We observed International Day of Rural Women on October 15. The first International Day of Rural Women was observed on 15 October 2008. This new international day, established by the General Assembly in the United Nations' resolution 62/136 of 18 December 2007, recognizes: the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty. The day is purposefully held before World Food Day in order to highlighting the role played by rural women in food production and food security.
The recently-launched Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2015 of International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) highlights that while the world has made progress in reducing hunger in recent decades, the state of hunger is still serious or alarming in 52 countries, including Bangladesh. The report added that although hunger and armed conflict have often travelled hand in hand, history has shown that hunger can be averted. If humanitarian responses in the modern world are effective, conflict needs not necessarily lead to extreme hunger that is a famine.
Experts have recognized that most of the poor of this world are women. We know that healthy and happy women make their families happy. But if women suffer from poverty, hunger and malnutrition, how will they make their families happy? Rather, those women are treated as burden in their families. Those malnourished women give birth to low-weight children who also suffer from malnutrition. As a result, both the mothers and children have to fight for living.
Those malnourished and sick women are unable to perform all the household jobs; and cannot do extra jobs outside their households. As they are poor, they cannot eat nutritious food and do not get necessary treatment. As a result, want of food is the companion of daily lives of those women. It causes family feud on a regular basis. They cannot take care of their beloved children properly. Day by day the sufferings of those ill-fate women increase. The husbands are reluctant to keep their wives. Some divorce and some demand money as dowry. Those women failing to fulfil their demand have to leave the family. They cannot even take legal action against their husbands, because the poverty makes them helpless to do so! As a result, the vicious cycle of poverty pushes the abandoned women and children to take shelter in the streets.
These are the bitter reality of the poor, hungry, malnourished women and children of Bangladesh. The scenario is similar in the other least developed and developing countries of the world. In fact, poverty, hunger, food insecurity, illiteracy, disempowerment, lack of health and nutrition education, less participation in decision-making, negative impacts of climate change, early marriage, gender inequality and inequity, familial and social taboos attack those women and girls so badly that they cannot escape these vicious problems.
Helen Keller International in its report mentioned that many poor women who live on less than $2 a day and have limited rights to own land have limited power to make household financial decisions.
The United Nations in its report mentioned that rural women, the majority of whom depend on natural resources and agriculture for their livelihoods, make up over a quarter of the total world population. In developing countries, rural women represent approximately 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force, and produce, process and prepare much of the food available, thereby giving them primary responsibility for food security. Bearing in mind that 76 per cent of the extreme poor live in rural areas, it is necessary to ensure rural women's access to productive agricultural resources contributes to decreasing world hunger and poverty, and make rural women critical for the success of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030.
To address the poverty, hunger and malnutrition issues, comprehensive and coordinated approach, long term policies and plans are a must. Findings of research should be directed to promote capacity-building and technology transfer to the public and private sectors.
International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) pointed out in its Global Hunger Index 2012, "Women's low status in South Asia contributes to children's poor nutritional outcomes in the region because children's development and mothers' well-being are closely linked. Women's poor nutritional status, low education, and low social status undermine their ability to give birth to well-nourished babies and to adequately feed and care for their children."
Good nutrition is the key to sustainable economic growth. And social protection is crucial for accelerating hunger reduction. To accelerate hunger reduction, economic growth needs to be accompanied by purposeful and decisive public policies. An improved governance system, based on transparency, participation, accountability, rule of law and human rights, is essential for the effectiveness of such policies.
World Development Report 2013 of the World Bank mentioned, "Many millions more, most of them women, find themselves shut out of the labour force altogether. Looking forward, over the next 15 years an additional 600 million new jobs will be needed to absorb burgeoning working-age populations, mainly in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. Too often, they are not earning enough to secure a better future for themselves and their children, and at times they are working in unsafe conditions and without the protection of their basic rights. Together, nutrition, health, and education form human skills and abilities that have been powerfully linked to productivity growth and poverty reduction in the medium to longer run. Also, better health brings, directly, higher labour productivity."
I have found that most of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are interlinked. So, let us come forward to turn all the challenges, especially food security and nutrition of rural women, ahead into opportunities. Therefore, all of the stakeholders must listen to the rural women, and talk about them for saving their lives and livelihoods.
Parvez Babul is a media person and an author of books on women's empowerment, climate change, food security and development issues. Email: [email protected]