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Rural Women ‘Powerful Catalysts for Sustainable Development’, Agents against Poverty, Hunger, Women’s Commission Told, as General Debate Concludes

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Commission on the Status of Women
Fifty-sixth Session
12th & 13th Meetings (AM & PM)

Speakers Stress Links between Gender Equality, Empowerment and Wide Array Of Issues, Including Agricultural Finance, Migration, Urbanization, Global Trade

Calls to incorporate gender equality into a wide array of challenging global issues — from sustainable development to migration to urbanization — were at the forefront of discussions today, as the Commission on the Status of Women concluded the general debate segment of its sixty-fifth annual session.

“Rural women are powerful catalysts for sustainable development, as well as agents against poverty and hunger,” said the representative of the non-governmental organization International Trade Union Confederation, echoing the statements made by many States and intergovernmental and other organizations throughout the day. Indeed, she said, rural poverty was deeply rooted in the balance between “what women do and what they have”. Around the world, women were frequently deprived of their basic rights, including the right to collective bargaining and to safe working conditions. The world had no choice but to solidify the position of rural women, she added, as it was “on their shoulders” that sustainable development would be achieved.

Indeed, agreed the representative of Timor-Leste, as the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development — known as “Rio+20” — approached, it was crucial for the international community to once again recognize women’s vital role in the three pillars of sustainable development: economic; social; and political. In order to achieve sustainable development, gender equality and empowerment must be mainstreamed into all policies, such as health, agriculture, energy and finance, she said.

Other speakers, including the representative of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), encouraged all partners to scale up investments in rural development, finance and agriculture, as well as to expand rural women’s access to, and ownership of, productive resources and land. Mainstreaming the economic empowerment of rural women into Rio+20 was critical, he added, as it would ensure that due attention was paid to them in the post-2015 framework. Meanwhile, the representative of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies brought a unique disaster risk and reduction perspective to the issue of women’s empowerment, calling for the effective mainstreaming of gender-sensitive risk reduction into sustainable development efforts.

“In many cultures, it is the women who work in the fields,” said the representative of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), who also addressed the Commission today. However, he added, “they are often ignored in policies to support the [agricultural] sector”. Focusing on the links between global trade and the struggle for gender equality, he said that UNCTAD was examining the roles of women as producers and consumers of agricultural and food products, and had begun research on the particular impacts of trade policy and trade liberalization on women. In that context, he said, it was crucial to build the productive capacities of both women and men in developing and least developed countries, enabling them to attract more investments, to upgrade technologically, to diversify their production and to better integrate into the world economy.

International migration was yet another issue whose intersection with gender equality and women’s empowerment was explored during the day’s debate. In societies where women’s power was limited, said the representative of the International Organization for Migration, the act of migration was, in itself, empowering. Migration stimulated change in women and migrants themselves, and in the societies which sent and received them. Female migrants also made a significant contribution through their labour, both to their countries of destination and, through remittances, to their countries of origin.

At the same time, rural women could be left particularly vulnerable when the male head of household migrated, as they might face an increased workload or pressure to sustain multiple social functions. Lack of information could also have dramatic consequences on the lives of women after migration. Additionally, there was evidence that remitted money was frequently spent on consumption and not on productive purposes, and access to resources remained challenging for rural women. Therefore, she said, incentives for targeted financial advice to rural women should be provided to remittance-receiving households.

Also underscoring the unique challenges facing women in her area of focus, the representative of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) said that, while one in three people in developing world cities lived in a slum, it was women and girls who often suffered the worst effects of slum life. Those included poor access to clean water, inadequate sanitation, unemployment, insecurity of tenure and gender-based violence. There had been a long-standing notion that the poor were better off in urban than rural areas, she said; however, recent studies had shown the contrary.

On the whole, Governments and policymakers were still responding inadequately to the different needs of women in towns and cities. She, therefore, called on stakeholders to ensure women’s full participation in the planning management and governance of cities and towns; to mainstream gender issues into the design and implementation of urban water and sanitation programmes; and to ensure effective reform around land and property to provide pro-poor and gender-responsive policies; among other recommendations.

Also speaking today were the representatives of Iraq, Viet Nam, Sri Lanka, Syria, Libya, Nepal, Bahamas, Costa Rica, Burundi, Bolivia, Rwanda, Comoros, Trinidad and Tobago and Haiti.

An observer for the Holy See also participated.

Also taking part were the representatives of the League of Arab States, the African Union, the Organization of American States, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the Regional Economic Commissions, the International Labour Organization and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Representatives of the Working Group on discrimination against women in law and practice, African women’s regional organizations, the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, the Asia Pacific Regional Caucus and the International Council of Women also took part in the discussion.

Israel spoke in exercise of its right of reply.

The Commission will reconvene at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 6 March, to hold a panel discussion on “Engaging young women and men, girls and boys, to advance gender equality”.