Rural women a ‘powerful force’ for global climate action: UN Secretary-General, António Guterres

Rural women and girls across the world are a “powerful force” in global action to respond to climate change, according to the UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

In a message to mark the International Day of Rural Women, observed annually on 15 October, the UN chief said that “listening to rural women and amplifying their voices is central to spreading knowledge about climate change and urging governments, businesses and community leaders to act.”

The theme for this year’s celebration is “Rural Women and Girls Building Climate Resistance.”

Mr Guterres added that “they are a repository of knowledge and skills which can help communities to use nature-based, low-carbon solutions to adapt to what the UN considers the defining issue of our time.”

“As early adopters of new agricultural techniques, first responders in crises and entrepreneurs of green energy, rural women are a powerful force that can drive global progress,” he said.

Globally, one in three women works in agriculture, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).

It is a sector that gets hit hard when climate-related disasters strike, such as droughts and heat waves. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that between 2006-2016, a quarter of total damage and loss caused by climate-related disasters in developing countries occurred in agriculture.

While women cultivate land, collect food, water and essential fuels, and sustain entire households, the UN chief pointed out that they lack equal access to land, finances, equipment, markets and the power to make decisions.

“Climate change exacerbates these inequalities, leaving rural women and girls further behind,” he said, adding that women “suffer disproportionately” in climate disasters.

Empowering women in the Bolivian Amazon

Women, including some from indigenous communities, are helping to protect forests in the northern Bolivian Amazon through a series of economic empowerment projects funded in part by UN Women.

Sandra Justiniano, 35, is among 24 people from Buen Retiro community who process wild fruits from the jungle such as açaí, majo, and cupuaçu to sell to local suppliers. At the same time, they are trained in how to care for the forest, for example by not burning during dry periods.

Prior to the project, the residents sold 200 litres of açaí juice per day, produced by hand.  Today, their output is up to 500 litres daily, plus they extract the pulp for sale.

“It has improved our incomes; we acquired new knowledge about empowerment, about our rights and finances; we learned to present projects; we know about expanding markets ,” Ms. Justiniano told UN Women recently.

“We are able to speak in public, participate actively, present our economic proposals to the authorities, and negotiate with them. That is empowerment.”

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) estimates that around 40 per cent of the global population, or some three billion people, live in the rural areas of developing countries, most of whom depend on small family farms to earn a living.

The agency believes that investing in rural people is the long-term solution to problems the world currently faces such as hunger, poverty, youth unemployment and forced migration.

Promoting gender equality is an IFAD priority because “when women are empowered, families, communities and countries benefit”.

That message is echoed in the UN Secretary-General’s call to support rural women in building climate resilience.

“One of the most effective ways to achieve progress on the threats posed by climate change is addressing gender inequality,” he said.

“Empowered women have greater capacity to respond to climate change and they play important roles in adopting low-carbon technologies, spreading knowledge about climate change, and urging action.”