Rural women play a critical role in agriculture, food security and managing land and natural resources, yet many suffer from “discrimination, systemic racism and structural poverty”, the UN chief said on Thursday. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has now affected more than half the world’s women farmers with restrictions on movement, the closure of shops and markets, and disruption to their supply chains”, Secretary-General António Guterres said in his message for the International Day of Rural Women.


Health risks
The disadvantages faced by women in the COVID-19 pandemic are aggravated in rural areas where they are less likely to have access to quality health services, essential medicines and vaccines. 

Moreover, “restrictive social norms and gender stereotypes” limit rural women’s ability to access health services, according to the UN chief, who added that “a lot of rural women suffer from isolation, as well as the spread of misinformation, and a lack of access to critical technologies to improve their work and personal life”. 

Although digital channels can offer a lifeline in rural areas, providing information on access to healthcare as well as agricultural updates, “the gender digital divide is particularly wide for rural women, who make up just a quarter of users of digital agricultural solutions”, he continued.   


Women’s rights under threat
Investing in rural women has never been more critical, the Organization has highlighted.

The pandemic has heightened the vulnerability of their rights to land and resources, along with discriminatory gender norms, and in most countries, practices impede women’s exercise of land and property rights. 

Women’s land tenure security is also threatened as unemployed migrants return to rural communities, increasing pressure on land and resources and exacerbating gender gaps in agriculture and food security.

And COVID-19 widows risk disinheritance. 


Solidarity needed
Yet, despite these exposures, rural women have been at the front lines of responding to the pandemic even as their unpaid care and domestic work has increased under lockdowns. 

Helping rural women through the pandemic and building their resilience for the future will require “solidarity and support from all”, the top UN official explained.

Reducing the gender gap in the labour force by 25 per cent by the 2025 could raise global GDP by 3.9  per cent.
If rural women had equal access to agricultural assets, education and markets, the number of hungry people could be reduced by 100-150 million.
Measures are needed to redistribute the burden of care between women and men, especially in the most marginalized remote villages.  


‘Invest in rural women’ 
The need to “invest in rural women” is imperative, the UN chief stated, so as to: provide them with access to the healthcare, social protection and agricultural information; close the digital divide; respond to the “shadow pandemic of violence against women”; tackle discriminatory land and inheritance laws that expose rural women to losing their sources of income; and support women’s unpaid care and domestic work.  

“On the International Day of Rural Women, let us renew our commitment to rural women in all their diversity; increase our efforts to support them through the COVID-19 pandemic; and work with them to build their resilience to future crises”, concluded the Secretary-General.