WomenWatch - Information and Resources on Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women

UN Women: Comparative Advantage

Primary Mandate/Concentration in Relation to Rural Women

Within its universal coverage, UN Women's mandate (GA resolution 64/289) is to lead, coordinate and promote accountability of the UN system to deliver on gender equality and the empowerment of women with the primary objective to enhance country-level coherence, ensure coordinated interventions and secure positive impacts on the lives of women and girls, including those living in rural areas. UN Women is also mandated to strengthen coherence between the global and regional intergovernmental processes and operational activities in the field.

Areas of Unique Expertise/Strength


UN Women's work is grounded in a rights-based approach and a long-standing relationship with the women's movement, gender-equality advocates, women's groups and organizations as well as national women's machineries. As the convener on gender equality within the UN system, UN-Women brings together partners to address a wide range of dimensions of rural development in a holistic, coherent and coordinated manner. UN-Women will draw on its own expertise in the areas of economic empowerment (including women's access to productive resources, such as land and finance and to employment); women's political participation; gender-responsive governance systems, institutions and budgets, and aid effectiveness; human rights, women in the context of post-conflict settings, HIV/AIDS, violence against women.

Country and Regional Presence

With strengthened country and regional presence, UN-Women is now better equipped to respond to demands for support from partner countries. Additionally, UN Women is strengthening its capacity in the area of women's political and economic empowerment, and will address sustainable development as one of its overarching themes.

Setting Performance Standards for the UN System

In its work on rural women, UN Women will draw on the UN System-wide Action Plan (SWAP), which is currently being developed by UN Women. It is seeking to establish a common framework to harmonize understanding of, and accountability to, the UN system's work on gender equality and the advancement of women. The SWAP establishes a common set of performance standards for accountability, results based management, human and financial resources, oversight, monitoring and evaluation as well as knowledge management. As such, is designed to enhance coherence and have applicability for all of the UN system's gender-related work including programmes on rural women's empowerment.

Approach to the Empowerment of Rural Women

On the basis of the above mandate, UN Women will carry out four main functions at the country level that relates to rural development and rural women's empowerment:

  1. support the development and implementation of evidence-based, gender-responsive laws, plans, policies and budgets;
  2. support gender equality advocates, both within government and non-governmental organizations, to have a stronger voice in decision-making processes;
  3. support the development and strengthening of knowledge and expertise on gender equality and the status of women and girls, including through South-South learning and exchange; and
  4. lead coordination, within the UN Resident Coordinator system, to promote enhanced coherence and accountability within the UN Country Team in providing effective support to countries in advancing gender equality and the empowerment of women, including in the development and implementation of United Nations Development Assistance Frameworks UNDAFs.

In line with its Strategic Plan (2011-2013), UN-Women is focusing on six priority areas:

  1. women's leadership and participation;
  2. women's economic empowerment;
  3. ending violence against women;
  4. peace and security and humanitarian response;
  5. gender-responsive plans and budgets; and
  6. global norms, policies and standards on gender equality and women's empowerment. All of these areas are of high relevance to rural women's empowerment. These various dimensions bring together UN Women's normative and operational functions in support to rural women.

For instance, UN Women promotes rural women's empowerment by developing global and regional normative standards (e.g. through the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) and the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD), Rio+20 and regional processes in collaboration with the regional economic communities), developing effective programmes in the field, and by working closely with national and sub-regional counterparts to advance strategies, legal frameworks and policies on rural women's empowerment, including through promoting south-south exchange of experiences. UN-Women will enhance its efforts to provide coherence, coordination and accountability on rural development where it is present at the country level including through the UNDAFs.

UN women also builds women's capacity and provides support to the formation of networks to ensure that rural women's voices are heard, have influence and are equally effective in decision-making and direction-setting at the household, local and national level. In Asia, UN Women has an historic partnership with home-based workers; rural women's networks; as well as networks raising awareness among rural women and girls about the risks of trafficking; and awareness raising activities on safe and productive migration. In Latin America, UN-Women is supporting the strengthening of networks of rural women entrepreneurs.

UN Women also works with governments to strengthen attention to rural women in national and sectoral plans and programmes. Thus, UN Women plays an important role in integrating rural women's issues into the Common Country Assessments CCAs and UNDAFs.

Key Tools/Activities Supporting the Empowerment of Rural Women

UN Women is in the process of developing its strategy for rural women's empowerment, which will help guide the work throughout the organization, from HQ to regional and country offices.

Promoting Gender Responsive Policy Environments for Rural Women

UN Women is developing a strategy and guidance for its country and regional offices on promoting rural women's economic empowerment, building on lessons learnt from promoting gender-responsive agricultural and rural development policies and budgeting, and from establishing partnerships and programmes for rural women's economic empowerment.

  • UN Women and UNCDF are implementing gender equitable local development programmes in Mali, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Rwanda, Senegal, engaging local governance institutions to deliver better services and development outcomes to rural women.
  • In Latin America, UN Women is working with partners (FAO, ECLAC and RIMISP) in establishing a territorial strategies and concerted model for rural women's economic empowerment.
  • In Asia, working with rural women home-based workers and departing/returning migrant women workers, UN-Women supports the revision/development, implementation and monitoring of policies impacting rural women's more protected employment; more secure reintegration through the use of remittances for creating sustainable livelihoods; and improved access to social protection for both home-based workers and returnees. Increasing rural women's leadership and participation.
  • In Liberia, UN Women supported the formation of a National Rural Women's Structure to serve as the umbrella organization for all rural women's groups, and as the key focal point for liaising with the Government in the development and implementation of rural development programmes.
  • In Timor Leste, UN Women supports regular consultations between key partners such as Women's Parliamentary Group of East Timor and local elected women leaders to discuss issues and challenges facing rural women and how parliamentarians can work to progress rural women's agendas. Enhancing rural women's access to productive resources, assets, skills, finance and credit, services and decent wage employment.
  • Access to land: In Central Asia, UN-Women enhanced its attention to women's access to land in governments' land reform processes. In Morocco, women supported through UN Women partners got recognition of their entitlements to collective land rights and to the proceeds from the sale of such land. In 2011, women of Ouled Oujih obtained compensation because of a sale of a collective land.
  • Access to markets: In Cambodia and Lao, the Results Based Initiative on "Improving Bamboo Handicraft Value Chains for Women's Economic Empowerment" has strengthened the capacity and productivity of women bamboo handicraft producers through the introduction of appropriate technology, training and market information. 2,500 households producing bamboo handicrafts received support to improve the quality and marketability of their products, and to access new market opportunities, therefore generating greater income.
  • Access to services: In Moldova, the Government is rolling out the UN Women model of "Joint Information and Services Bureaus (JISBs)", throughout the country. This One Window model brings together over nine service providers on employment, labour market, social protection, business, agricultural development, legal, and land related issues to coordinate the provision of information on economic opportunities and services to rural women. The UN System through the UNDAF will also provide support to the upscaling of the initiative.
  • Access to decent wage employment: In India, since 2009 the Dalit Women's Livelihoods Accountability Initiative supported by the Fund for Gender Equality has contributed to an expansion of Dalit women's access to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act/scheme. The Dalit women or women of scheduled castes face triple discrimination of gender, caste and class. Between 2009 and 2011, the participation of Dalit women in work passed from 2,811 in all eight districts of the programme to 14,174. Dalit women now have bank accounts registered in their names to receive their salary, and they are unionized to defend their rights.
  • Access to finances: In Kyrgyzstan, UN Women's "rural women's rights small grants programme" implemented through rural women's self help groups has benefitted over 11,000 women. The milk collection scheme has reduced the burden of women's unpaid work in 270 households and the small infrastructure component has decreased manual labour for over 3,000 women. The programme has increased the income of over 1,000 households. In Egypt, UN-Women supports the economic empowerment of poor rural women through a package of financial and non-financial services to enable them to move out of poverty.
  • Access to skills: In Africa, UN-Women is promoting access to solar energy by supporting training of rural illiterate grandmother in solar technology with the Barefoot College of India, so that they become Barefoot solar engineers. This will give them opportunities to access green jobs.
  • Other areas: In the Occupied Palestinian Territories, UN-Women promotes rural women development of businesses to serve school canteens that can contribute to the improvement of health and nutrition of school children. V. Inter-agency partnerships.
  • FAO, IFAD and WFP: UN Women is in the process of developing a global joint action plan on rural women with the Rome-based agencies (RBAs), FAO, IFAD and WFP.
  • UN Women partners with UNCTAD and ITC to support women informal cross border trade, many of whom are also rural women living in border areas.
  • UN Women partners with UNCDF to implement gender equitable local development programmes in 6 countries in Africa.
  • In addition, UN Women also partners with ILO, IOM, UNDP, UNICEF and WHO on issues related to rural women.

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