Today, 15 October, is the World Day of Rural Women, which is immediate followed by World Food Day, 16 October. On this occasion of dual commemoration, HLRN renews its commitment to study, monitor and document the human rights conditions of rural women and advocate for their equal rights to land and other productive resources as a matter of particular urgency. We also reaffirm the human right to adequate food and nutrition as a human right of everyone, everywhere, and salute the women who disproportionately serve society as food producers, providers, managers and guarantors of nutrition for their families and wider communities. While rural women play such a vital role in the production and provision of such a basic human need as healthy food, they are often overlooked, as well as subject to material discrimination.
In the current pandemic, women and girls are generally marginalized, disadvantaged and particularly effected by the persistent violations of their human rights to adequate housing and land. Forced evictions, dispossession, destruction and denial of equal and equitable inheritance rights remain ongoing practices despite of—and partly aided by—lockdowns and related security measures in both rural and urban areas. However, when women endure such deprivation of their housing, land and other productive resources, they face a multiple challenge. This involves not only the widespread risk of hunger, famine and malnutrition during COVID-19, but also due to endemic factors:
First, the situation of women’s housing and land rights is often overlooked, but we have found also that they are explicitly targeted for deprivation and dispossession because they are women. The dominant patriarchy in every region conveys an assumption that material discrimination against women is “normal” and, therefore, unremarkable. This prejudice is especially apparent in the context of lower wages and inferior inheritance of land and other productive resources.
When such deprivation takes place in areas where rural conditions prevail and food production is the dominant economic activity, violations against women’s human rights to adequate housing and land are especially overlooked because they are rural. Certain ideological trends, including in development circles, have relegated rural sectors and the people who inhabit them as inferior, envisioning and pursuing a triumphantly and overwhelmingly urbanized world without them.
In a related aspect, the conditions of women food producers and providers, in general, fall outside the typical purview of reporting, including by the press and human rights monitors. The sheer concentration of activity, resources, decision making and newsworthy events in urban centers relegate rural women to a low priority.
Occasions such as these days of commemoration help to raise their profile for the moment; however, one of the reasons that rural women food producers and providers become invisible is because of the patterns of reporting. Beyond the combined factors of urban bias and prevailing patriarchy, HLRN has learned over the decades how such monitoring, documentation and reporting have typically focused on instances of large-scale deprivations such as widespread disasters and mass evictions. The very scope of our attention often overlooks the incremental nature of deprivation, complicating monitoring of the diffuse cases of inheritance denial and the grinding deprivation of daily wage discrimination.
Meanwhile, even in the cases of mass violation and deprivation in rural (as well as urban) contexts, the majority of reports omit essential details such as the number of affected persons and/or households and the value of homes, lands, incomes, biodiversity and other criteria of human habitat, wealth and wellbeing at stake. Not to be forgotten are the grave impacts of violent displacement and dispossession imposed on rural women caught up in conflict and war, as in Syria and Yemen and numerous other ongoing conflicts, as well as rural women under occupation in such cases as Kashmir, Palestine, Tibet and Western Sahara. Even in the best examples of monitoring, documentation and reporting on mass violations, the longer-term consequences are rarely captured,. The convergence of these factors too often consigns women to neglected minutiae. Given the shortcomings of common methods, HLRN has encouraged HIC Members and allies to enumerate as much as possible in reporting, including through its own monitoring tools and techniques such as the Violation Database.
This double occasion of the World Day of Rural Women and World Food Day reminds of the challenge to overcome a triple hazards of patriarchy, urban bias and the shortcomings of reporting to recognize the role, function and conditions of women food producers and providers in agriculture, fisheries, pastoralism, in deed in global food security and nutrition, and the struggles they face in their daily lives. Now, amid COVID-19, as women and their children face unique health needs in remote areas, they are less likely to have access to quality health services, essential medicines and vaccines. Restrictive social norms and gender stereotypes can also limit rural women’s ability to access these assets, while undergoing discrimination in the distribution of the land and productive assets required to play their indispensable roles. In addition, many rural women suffer from isolation, as well as the lack of reliable information, access to finance and critical technologies to improve their work and personal life.
We are reminded also of the need for conscientious policy reforms in all regions to remedy these shortcomings. Urgent measures such as joint titling have been found to be effective. However, a more-complete inventory of measures for state to undertake are found in the CEDaW General recommendation No. 34. That legal instrument clarifying treaty-bound state obligations aligns with—but by far surpasses—the temporary and voluntary Sustainable Development Goal 5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, its targets and indicators. In addition to states’ binding obligations and voluntary commitments, we are reminded also of the economic incentive of gender equality, notably in the access to and control of adequate housing, land and other productive resources, which is projected to add $12 trillion to the global economy. In these days of convergent, complex and prolonged crises the many reasons compel us to recognize rural women and their substantive rights roles and functions in producing and providing our food.
Today, we remember them, but everyday seek justice for them