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Rural women: “…Would be possible to feed at least 150 million hungry people across the world”


Today is the  International Day of Rural Women. This day established by the General Assembly in its 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.”


Empowering rural women is crucial for ending hunger and poverty. By denying women rights and opportunities, we deny their children and societies a better future, says Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon



Rural women play a critical role in the rural economies of both developed and developing countries. Women living in rural areas are more than 25% of the global population and they have a huge contribution in the production of agricultural products. Nevertheless, according to UN assessments, today more than 500 million of these women live in poverty.



Women often work in such conditions that can cause irreversible damage to their health; they do heavy physical work that is not appreciated worthily. They often do not have the opportunity to protect their land rights, do not have access to vitally important services, such as medical treatment, loans and education; most of them have no access even to drinking water, transport and electricity. These women rarely take part in decision making processes concerning their own interests.


The most rigid stereotypes form an unconquerable barrier for them: village is the most loyal “protector” of the traditions and manners that cause women discrimination.


However, according to UN assessments, if women living in rural areas had equal access to resources, crop yield would grow to such a degree that it would be possible to feed at least 150 million hungry people across the world.


Taking into account the above-mentioned circumstances, UN highlights the role of rural women in the context of Millenniums development goals; viewing the goals such as the struggle against poverty and hunger; and the expansion of women rights and opportunities closely interrelated.


Since 2010 the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has made gender justice one of its priority issues, suggesting to review gender inequality in agriculture as a development issue.


According to international assessments, in the whole world 43% of agricultural labour force is women. In developing countries, where agriculture makes 32% of GDP, 80% of economically active women are engaged in agriculture and food production. In addition, 70% of hungry people in the world are women.


Cases of gender justice surely depend on specific situations, countries and regions. However, stable patterns can also be noticed: women play an important role in agricultural production, but at the same time they have little access to resources necessary for production, such as land, labour force, loans and capital. The control of these resources is also out of their access.



These patterns can be observed also in Armenia.


The share of agriculture in Armenia’s GDP is 21% (2012), 45% of Armenia’s  total labour resources are engaged in agriculture- about 500,000 people,  out of which 56.2% are women (about 281,000 women both formally and informally employed in agriculture) which makes their role more important in the development of agriculture sector. Moreover, 32.8% of employed men and 45.5% of employed women are engaged in agriculture.


Furthermore according to informal women employment data by sectors of economy, 89% of these women are engaged in agriculture. In fact, agricultural products are produced mostly by women, and women are considered to be the main guarantors of food supply and of survival of rural households.


Households headed by women are one third of all households, which can be explained by the high rates of men’s emigration; many of them, who left Armenia for job hunting abroad, do not keep contact with their families. In rural areas 26% of households are headed by women. The income of such households is much lower (19,980 AMD monthly) compared to the income of households headed by men (33,685 AMD monthly); there are noticeable differences in their living standards.


In comparison to other types of economic activities, the agricultural sector recorded lowest level of income. As regards to the gender segregation, the sectors in the economic market, where women have high employment level (and agriculture is among those sectors) are remarkable for their low income. At the same time, the agricultural sector has a significant share of women engaged in hard physical work.


In Armenia the agricultural sector is less profitable compared to other sectors. According to the National Statistical Service of RA, the average monthly net income in the economy is 78,408 AMD, whereas it is only 56,554 AMD (about 100 Euros) in agricultural sector. Meanwhile, the inequality of net income among men and women in this sector is deeper than the average rate in the economy. Thus, women earn 41.7% less than men do in agriculture sector, while this rate is 37.1% in the entire economy. One of the reasons for this inconsistency is that the employment of women in agriculture is mainly of informal nature. Thus, according to NSS of RA the non formal income of women in agriculture forms 43% of those incomes of men. The stated data once again emphasize the vulnerability of rural women.


In rural communities a number of factors have a direct influence on income which have various impacts on women and men activities, thus, deepening or neutralizing gender discrimination. It is obvious that developed infrastructure contributes to the equalization of economic opportunities for men and women. Existence of constructed roads, uninterrupted work of irrigation water systems, and market proximity drastically increases women’s opportunities of getting additional income.



Gender injustice in economic activities is also displayed in decision-making processes. Playing a major role in agriculture women particularly do not participate in decision-making process for their communities, thus, being deprived of the opportunity to express their interests.


Out of 866 rural communities in Armenia, only 22 rural communities are managed /administered by women. Based on the local election results, in September, 2012, 8.3% of women were included in the Community Council: Women in Syuniq Marz have the highest percent of involvement in the Council – 17.4%, comparably high rates were also recorded in Lori Marz – 12.5% and Tavush Marz – 9.2%. Gegharkunik Marz (2%), Aragatsotsn Marz (4.1%) and Vayots Dzor Marz (4.6%) Councils have the lowest level of Women involvement.


Observing the dynamics of local self-governance elections, one can state that the percent of women Head of Community varied from 1.7-12.7 %, while in the Councils women form not more than 7-8%. These figures are almost identical in all elections making a specific “glass ceiling” for women.


Yet back in 2000, in the framework of the Millennium Development Goals the Armenian Government put an “ambitious” goal to raise the number of women heads of Communities to 10% until the year of 2015. Based on the dynamics, it is already noticeable that this goal is impracticable within the mentioned time period.


Most of the above mentioned issues result from the discriminatory socio-cultural norms and practices, which are more strongly expressed particularly in rural areas and which create more obstacles for rural women.


It’s obvious that all the mentioned issues make rural women more vulnerable, and once again prove the fact that these women are in need of additional protection of rights. Supplementary measures should also be taken to expand their opportunities and ensure efficient use of their potential




Research  “Assessment on the Role and Potential of Women in Agriculture “ by Oxfam with BSC &ProMedia-Gender NGO/ 2013



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