Leaving no one behind on gender equality includes making all necessary efforts to improving all aspects of the living conditions of women and girls from rural communities
By Kaitlin Drape – Rural women and girls have been marginalized because of geography, poverty, lack of education, and gender bias, but they are a key component in building the future of the global economy. Moreover, the international community must take up the challenge of addressing the plight of this fragile group, which still lags behind in benefiting from human rights initiatives.
The perilous environment for rural women and girls is the result of interconnected issues, beginning with inequality. Rural girls are less likely to be in school, since communities value boys’ education more, while girls become rooted in domestic chores.
Globally 130 million girls are out of school. Girls experience more societal taboos about their bodies. For example, there is a taboo surrounding menstruation in many societies. Girls are not educated about their bodies and often do not have good menstrual hygiene practices. Girls are subject to harmful practices like FGM (female genital mutilation), which is still prevalent, particularly in Africa, despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of countries forbid it.
More attention needs to be paid to this issue: It was only in 2012 that the General Assembly designated FGM a human rights issue. This practice – often conducted on girls as young as 8 – results in devastating lifelong medical issues, and becomes the societal passageway to child marriage and early motherhood. Moreover, rape and domestic abuse in many communities are ingrained in the culture and are rarely prosecuted. This synergy of issues results in the inability of rural women and girls to rise out of poverty and abuse; these women need legal, educational and social remedies to change traditional mind-sets, enforce laws, and gain the confidence necessary for them to achieve their potential.
Women’s Development Initiatives
CSW62 highlighted numerous initiatives which are focused on dealing holistically with the precarious situation of rural women. For example, the African Medical and Research Foundation (AMREF) has programs which educate communities in Kenya about the dangers of FGM through personal contact, community forums, and videos. Equality Now helps prosecute practitioners and educate the community to the fact that it is illegal and violates human rights, according to Yasmeen Hassan, Global Executive Director. The Centre for Family Health Initiatives has worked on the ground in Nigeria to shift attitudes about violence against women, which has included community forums and a billboard campaign as well.
UNICEF has taken the lead in providing accessible and low cost educational opportunities, according to Omar Abdi, Deputy Executive Director. Its programs attempt to bring schools closer to the rural communities since children often cannot travel far distances because of lack of transportation and poor infrastructure.
Digital and STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is also crucial to the process. Programs like Africa Code Week, which conducts hundreds of coding workshops all over the continent, provides the skills needed for young Africans to take part in the digital economy. Last year, the program focused particularly on girls, and 538,000 girls were trained during the event, according to Hemang Desai, from SAP, the technology company which co-sponsors the event. Private sector partnerships have contributed to the success of other programmes. Microsoft has partnered with ProMujer, for example, an organization which empowers women in Latin America. Their workshops have taught women coding and website building which has enabled women to promote their own local businesses.
The Social Work and Research Centre, commonly known as Barefoot College, has a programme which helps rural women become solar engineers. The programme teaches rural women to install, maintain and repair solar power systems for the homes in rural communities without electricity. Called the “Solar Mamas,” these women come from around the world for the training, and then take their skills and knowledge back to their communities.
CSW62 made it clear that it is necessary to enforce national and international laws and hold governments accountable, provide funding and personnel to establish initiatives on the ground to change harmful practices and ingrained attitudes, and create partnerships with the private sector to engage women and girls in educational programmes that can provide a path to self-determination.