Chitra Deshpande, is Founder of the Women’s Informal Network (WIN), an informal professional network of women working in international development to promote women’s leadership and managerial capacities.
Credit: FAO_Cote d’Ivoire
– This International Women’s Day we celebrate women in the changing world of work, recognizing the need to fully realize women’s working potential in order to achieve Agenda 2030. We know that when women earn money, they spend it on feeding their families and educating their children. It is estimated that if women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry people in the world could be reduced by up to 150 million.
Women worldwide carry the double burden of domestic labor and income-generating work outside the household. Despite working typically 12-13 hours per week more than men in developing countries in Africa and Asia, working women usually go unrecognized. Women in rural areas spend more of their time on domestic chores such as collecting water and firewood, preparing food, transporting goods and caring for children, the elderly and sick. They also work on family farms – spending on average three hours more per day than men on unpaid agricultural work. Equitable access to decent employment opportunities for women is critical to the well-being of their families and communities. Yet most rural women are either unpaid family workers, self-employed or hold precarious jobs for low pay.
In the United Nations, many women are committed to removing the barriers that women face in developing countries. The Joint-Programme on Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women (RWEE) is one example of how women from different UN agencies – FAO, IFAD, UN Women and WFP – are securing rural women’s livelihoods and rights in seven countries. Through the efforts of many women and men, but particularly – Clare Bishop-Sambrook and Beatrice Gerli of IFAD, Susan Kaaria and Libor Stloukal in FAO, Venge Nyirongo of UN Women, Veronique Sainte-Luce of WFP, and Azzurra Chiarini the Global Coordinator – RWEE has supported over 22,500 women and their households by enabling 2,150 women to access financial services; 5,200 to receive business development support; and training almost 4,000 women in improved agricultural technologies. As a smallholder farmer in Nepal, Chandra Kala Thapa faces many barriers to improving her agricultural productivity and income. RWEE provided her with seeds, fertilizers and equipment, and helped her access credit. Engaging the men in the community has resulted in Chandra’s husband helping her with the household work and farming. The increased income from diversifying her crops to fruits and vegetables has allowed her to educate her sons and pay for medical care. As President of her Women’s Farmers’ Group, Chandra also brings women together to find solutions to farming and family problems.
Rural women often work under conditions that are hazardous to their health. In Cote d’Ivoire, as in much of West Africa, women smoke fish in poorly ventilated rooms. Traditional smoking releases carcinogenic contaminants that lead to respiratory, eye and other health problems for women and their children. With the expertise of Yvette Diei-Ouadi, FAO Fishery Industry Officer and the support of Oumoul Khairy Ndiaye, from FAO’s office in Burkina Faso, FAO collaborated with the National Training Centre for Fisheries and Aquaculture Technicians in Senegal to develop the Thiaroye or FTT fish smoking technology – a system consisting of a dual-function oven and mechanical drier. This was designed to help small-scale fish processors, who are mainly women, prepare and market safe, high-quality food. According to Dion Somplehi, President of a cooperative of women fish processors and fish mongers, “We have seen the advantage of saving time in fish smoking and this is really important because in our communities, women are at the same time engaged in household chores – taking care of children, working in the kitchen – while carrying out fish processing activities.” The FTT oven also improved the quality of Ivorian smoked fish to meet the high food safety requirements of the European Union.
When you invest in a woman, you invest in a community. Therefore, to fully unlock a woman’s potential, it is critical to include her family. IFAD uses household methodologies to promote equitable intra-household relations and shared decision-making. In IFAD-funded projects in Uganda, originally led by the Country Programme Manager Marian Bradley with the support of IFAD’s gender team, the household mentoring approach was used to assist Biribawa, a married woman with nine children, who struggled to support her family. A trained mentor helped Biribawa and her family formulate a vision and outline the steps to achieve it. Today her children are in school and, through improved farming and mat weaving, they have realized the family vision to build a permanent house.
In order for women working in the UN to help women in developing countries, they also need a supportive work environment to take care of their own families. In her former positions at FAO and IFAD, Theresa Panuccio was instrumental in establishing on-site child-care centres which improved women’s work-life balance. As we know from our projects, on-site child care can significantly improve women’s productivity by reducing absenteeism and the travel time to collect children.
Women worldwide are daughters, mothers, and wives as well as workers – farmers, entrepreneurs, laborers and experts. To unleash our full potential, we need to join together and support one another to care for our families and perform our jobs to the benefit of our communities, societies and countries.