The International Day of Rural Women celebrated by the United Nations on October 15 is a global call to action to readdress the inequality faced by rural women globally.

Poverty and inequality among rural women are substantially higher; they are less educated and more likely to be illiterate, they are less healthy and more likely to suffer domestic violence.

Rural women’s political participation and empowerment are not only essential to strengthening a nation’s democracy, but also key to its socio-economic development.

Equal participation in government decision-making and the household are fundamental human rights as outlined in The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Platform for Action.  Countries that ratified or acceded to CEDAW are bound by international law to comply with its provisions on women’s economic and political rights. 

Both international women’s rights platforms provide pathways to gender equality and improve the overall livelihoods of rural women, their families, and their communities.

Revolutionizing traditions

Women’s political participation is a significant prerequisite for making progress towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. But what is stopping women, especially rural women, from participating in local and national politics?

There are countries that neither recognize international human rights treaties nor have domestic legal systems that not adequately address or enforce women’s political participation.

Unfortunately, sociocultural factors play a predominant role, especially in African countries. Women continue to be viewed as primarily mothers and homemakers, and in some latitudes, they are still restricted to these roles, and they may be told by their husbands how they should vote. Often, rural women do not have the knowledge or awareness of their legal and political rights, so they do not participate in elections or the political life of their communities.

Engaging rural women

An obvious and effective long-term solution would be education via mass literacy campaigns. In the meantime, a study in Nigeria shows that mass campaigns via national radio can be an active political development and education strategy for illiterate women in rural areas.

Even more promisingly, the Women’s Peer-to-Peer Network is partnering with grass-roots networks using women-friendly technology applications to facilitate the female political participation considered “off the communications grid” in developing nations.

Strategies in these areas should be designed in conjunction with local women and are in contrast to top-down, one-size fits all approaches, that may not take into consideration local realities.

There are multiple strategies available by the public or private sector to improve women’s political participation at all levels and across the complete election cycle. Reducing gender inequality, moreover, is not only a moral imperative but it is also an economic one. According to a McKinsey Global Institute Report, $12 trillion could be added to the Global GDP by advancing women’s equality. Let this October 15th be a reminder that by promoting the rural development of women, everyone wins.

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