larger context of systemic global trends.
Unfair economic, trade, and finance policies have led to privatization of the public sector, a shift from small to large-scale agriculture, a focus on agricultural exports over food sovereignty, a focus on debt repayment over domestic needs, resource exploitation over environmental protection, and a focus on free trade over the protection of key natural resources and local markets. These policies, promoted by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization and OECD nations, have led to a concentration of land in corporate hands with a focus on exports. The result has been massive displacement and loss of livelihoods for
The failure of nations, particularly developed nations, to address their fossil fuel consumption has devastating consequences, particularly for rural women. Increase in oil prices drives up costs of agricultural production. The drive for “alternate fuels” shifts agriculture from food to biofuels. Both factors drive up the cost of food for millions and lead to increased hunger and poverty. An intensification of climate change due to fossil fuel consumption is leading to dramatic rural dislocation due to floods, drought, hurricanes, tornadoes and other extreme weather, undermining rural economies. Women and girls who stay in rural communities must travel farther for necessities such as water, putting them at greater risk of violence and increasing their work.
Conflict, including intense resource wars for domination of agricultural lands, water and fossil fuels, has caused massive dislocation for women in rural communities, intensified by abuse and violence against women.
Women and girls’ production is often for consumption in the home. Since this work is unpaid, the illusion that only men provide for the family and are more important/superior persists. When economic development opportunities privilege men’s resources (such as formal employment and property) as eligibility criteria, women are left out and their role in economic development is undermined.
When women find paid work, it is often insecure and unregulated, and they are paid less than men for the same work. Free market economics encourage production where resources, environments and labor can be exploited without direct consequences for the companies; this creates cycles of poverty with unsustainable strain on women and their environment.
Migration, often due to climate change or lack of opportunities in rural communities, creates situations in which women hired in service industries are vulnerable to exploitation. Trafficking for exploitative labor or sexual slavery is a global problem. Also, male migration away from rural communities often leaves women in rural communities with the additional burden of caring for the sick and elderly; this caregiving is another form of women and girls’ unpaid work and has a large impact on women in communities weakened by widespread HIV/AIDS.
Lack of infrastructure:
Inadequate roads, electricity and communication technology severely limit rural women’s mobility, create isolation and impact the options women have for their health, education and employment. This is a direct result of decades of privatization measures that have dismantled state public services as well as structural adjustment policies that have cut public sector spending on services and infrastructure.
Violence against women: Property grabbing, wife inheritance, sexual violence and domestic violence undermine women’s economic development and security. Due to a lack of infrastructure, rural women may have even less access to mechanisms of safety and justice.
Nation states have the obligation to protect through international human rights law. Frequently nations offer only superficial commitments to women’s needs and rights, doing little to fulfill this commitment. Women’s ministries in many countries have limited scope and limited power, which allows states to minimize their commitment to women’s equality.
Intersections of identities: Rural women are diverse and face different challenges, depending on their environments and social location. Women’s race, ethnicity, class, national origin, national status, religion, age, marital status and sexual orientation are all significant factors in their ability to claim women’s human rights. For example, indigenous rural women face even greater challenges since they are often marginalized because of their race/ethnicity.
Any efforts to address the immediate concerns of rural women must challenge the unjust macro-economic policies that have systematically undermined the livelihoods, food security, access to services and autonomy of rural women. Efforts must challenge current patterns of consumption that exacerbate climate change and resource wars. Rural women face immediate challenges that must be addressed, yet efforts to meet these challenges are extremely limited without concerted efforts to address systemic concerns.
We urge member states to:
- Critically examine “structural adjustment programs,” Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers, or other similar measures that undermine the public sector and basic social services.
- Encourage International Monetary Fund, World Bank and world trade programs to prioritize food sovereignty, particularly food grown by women small-scale farmers, over agro-exports and debt repayments.
- Increase the availability and accessibility of fundamental social services, including education, health care, transportation, public sector jobs and other key public services.
- Address environmental degradation and climate change, particularly through industrialized nations’ clear commitments to limiting greenhouse gas emissions and to providing adaptation funding for developing nations in COP17 and in Rio+20. We call on our own government to make binding commitments to codify reductions of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that reduce atmospheric levels of GHG to below 350 parts per million (ppm) and promote international dialogue and the development of human rights frameworks and procedures that address the challenges that are expected to emerge as climate change permanently displaces large numbers of people and entire nations.
- Engage women as peacemakers (U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325).
- Protect small-scale farms and cooperatives and create access to finance for women farmers for the improvement of agriculture and better nutrition.
- Make sure that all economic, trade, finance, development and social policies are not only gender-sensitive but address the full diversity of women’s lives, particularly regarding race/ethnicity, class, national status, religion, age, marital status and sexual orientation.
- In fulfillment of the Beijing Platform for Action commitment, national accounts should measure women’s unpaid work. This work should be factored into the real costs of production.
Development policies need gender-sensitive investment in rural areas through education, credits, training, increased access to markets as well as nonfarm employment opportunities. Governments should increase women and girls’ access to education, right to own land, right to obtain loans, right to market goods, ability to transport goods and ability to access agricultural training.