Speakers Call for ‘Crystal Clear’ Priorities in Efforts to Improve Health, Protect Rights of Rural Women, as Commission Continues General Discussion

29 February 2012

Speakers Call for ‘Crystal Clear’ Priorities in Efforts to Improve Health, Protect Rights of Rural Women, as Commission Continues General Discussion

29 February 2012
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission on the Status of Women

Fifty-sixth Session

6th & 7th Meetings (AM & PM)

Speakers Call for ‘Crystal Clear’ Priorities in Efforts to Improve Health,


Protect Rights of Rural Women, as Commission Continues General Discussion


“Crystal clear” priorities – many of which would require major shifts in the attitudes of world leaders - began to take shape in the Commission on the Status of Women today, with senior-level Government officials calling for innovative strategies to improve the health of rural women, protect their rights and facilitate their engagement in economic and public life.

“We know very well what needs to be done,” said Norway’s State Secretary for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, as the Commission continued its fifty-sixth session.  One message was crystal clear: gender equality and the empowerment of women were preconditions for sustainable development.  To that end, delegations were calling for more action in three priority areas: the protection and promotion of rural women’s human rights; their full participation in economic life; and their engagement in political and public life.

However, there were barriers to action on those fronts at the highest levels of government, she cautioned.  “Doing the right thing for women and for the planet would require a change of mindset […] among the rich and powerful elites around the world,” she said, noting in that respect that the majority of such leaders were men.  For that reason, it was crucial to mobilize men and boys in favour of women’ empowerment, she emphasized.  “Stop promoting the short-term self-interest,” she said, addressing male leaders directly and asking them to consider the long-term collective good.  “Your first test will be [at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development] in Rio in four months,” she added.

As the Commission continued its general discussion throughout the morning, State ministers and other high-ranking Government officials said that some innovative actions towards improving the situation of rural women on a grand scale were making progress.  Many delegates described national initiatives and policies in the areas of skills-training, education and raising awareness of women’s rights and support for female entrepreneurship, among others.  For example, Turkey’s Deputy Minister for Family and Social Policy described his country’s national rural development strategy, which sought to create formal employment opportunities for women currently working in the informal economy.  A programme establishing community centres aimed at promoting women’s participation in public life had been very successful, he said, adding that the model had even been exported to several other countries.

Pakistan’s Goodwill Ambassador on Women’s Empowerment spotlighted her country’s Benazir Income Support Programme, the largest-ever social-protection programme, saying that it provided direct financial support to women in poor households as well as skills-training, access to health-care insurance, education and loans for female entrepreneurship.  Seven million poor families nationwide would benefit from the programme, she said, noting that in the last three years, more than 12 million women, 70 per cent of whom were from rural areas, had been given computerized national identification cards to gain access to multiple services.

Other delegates described their Governments’ efforts in the context of international development, with the representative of the United States emphasizing that investing in women was not only the right thing to do, it was the smart thing to do.  In Uganda, for example, the United States was working with partners to implement women-led community-protection programmes in agriculture and sanitation, she said, adding that her country had also been involved in creating the innovative Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index, launched in the Commission on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, other delegations illustrated their respective national experiences with several key issues that resounded throughout the morning’s discussion — women’s land rights and the complete elimination of female genital mutilation, a common practice in some rural parts of the world.  Kenya’s Minister for Gender, Children and Social Development said her country was formulating new laws that would significantly transform women’s access to and control over land.  In addition, Kenya had passed the 2011 Prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation Act with a view to ending one of the most insidious practices affecting rural women’s health.

Uganda’s Minister of State for Gender and Culture said her country’s Government remained committed to translating policies in support of gender equality into action.  It had adopted several important laws in that respect, including the Land Act, which guaranteed the right to occupancy where spousal consent was a requirement prior to any transaction on matrimonial land.  Uganda had also intensified action to address gender-based violence, including female genital mutilation.

Several speakers referred to a draft resolution by which the General Assembly would call for the global eradication of female genital mutilation and called for action to adopt such a text at the earliest possible date.  Burkina Faso’s Minister for the Promotion of Women expressed hope that the Commission would ask the General Assembly to adopt the text, thereby following the lead of the African Union’s Heads of State and Government Summit.

Still other delegations pointed to recent world events — the Arab Spring uprisings in particular — as evidence that the situation of women around the world was changing.  The President of Egypt’s National Council for Women, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, said her countrywomen had played a key role in the fight for freedom, dignity and social justice.  Finland’s State Secretary for Education and Culture noted that, during the Arab Spring, women from different social backgrounds had joined together to demand empowerment.  “A women or a girl can only be an active participant in society if she has the rights and knowledge needed to make decisions concerning her own body, sexuality and reproductive health,” he said, adding that empowerment increased the possibilities for women and girls to acquire a good education and find decent work outside their homes.

Also speaking during the morning’s general discussion were ministers, senior Government officials and other high-level representatives from Canada, Congo, Togo, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Panama, Tuvalu, Mozambique, Cameroon, Bangladesh, Peru, Nicaragua, Ireland, Argentina, Australia, Georgia, Germany, Sweden, India and Senegal.

An observer for Palestine also participated, as did a representative of the non-governmental organization International Alliance of Women.

In the afternoon, the Commission held a panel discussion on the role of gender-responsive governance and institutions in the empowerment of rural women.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m., 1 March, to hold a panel discussion on “Financing for gender equality and the empowerment of women”.


The Commission on the Status of Women continued its fifty-sixth session this morning, returning to its general discussion on the priority theme — the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, sustainable development and current challenges.  For more information, see Press Release WOM/1889 of 24 February.


RONA AMBROSE, Minster for Public Works and Government Services and Minister for the Status of Women of Canada, said her country had taken action to support projects that helped women attain economic self-sufficiency and engage in the labour market, including through non-traditional career training in the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador.  It had established a network of centres to help women start businesses.  The Government had recently requested proposals for projects focused on reducing violence against women and girls, and encouraging economic security for women in rural and remote communities.  Such grass-roots projects would play a critical role in supporting the empowerment of women and girls across rural Canada, she said.  The Government had also taken action to provide training, life-skills development and entrepreneurship programmes for aboriginal women across the country.  It had also implemented a number of innovative projects aimed at involving men and boys in promoting the well-being of women and girls, and in fostering their participation in decision-making and leadership.

MADELEINE YILA BOUMPOTO, Minister for the Promotion of Women and the Integration of Women in Development of Congo, said that her country’s national gender policy, adopted in 2008, was accompanied by an action plan aimed at reducing gender inequalities by placing power in the hands of women.  Congo had launched its UN Women office in November 2011, and had undertaken studies on the situation of women, demonstrating its commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment, she said.  Alongside its development partners, the Government had also undertaken rural development projects aimed at improving agricultural yields and provided microcredit loans to women.  There was also a group engaged in supporting women’s income-generating activities.

NAOMI NAMSI SHAABAN, Minister for Gender, Children and Social Development of Kenya, said gender equality and non-discrimination were key principles of her country’s 2010 Constitution, which had ushered in a new era for women’s empowerment and the eradication of poverty and hunger.  Kenya had progressively enacted, and was enforcing, laws to protect women’s rights, and was formulating new ones that would transform significantly their access to and control over land.  The legislation included land-reform bills and the 2012 marriage and matrimonial property bills.  The 2011 prohibition of female genital mutilation act and the 2006 prevention and control of HIV/AIDS act aimed to address gender-based violence and its devastating impact on the health of rural women, she said, emphasizing that the legal and policy frameworks had been further strengthened by the creation of several independent institutions, such as the National Gender and Equality Commission and the Kenya National Human Rights Commission.  The Government was also providing women and small-scale farmers with subsidized fertilizer and certified seeds, as well as irrigation schemes intended to boost production levels and ensure food security.

MERVAT TALLAWY, President, National Council for Women of Egypt, speaking on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement, recalled that last month, her country had celebrated the first anniversary of the 25 January revolution, in which Egyptian women had played a key role in the fight for freedom, dignity and social justice.  The recently revived National Council for Women intended to focus on rural development and the empowerment of poor women, she said, adding that it had helped rural women obtain identity cards so they could gain access to Government services, including loans and credit facilities.  It had also established a training centre to help women establish small businesses and advise them on marketing strategies.  The National Council had also set up microcredit programmes for women-headed households.

However, much remained to be done in terms of enabling rural women to become economically self-sufficient and gain access to the same public services available to people in urban areas, she said.  Affirming her country’s strong commitment to promoting the economic empowerment of women in rural areas, in line with the Doha Declaration and Programme of Action adopted two weeks earlier during the Non-Aligned Movement’s third ministerial meeting on the advancement of women, she said Egypt would preside over next month’s Afro-Asian Rural Development Organization meeting in New Delhi, which would focus on the development of rural women, among other things.  Egypt also supported women in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and its efforts to mediate between Palestine and Israel had resulted in the release of many women detained in Israeli prisons.

NESTORINE SANGARÉ COMPAORÉ, Minister for the Promotion of Women of Burkina Faso, associating herself with the African Group and the “Group of 77” developing countries and China, said that in 2009, her country had adopted a law mandating quotas for women’s participation in elections.  The Government had revised the Criminal Code to better protect the rights of women and allow them to own land, and was working to support sustainable development, with a particular focus on rural women.  In 2011, it had established a national council to combat female genital mutilation — an issue requiring special attention from the international community — as well as a joint programme on preventing violence against women.  However, major challenges, including illiteracy and poverty, still made it difficult to promote women in all sectors, she said, expressing hope that the Commission, following the lead of African Union Heads of State and Government, would invite the General Assembly to adopt a resolution on eliminating female genital mutilation.

OLIVIA AMEDJOGBE-KOUEVI, Minister for the Promotion of Women of Togo, said that her ministry’s mission statement focused on promoting women’s access to land and credit, and on ensuring that they benefitted from their own agricultural production.  “Women feed people, so why should they not benefit?” she asked, emphasizing that women should also be able to inherit land on an equal footing with men.  Civil society was very active on the ground, engaging in building the capacities of women farmers, with the aim if ensuring national food security.  Awareness of legal issues was being raised to facilitate understanding among women — rural women, in particular — of their rights, she said.

CHÉRIF NANTENIN KONATÉ, Minister for Social Affairs and the Promotion of Women and Children of Guinea, noted that 86 per cent of her country’s poor lived in rural areas, more than half of whom were women.  With that in mind, Guinea’s second poverty reduction strategy paper focused on eliminating gender inequality and empowering women to participate in political life and decision-making.  Most working women were involved in agriculture, to which they dedicated 80 per cent of their time, she said.  Largely illiterate and unaware of their rights, they enjoyed only limited access to resources and controlled only a scant portion of the profits from agriculture despite their contribution to development.  Guinea had ratified almost all regional and international instruments on women’s protection and promotion, she said, pointing to Government efforts to help women, through national programmes to combat the feminization of poverty and to promote literacy and health care for women in rural areas.  The Government had also created a national solidarity fund for women and youth, and a national microfinance agency, among other programmes.

STEPHEN J. GAOJIA, Minister for Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs of Sierra Leone, said that the role played by rural women in his country’s socio-economic structure and their unquantifiable contribution to household economies and to the country’s overall well-being could not be overstated.  At the same time, the Government was aware that they often bore the brunt of armed conflict and natural disasters, and that they were often marginalized on many fronts.  In response, the Government had engaged fully with its development partners to carry out measures for the empowerment of rural women, particularly in such areas as skills training, economic self-sufficiency and education.  The Government had enacted laws on domestic violence, property rights and registration of customary marriages and divorces.  A bill on sex offences would, when enacted, address sexual abuse such as rape, including marital rape.  On broader measures, he said the Government was committed to ensuring that at least 30 per cent of positions in decision-making bodies and mechanisms were held by women.  In line with its obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the Government was also reviewing its 2009 chieftaincy act, specifically to address discrimination against woman in chieftaincy, he said, adding that the Paramount Chiefs had recently endorsed their position in favour of increasing female representation in chieftaincy.

RABHI DIAB, Minister for Women’s Affairs of Palestine, said that alongside serious development challenges such as the lack of overall funding for income-generating projects aimed at increasing productivity, Palestinian women faced an additional obstacle that surpassed many of them — the 45‑year Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, including East Jerusalem.  Palestinian women bore the brunt of the occupation as well as the oppressive and destructive accompanying Israeli policy, she said, pointing to the serious deterioration of the social, economic, political and humanitarian situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  Listing “illegal practices” carried out by Israel, she said occupying forces prevented Palestinian women and their families from accessing land, markets and basic services.  It was well known that the most effective way to empower rural women was to enhance their control over their land and improve their ability to cultivate it, but the “sheer brutality” of Israel’s policies continued to degrade the environment, while ensuring its own continuing control over access to water resources.  “It has become quite clear that while Palestinian women build, the occupation continues to destroy; while Palestinian women cultivate, illegal settlers uproot and burn fields,” she said, stressing that through it all, Palestinian women had demonstrated strength and resilience.  For its part, the Palestinian leadership had undertaken many programmes that addressed policies relating to the rights and needs of women in order to change such laws for the better, she said.

ALMA LORENA CORTÉS AGUILAR, Minister for Labour and Workforce Development of Panama, said the latest national census, taken in 2010, indicated that approximately 1.2 million people lived in her country’s rural areas.  The Government had developed concrete strategies aimed at empowering women and addressing their needs on a priority basis.  Mother-teacher schools, libraries and parks, which were frequently used by women, now offered information and communications technology services, and a national public health strategy paid special attention to women’s well-being.  Since Beijing, she said, Panama had established the National Council on Women, the Special Committee for the Prevention of Violence against Women and other bodies engaged in the active promotion of women’s rights.  Such actions were supported through seed capital programmes and other business-based efforts, she said, adding that the Office of the First Lady was deeply involved.  The “network of opportunities” was another national project aimed at supporting impoverished communities, she said, adding that affirmative-action programmes helped to ensure that working women were receiving a fair wage.

PELENIKE ISAIA, Minister for Home Affairs of Tuvalu, said women had always been considered the “experts” in most critical areas of social life, from rearing children to setting up women’s committees and teaching spiritual enrichment.  Their contribution had had a major impact on Tuvalu’s overall economy although it was largely undocumented.  Urging continued investment in rural women who had to cope with the burden of sustaining the welfare of family members and combating major development challenges every day, she said their advancement in all aspects of life was also society’s advancement.  Stressing the importance of addressing gender equality, equity and women’s empowerment as a priority, she detailed the Government’s efforts to enable women’s participation in economic development through a microcredit scheme, improved mother and child health and environmental protection projects.

IOLANDA CINTURA, Minister for Women and Social Action of Mozambique, said women were the mainstay of her country’s rural economy, and the Government had taken several initiatives to empower them in key areas, such as health, education, agriculture, the environment and energy.  Training and literacy programmes aimed to empower rural women in small business management and to promote women’s rights through gender-sensitive legislation and the use of sound agricultural technologies to increase production.  The Government had worked to create women’s associations, encourage community management of natural resources and facilitate women’s access to credit.  It was promoting the development of small-scale industry in post-harvest processing and carrying out awareness campaigns on nutrition, food security and the human right to food.  The 2006 employment and training strategy promoted the right to decent work and aimed to create jobs, she said, adding that the Government had used it to promote the work of female producers and suppliers of sugarcane.  The Government’s strategy on gender, the environment and climate change aimed to ensure equal access to and control over natural resources as well as technology to adapt to and mitigate climate change.

ABENA ONDOA, Minister for Empowerment of Women of Cameroon, said that to empower women in her country, the Government had developed many programmes in education, health care, agriculture and rural development.  On education, it had set up 89 women’s empowerment centres in urban and rural areas, as well as 189 proximity vocational training centres.  Free primary education was provided in rural areas and the Government had established 3,067 integrated health centres and subdivisional medical centres into rural areas in addition to giving financial incentives and housing subsidies to health-care workers in rural areas.   To promote a role for women in decision-making, the Government involved them in the preparation and implementation of local development plans and promoted women to serve on executive boards and management committees focused on food security and rural household income promotion.  She said the Government had set up multipurpose community telecommunications centres in rural areas to help bridge the urban-rural digital divide.

SHIRIN SHARMIN CHAUDHURY, Minister for Women and Children’s Affairs of Bangladesh, said women’s empowerment required a pro-poor strategy, noting that the feminization of poverty was a particular challenge.  Social safety-net protection schemes for extremely poor women constituted a critical element of national strategy in that respect, she said, adding that food and financial allowances were paid to women in order to prevent them from slipping further into poverty and to prevent food and nutrition crises.  Comprehensive skills-training and education initiatives had been undertaken, and the Climate Change Trust Fund was used to protect women from the particular effects of climate change that threatened them.  Across the country, positive indicators of women’s advancement were reflected in the enrolment of girls and women in schools, she said, adding that their participation in all levels of Government and public life had risen.

MARCELA HUAITA ALEGRE, Vice-Minister for Agriculture and Forestry of Peru, associated herself with the Group of 77, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) and the Southern Common Market (MERCOSUR).  She said the Government had adopted a rights-based approach to gender equality and women’s empowerment, implementing strategic programmes with a gender focus.  In order to eradicate poverty and extreme poverty in rural areas, a holistic strategy was needed, she said, adding that it should involve food security, infant health and women’s reproductive health.  Social programmes that provided financial assistance to women in the country’s poorest areas were in place and had helped to advance women, who were “directly responsible for development”.  Policies should focus on increasing the education of women on their own rights and ensuring they were more involved in society.

AMANDA LORIO ARANA, Deputy Minister for Agricultural Research in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Nicaragua said that under her country’s National Reconciliation and Unity Government, rural women were creating better lives for themselves.  Since 2007, social marginalization, food insecurity and desolation in rural areas had become features of the past, she said, explaining that the Government had achieved that by creating the National Human Development Plan, focused on food security and sovereignty.  The Government’s food security and sovereignty strategy, which aimed to achieve the first Millennium Development Goal — eradicating extreme hunger and poverty — had reinstated the right of rural women to property and food production chains.  Between May 2007 and December 2011, the Government had distributed more than 50,000 cows, 29,000 female pigs, 9,800 sheep, 4,000 female goats and 600,000 fowl to some 100,000 poor, rural women.  Women had organized themselves into groups, opened savings accounts and established formal commercial links with the Government.  Those and other steps had enabled rural women to increase their family finances and improve family nutrition, she said.

KATHLEEN LYNCH, Minister of State for Disability, Equality, Mental Health and Older People of Ireland, said her country’s new Government, elected one year ago, had made a significant commitment to gender equality, particularly concerning women in decision-making.  To increase women’s representation in Parliament, her Ministry had organized a cross-party conference on women and politics last month, she recalled.  That event had coincided with new legislation requiring parties to introduce a candidate quota for women in the next general election.  The new Government had also committed to increase the proportion of women appointed to State boards from the current 34 per cent to 40 per cent, she said.  Many women in rural areas had established their own successful businesses, frequently related to agriculture and food production, and the Government encouraged the transfer of their expertise to other women through such events as the annual National Women’s Enterprise Day Conference.

AŞKIN ASAN, Deputy Minister for Family and Social Policy of Turkey, said her country’s parliament supported gender equality and had done much to boost the education of girl children, among other goals, over the last decade.  However, rural women still faced the challenges of weak civil organizations, a shortage of initiatives and work opportunities, and the absence of social security, among others.  The national rural development strategy sought to create formal employment opportunities for women currently employed in the informal sector while seeking also to enhance access to education.  Turkey also sought to bring sustainable solutions to rural women, she said, outlining several initiatives implemented in that context.  They included a programme establishing community centres, which aimed to promote women’s participation in public life.  It had been very successful and the model had been exported to several other countries, she said.  Agricultural extension programmes sought to educate rural women on agricultural matters, and all-women agricultural cooperatives had also been established.  Most recently, Turkey had been the first country to ratify the Council of Europe’s “Istanbul Convention”, the first international instrument aimed at preventing violence against women.

GLORIA BENDER, International Special Representative on Women’s Issues of Argentina, said her country’s Government focused on equality and respect for human rights in its public policies.  The State was engaged in promoting rural development, both through funding and public policies, and its actions were based on a strong legislative framework, she said.  In December 2011, Argentina had adopted the Statute on the Rural Labourer, which sought to eliminate all workplace discrimination.  Among other things, it had restored trade union and collective rights, ensured a minimum wage and established a retirement age for both men and women.  While major inequalities between men and women remained in terms of access to resources, the Government was working to counter such challenges through a number of initiatives, she said.

FIZA BATOOL GILANI, Goodwill Ambassador on Women’s Empowerment of Pakistan, said her country had enjoyed the distinction of having the first-ever female Prime Minister and female Speaker of the National Assembly in the Muslim world.  Women now comprised 22.2 per cent of the National Assembly and 17 per cent of the Senate.  The Government’s commitment to women’s issues was evident in a range of legislative and administrative measures, such as the recent laws against acid crimes, domestic violence and workplace harassment.  Parliament had recently passed the 2012 National Commission on the Status of Women Bill, which provided for complete financial and administrative autonomy.

The Government had also created the Office of the Ombudsperson for Protection of Women against Harassment at the Workplace, she said.  In 2010, the Prime Minister had declared International Women’s Day as National Rural Women’s Day, she said.  The Benazir Income Support Programme, the largest-ever programme for social protection, gave direct financial support to women in poor households as well as skills-training, access to health-care insurance, education and loans for female entrepreneurship.  Seven million poor families nationwide would benefit from the programme, she said, adding that in the last three years, more than 12 million women, 70 per cent of them from rural areas, had been given computerized national identification cards that provided access to multiple services.  Under another initiative, the Government had distributed land to landless farmers, 70 per cent of whom were women.

PENNY WILLIAMS, Global Ambassador for Women and Girls of Australia, said her country had a long history of working to address the challenges faced by women in rural and remote communities.  From the outback to schoolrooms in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan Province and beyond, Australia supported programmes to empower rural women and girls to achieve greater economic security, education and skills-training.  In 2011, leaders of the Commonwealth countries had affirmed, through the Perth Declaration of Food Security Principles, the important role of women in sustainable development and climate-smart agriculture and food security, she recalled.  Australian aid supported the Global Agricultural Food Security Programme, which provided funding for smallholder farmers, and education was the central focus of its new aid policy, she said, adding that between 2010 and 2015, the country would invest 5 billion Australian dollars in education in developing countries.  Australia was working to roll out high-speed Internet access in rural and remote areas, which would improve rural women’s ability to access educational, business and networking opportunities.  The Government supported rural women’s leadership by funding activities that could help build leadership capacity in rural and remote Australian communities.

TAMAR KINTSURASHVILI, Deputy Minister for Family and Social Policy of Georgia, said her country’s Constitution was one of the first in Eastern Europe to guarantee women’s rights.  Today, Georgia had made significant progress towards empowering women; it had adopted laws against human trafficking and gender violence, among others, and revised older laws to encourage the participation of women in politics and public life.  She stressed that since parts of Georgia remained occupied, internally displaced persons were still deprived of their right to return to their homes.  Internally displaced women had been actively involved in determining their own priorities and needs, she said, adding that special educational programmes had been established and civil issues — including gender sensitive topics — integrated into the national curriculum.  The Government supported the work of women employed in agribusiness and other fields, she said.

JOSEF HECKEN, State Secretary in the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth of Germany, said that in order to identify and address the challenges faced by women in rural areas, the Government was working with non-governmental organizations to learn more about the causes of inequalities in the rural areas, to train women as disseminators in matters relating to equal rights and to integrate them more firmly into the institutions and organizations of the country’s regional structures.  The Government was also involved in a large number of projects around the world in support of the sustained advancement and protection of women in rural areas.  Within the framework of the United Nations Committee on World Food Security, the German Government supported the rapid adoption of the “Voluntary Guidelines on Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security”, he said.  With its 10‑point rural development and food security programme, the Government was committed to supporting gender equality as an approach to overcoming hunger and poverty, he added.

AMELIE VON ZWEIGBERGK, State Secretary for Gender Equality of Sweden, said that closing the gender gap in fulfilment of human rights for everyone in rural areas would produce significant gains for society.  Sweden was firmly committed to that goal as a member of the Commission, a partner of UN Women and by taking very seriously the task of mainstreaming gender equality, empowering women and girls, and defending and realizing their rights.  Sweden had presented its candidacy for membership on the Human Rights Council in 2013‑2015, and if elected, would pursue those objectives relentlessly.  Over the last century, the country had travelled a long way to empower rural women, but barriers to full and equal opportunities for them still existed in rural areas, she said.  Promoting entrepreneurship, creativity and non-stereotypical ways of living was necessary to encourage modern women to stay in rural areas.  Their opportunities to own and control land and property must be improved, she said, emphasizing also the importance of increasing support for women’s and girls’ education, and of greater efforts to fight stereotypical roles and gender-based discrimination and violence.

INGRID FISKAA, State Secretary for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth of Norway, said that with the approach of the “Rio+20” Conference, one message was crystal clear: gender equality and the empowerment of women were preconditions for sustainable development  The role of women was critical, she said, adding “we know very well what needs to be done”.  She highlighted three main points in that respect.  First, the international community must promote all human rights of women, including access to the highest standards of health.  Millions of women, especially those in rural areas, lacked the ability to control their own sexual health, and early childbirth was a major barrier to women’s employment and other types of empowerment.  Second, proactive measures were needed to enable women to participate fully in economic life, including steps to increase access to credit, land, water, energy, technology and decent work.  Third, countries must take action to ensure the right of women to participate in political and public life at all levels.  Why had such steps not already been taken if the required actions were clear? she wondered, emphasizing that “doing the right thing for women and for the planet will require a change of mindset […] among the rich and powerful elites around the world” — mostly middle-aged men.  For that reason, it was crucial to mobilize men and boys for women’s empowerment.  “Stop promoting the short-term self-interest,” she said, addressing male leaders directly and asking them to consider the long-term collective good.  “Your first test will be in Rio in four months,” she stressed.

JARMO LINDÉN, State Secretary in the Ministry of Education and Culture of Finland, said the active and strong involvement of women had been evident during the Arab Spring, when women from different social backgrounds had joined together to demand empowerment.  Gender equality, the welfare state and success in business were closely linked, he noted.  In Finland, due attention to gender equality had enabled both men and women to take part in the economy, and constituted a major part of the country’s achievements.  Finland consistently supported the advancement of sexual and reproductive health and rights, he said, adding that “a women or a girl can only be an active participant in society if she has the right and knowledge needed to make decisions concerning her own body, sexuality and reproductive health”.  Such empowerment increased the possibilities of women and girls to acquire a good education and find decent work outside their homes.  Women’s participation in rural development was especially important, he said, adding that their potential must be fully utilized and their participation increased.

NEELA GANGADHARAN, Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Development of India, said her country’s agriculture policy focused on women’s economic empowerment by incorporating gender issues into the agriculture development agenda.  The Government encouraged the organization of women’s self-help groups as important vehicles for economic empowerment, and public sector banks had been advised to earmark 5 per cent of their net bank credit for lending to women.  A rural housing fund had been set up to offer financing at competitive rates and more than 90 per cent of its beneficiaries were women, she said.  The national food security bill, introduced in Parliament last December, sought to confer a legal right to cheaper food grains to 63.5 per cent of the country’s population, a move that would impact rural women in a big way.  The 2010 protection of women against sexual harassment at the workplace bill aimed to give women a safe, secure work environment.

SUSAN RICE ( United States) said that investing in women was not only the right thing to do; it was the smart thing to do.  Closing the gender gap in agriculture would provide significant gains worldwide.  Citing United States Government statistics, she said agricultural output could be raised between 2.5 to 4 per cent and hunger could be reduced among up to 150 million people around the world if women had equal access to agricultural technology and outputs.  The United States was working in countries around the world to spur agricultural production, she said, citing Uganda, where it was working with partners to implement women-led community-protection programmes in agriculture and sanitation.  The United States had also been involved in forming the innovative Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index, launched in the Commission on Tuesday.  It was essential to make women a high priority at “Rio+20”, she emphasized, noting that a key priority of President Obama’s global health initiative was to promote a gender-equality principle for women and girls.  Noting that the maternal mortality rate had dropped by 25 per cent or more in countries with a long-term commitment to family planning, she said the United States was proud to co-sponsor the draft resolution on maternal mortality.

NAKADAMA RUKIA ISANGA, Minister of State for Gender and Culture of Uganda, associating herself with the Group of 77 and the African Group, said that about 85 per cent of her country’s population was rural and depended largely on agricultural production for their livelihood.  Women constituted the largest proportion of the agricultural labour force and their contribution to Uganda’s economy was significant.  Despite the effects of the global economic crisis and the impacts of climate change, rural women in Uganda remained resilient, she said.  “They continue to provide food for their households and communities.”  The Government was committed to translating its policies in support of gender equality into action, she said.  For example, it had enacted laws protecting the rights of rural women, including the Land Act, which guaranteed the right to occupancy, whereby spousal consent was a requirement prior to any transaction concerning matrimonial land.  Intensified action to address gender-based violence, including female genital mutilation, had resulted in the passing of specific laws on domestic violence, trafficking in persons and other key areas, she said.

MAMADOU SY MBENGUE, Deputy Minister for Family and Children’s Affairs of Senegal, associating himself with the African Group and the Group of 77, said rural women in his country were essential partners in combating poverty and hunger, which were increasingly feminized.  Projects under implementation had yielded good results for women, lightening the burden of housework, strengthening the intuitional capacity of women’s groups and achieving other successful results.  Senegal was aware that a country’s development was closely linked to the participation of its women, and was therefore taking measures to strengthen their empowerment, including through the development of women’s entrepreneurship in rural areas, crop-diversification schemes and several types of education and training.

SOON-YOUNG YOON, United Nations Representative of the International Alliance for Women and Chair of CSW New York, cautioned that the economic empowerment of rural women and girls would require more than technocratic solutions.  Too often at the heart of the problem was the failure by policymakers to understand the social and cultural context of rural women’s economic needs.  That was particularly evident when agricultural policies failed to consider the wide diversity of those needs in terms of ethnicity, religion, age, sexual orientation, marital status or level of disability.  It was not enough to have good gender-budgeting indicators, she stressed, pointing out that gender-friendly banking policies would not work unless they focused on the heart of the issue.  It was vital to have a more profound understanding of the links connecting equality, development and peace, she said.

Panel Discussion

In the afternoon, the Commission held a panel discussion on “the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges”.  Moderated by Commission Vice-Chair Filippo Cinti (Italy), it featured presentations by Bintou Nimaga, Technical Adviser on gender and women’s economic empowerment, Ministry of Women’s and Children’s Affairs, Mali; Andres Teodoro Wehrle Rivarola, Vice-Minister, Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, Paraguay; Lilly Be’Souer, Founder, Voice for Change, and General Secretary, Highlands Regional Human Rights Defenders Network, Papua New Guinea; and Victor Lutenco, Adviser, Office of the Prime Minister, Republic of Moldova.

Mr. CINTI opened the discussion by saying that the panellists would examine ways to create an enabling and gender-responsive policy environment that empowered rural women and girls, guaranteed that they had equal and adequate access to public services and ensured that national development plans prioritized the role of women in promoting agricultural and rural development and in ensuring food security and nutrition.  In addition, the panellists would discuss how to remove barriers hindering women’s participation in rural policy processes, as well as ways to promote female leadership in Government, rural organizations and local communities.

Ms. NIMAGA focused on the contribution of rural women in Mali to reducing food insecurity, and on Government programmes to promote economic self-sufficiency among rural women.  Mali’s empowerment programmes and policies were guided by the 2012‑2017 strategic framework for growth and poverty reduction, which focused on improving rural women’s access to land ownership and strengthening their capacity in agro-forestry development and conservation, among other things.  The 2010 national gender strategy aimed to reduce poverty among women in rural areas, strengthen rural women’s economic self-sufficiency and achieve food security while expanding their access to microfinance, credit and technology.

Reducing gender inequity and ensuring the economic empowerment of women in rural areas required the creation of coherent institutional frameworks focused as much on sustainable development in rural areas as in other sectors, she said.  Officials were working to strengthen the gathering and analysis of national statistics in order to detect trends among rural women and develop programmes to reduce social inequity, particularly among women.  The Government also aimed to expand agricultural and household surveys conducted in rural areas to include sex-disaggregated data.

Mr. WEHRLE RIVAROLA said poverty among women in Paraguay and Latin America was due in large part to their limited access to land and the income derived from it.  While women produced between 60 and 80 per cent of Paraguay’s food, their average earnings were between 30 and 70 per cent lower and their land holdings one third the size than the corresponding levels for men.  According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), 17.9 per cent of homes in the region were headed by women, who were the main income providers in 24 per cent of such cases.  However, laws and cultural norms in the region still discriminated against women, limiting or denying outright their access to credit.  Women accounted for only one quarter of agricultural landowners.  With better access to land ownership and production, they would be able to achieve economic self-sufficiency, raise their self-esteem and gain access to technical assistance, credit and other vital services.

Ms. BE’SOUER began her presentation by screening a short film illustrating the difficult plight of rural women in the Highlands region of Papua New Guinea.  Although the country was rich in natural resources, huge resource-development projects in the Highlands had displaced thousands of farmers, polluted rivers and left most indigenous tribes impoverished and landless.  While women had the right to cultivate land, gather forest products and fish, they had no ownership rights over productive resources, she said.  They played a significant role in food production, but were ignored in the development of planning processes.   When customary land was leased for large-scale development, women did not participate and had no right to claim a direct share of leases, royalties or compensation.  They helped men to grow coffee and other commodities for export, but the latter controlled the income from cash crops and spent 70 per cent of it on themselves, she noted, adding that there were only minimal support services for rural women.

She went on to recall that in 2005 she had launched her non-governmental organization, Voice for Change, in an attempt to rectify that situation by promoting women’s economic and political empowerment.  The organization worked to increase women’s income through agricultural production and marketing.  It provided them with loans and credit, marketing materials and technical advice to expand agribusiness.  It also collaborated with national and local service providers to increase access to services, she said, adding that Voice for Change provided women with financial literacy training, helped female farmers sell their produce and conducted field visits to monitor small-scale agricultural projects.

Mr. LUTENCO said his country had made great strides towards attaining the Millennium Development Goals and implementing the recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  The Government was implementing the Women’s Economic Empowerment programme sponsored by UN Women in four districts, he said, adding that the programme was helping women gain access to service providers in employment, social protection and business development, among other areas.  With UN Women’s help, the Republic of Moldova had set up joint rural information and services bureaus which pooled the resources of local employment agencies, labour inspection offices, chambers of commerce and business development councils, he said, adding that since their establishment, many structural and institutional barriers to the economic advancement of women had begun to disappear.

He went on to say that women were now better able to address their problems concerning employment, the provision of social services, small business start-ups and land registration.  They were better able to advance educational and career opportunities while improving their living conditions.  The Government aimed to replicate the bureaus in other parts of the country with a view to achieving nationwide coverage by 2013.  The country’s experience showed that it was possible to make existing governance structures more gender-sensitive and rights-based, and that gender-responsive public services yielded immediate positive results for the entire population, especially rural women and vulnerable groups.

In the ensuing discussion, the representative of Jordan said rural women everywhere faced common challenges, which varied from region to region, therefore requiring “different prescriptions”.  He added that he had hoped to see more rural women attending the session, noting that their participation would have led to a more direct impact.

Similarly, the representative of the Swaziland said he wished more men would “come here to support this great cause”.  Noting that the socialization of children was integral to the way they behaved as adults, he said his country had launched national workshops on parenting skills in order to sensitize girls and boys to issues of gender equality and the empowerment of women.

The representative of the European Union delegation said human capital was of key importance to competiveness in global markets, and expressed worry that women’s land rights remained weak and their representation in agriculture-sector bodies inadequate.  Addressing a number of questions to the panellists, she asked who the key stakeholders in gender mainstreaming were.  What were the main challenges in integrating indigenous women and other marginalized groups into the mainstream global agenda?

A representative of the Forum for Women and Development, noting that the feminization of poverty frequently resulted from conflict, said that following the cessation of fighting, lands must be returned to women to help lift them out of extreme poverty.  While models of agrarian reform had been implemented in Latin America, rural women had been unable to pay back loans and were now poorer than before, she said, stressing that Governments around the world must avoid such results.

The representative of Israel sought examples of community mobilization, stressing that they must include men.  She also asked Ms. Be’Souer to elaborate on outreach programmes that aimed to raise women’s awareness of their rights.

The representative of Togo asked the panellist from Paraguay to elaborate on the obstacles emanating from patriarchal institutions, noting that new approaches to poverty reduction and gender empowerment frequently clashed with custom.  What was the best strategy to overcome patriarchy?

A representative of the Women’s Consortium of Nigeria said she was concerned that some policies targeting rural dwellers were not truly gender-responsive.  Rural women lived in abject poverty and were vulnerable to violence and trafficking, she said, adding that she was also concerned that the national machinery for gender equality was often underfunded and unable to monitor effectively programmes aimed at alleviating poverty for rural women.  Moreover, many such women were ignorant of policies affecting them and therefore could not benefit.

Similarly, the representative of the United States asked about evidence gaps in the areas of research as well as monitoring and evaluation.

Mr. LUTENCO, responding to several questions, said he agreed with the comments about using local culture to empower women — namely, the “bottom up” approach, which the Republic of Moldova planned to apply in pursuit of its own gender-equality strategy.  It was important for Governments to show more ownership and to use more national instruments to find data that could guide policy formulation, he said, adding that structural barriers to rural women’s empowerment — such as paternalistic attitudes — must be eliminated.

Ms. NIMAGA, responding to a question about community participation involving men, said that given Mali’s severe climate-change problems, food-security responsibilities were shared between women and men, adding value and boosting the local and national economy.

As for the question of patriarchy, she said the patriarchal system was not entirely negative.  The key was identifying and addressing the challenges of that system which contributed to social inequalities.

Mr. WEHRLE RIVAROLA, responding to the question from the Togo delegate regarding patriarchal societies, said women must be involved in formulating programmes, emphasizing that their engagement would be one way to combat the effects of patriarchy.

Ms. BE’SOUER, for her part, responded to the comment raised by the representative of the United States by saying that collecting information directly from communities was critical.  It was the community that knew its own situation best, and it could therefore help provide concrete data and information.  It was unfortunate that “participatory approaches” to gender equality were, in fact, often taken without input from women, she noted, calling for the creation of a forum in which women would be engaged in the process from the very beginning.

Also participating in the discussion were representatives of the Republic of Korea, South Africa, Pakistan, Finland, Italy, Russian Federation, Philippines, Gambia, Nigeria, Canada, Democratic Republic of the Congo, New Zealand and Brazil.  An observer for Palestine also took part, as did representatives of the civil society organizations Soroptimist International and the Japan Federation of Bar Associations.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.