Think about people first: Empower Rural women
When working on a development project, we tend to think about the problem, a situation to be fixed, and the solution to it. But what about people? For whom we are fixing the problem? How would the solution affect their daily lives? Placing rural women and girls at the heart of Africa’s development is significant to achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women. People are always part of the solution and involving them in the project through a participatory process is the only way to ensure sustainability and a positive impact. It is a pathway to positive change in the fight against poverty and hunger, and climate change.
The people’s needs in Africa are massive and the resources available are always limited. Noting that rural women constitute one-fourth of the world's population and in Africa, more than half of women live in rural areas, they play a critical role in the food systems in Africa. Rural women significantly contribute to Africa’s agriculture and rural enterprises and fuel local and global economies. They play a key role in contributing to households and communities in achieving food and nutrition security, generating income, and improving rural livelihoods and overall well-being. However, rural women face disadvantage in access, control of resources when it comes to land and livestock ownership, decision making in the agriculture sector, access to financing, inputs which hampers their productivity and growth, robbing the agricultural sector of the potential economic benefits and resulting in weak rural economies, and impact the local and global food systems.
Climatic shocks and stresses further lead to economic crises that have different impacts on men and women in rural areas and on agriculture compared with other sectors. As the OECD state, “while climate change and gender inequality are separately dangerous and consequential, together they pose a perilous threat to people all over the world”
Addressing climate change challenges will require an overall shift that includes behavioural, technological as well as recognizing women’s role in agriculture. To support rural women increased agricultural productivity in a changing climate, it is documented that labour and time saving technologies have the potential to overcome many of the barriers that women farmers face in agriculture. Labour-saving technologies and practices that foster inclusive development for rural women will also provide an opportunity for women’s increased income.
Governments and state actors could be tempted to build as low-cost as possible and reach as many people as they can. However, without an inclusive and sustainable approach that considers the needs of women, girls, and other vulnerable groups, we risk thousands of people not being able to benefit from the developed infrastructure, leaving them behind. Gender-blind infrastructure limits women’s access to financial resources, land, education, health, and other rights and opportunities. Furthermore, it limits their capacity for creating resilience in communities and adapting to climate change impacts.
Women in rural areas can play an active role as change-makers and educators in embedding sustainability within different infrastructure sectors. In the case of Africa, prioritizing sustainable and inclusive infrastructure investment is key for rural women to be able to contribute to tackling the aftermath of climate-induced disasters, conflicts, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Gender-sensitive infrastructure can empower rural women to access productive resources and opportunities, accelerate their socio-economic mobility, and boost gender equality at household and community levels.
Furthermore, the idea that inclusive and resilient infrastructure is expensive is a myth. Prioritizing quality green and inclusive infrastructure projects can in fact provide a better return on investment. As John Roome, Senior Director for Climate Change at the World Bank, said: “It is not about spending more, but about spending better.”
Policy, political commitments, and an adequate regulatory framework must be in place at all levels of the government to unlock the potential of inclusive infrastructure. While the transition to a green economy has garnered attention in policy circles, there has been relatively less discussion regarding its potential gender implications. Part of it being gender responsive climate financing which means that gender equality and women’s empowerment mainstreamed in climate finance structures and procedures- design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
At UN Women, we are enabling rural women farmers in East and Southern Africa to apply climate resilient production techniques across the region, ensuring that women adapt to climate aversion, climate mitigation as well as reducing the carbon footprint and the impacts of climate change, strengthening communities’ resilience across the region. UN Women’s Climate Resilient Agriculture programme has used innovative approaches such as time- and labour-saving technologies, drought resistant seeds and renewable energies.
For example, in Uganda, 1400 rural women are undertaking cage fish farming in high-quality, high-density floating cages and using cooling technology systems which have helped in mass and fast production of fish and reducing post-harvest losses. This has ultimately led to increased productivity. The rural women beneficiaries have gained direct access to male-dominated fish markets and fish trade business at both the national (Kampala and Busia fish markets) and regional levels (Kenya and DRC). Through the project, the women registered a private limited company WEEB with 100% shareholding of the business investment worth USD 228,797 of capital expenditure and USD 172,001 operating expenditure.
At UNOPS, we place people at the center of everything we do, by doing so we increase the chance of infrastructure being used sustainably and maintained afterward. Supporting the empowerment of rural women through gender-responsive infrastructure, UNOPS helps low and middle-income countries across Africa in their journey toward the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals.
For example, in Sierra Leone we improved more than 50 community health centers across 12 districts by installing solar power to provide better services to the community. As a result, over 300,000 residents now have access to critical healthcare with a reliable, continuous electricity supply. This has also led to an increased number of women visiting health clinics to give birth in a safer environment, reducing the risk to them and their children. The project did a gender analysis and identified gender-based constraints through consultations with women at all stages of design and implementation.
Investing in infrastructure projects has long been seen as a driver of economic growth and development. Infrastructure can contribute to 92% of all the SDG targets, but only inclusive infrastructure can ensure gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls.
These are just a few examples of how rural women could be empowered and there are many possibilities for integrating diversity into this agenda. The fact is that thinking about rural women in Africa is critical not only in the fight against hunger and malnutrition but also in human rights. Let’s recognize the work of these heroines in achieving food security, improving rural livelihoods, and building climate change resilience, and let's claim rural areas with equal opportunities for all.
About UN Women
UN Women is the UN organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. A global champion for women and girls, UN Women was established to accelerate progress on meeting their needs worldwide. www.unwomen.org
UNOPS mission is to help people build better lives and countries achieve peace and sustainable development. We help the United Nations, governments and other partners to manage projects, and deliver sustainable infrastructure and procurement in an efficient way. Read more: www.unops.org