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

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO): Comparative Advantage

Primary Mandate/Concentration in Relation to Rural Women

UNESCO's mission is to contribute to the building of peace, the eradication of poverty, sustainable development and intercultural dialogue through education, the sciences, culture, communication and information. The Organization focuses, in particular, on two global priorities:

  • Africa
  • Gender equality

And on a number of overarching objectives:

  • Attaining quality education for all and lifelong learning
  • Mobilizing science knowledge and policy for sustainable development
  • Addressing emerging social and ethical challenges
  • Fostering cultural diversity, intercultural dialogue and a culture of peace
  • Building inclusive knowledge societies through information and communication

UNESCO's mandate for promoting quality education for all is relevant for rural women and girls in ensuring their access to primary and secondary education and increasing women's literacy, and access to technical and vocational knowledge.

UNESCO has paid particular attention to the key role of rural women as holders of local and indigenous knowledge and as agents of change and community cohesion at the local level. In particular, UNESCO highlights the transmission, preservation and elaboration of local knowledge by women, particularly that related to sustainable development, natural disaster preparedness, biodiversity and climate change.

Areas of Unique Expertise/Strength

UNESCO'S strength in relation to rural women stems from its research, policy advice and advocacy on issues important for rural women, such as girls and women's education, climate change and sustainable development, sexual and gender-based violence.

UNESCO has established two research and documentation centres on gender in post-conflict regions (Ramallah, Palestine and Kinshasa, DRC) which provide policy-relevant data and research on sexual and gender-based violence and on women's participation in decision-making, these will include data on rural women. The research and documentation centres should also provide training for women to increase participation in decision-making, including for women living in rural areas.

Approach to the Empowerment of Rural Women

UNESCO implements activities aimed at producing and diffusing policy-relevant research that will allow policy-makers and civil society to better plan and implement policies on gender equality and women's empowerment, particularly in relation to education, sexual and gender-based violence, women's political participation and participation in decision-making.

Key Tools/Activities Supporting the Empowerment of Rural Women

UNESCO's Global Partnership for Girl's and Women's Education sponsors projects to improve girls' and women's access to secondary education and women's literacy. This is particularly targeted at women who are excluded or marginalized from education in rural areas. New technologies (e.g. mobile phone technology) are used to reach women and girls who could not otherwise access formal schooling.

UNESCO produces an annual Global Monitoring Report which analyses the distribution out of school children, secondary completion rates, literacy patterns and other issues by gender, level of income (wealth), household location (urban/rural) as well ethnicity if and when possible/relevant and measures progress towards the achievement of the EFA Goals.

UNESCO has implemented community radio projects which have given rural women access to knowledge and support which has broken their isolation and thus empowered them.

Inter-agency Partnerships

  • UNDP: UNESCO serves, along with UNDP, as the co-manager of the Interagency Task Force on Gender Equality and Climate Change, with the goal of enhancing the integration of gender equality into the climate change efforts of the United Nations system, which could have a particular impact on rural women and specifically women in agriculture.