International Women’s Day 2012 “Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty”

by Cristina Tirado, Director of PHI’s Center for Public Health and Climate Change

Today, March 8th, we celebrate International Women’s Day; this year’s theme is Empower Rural Women – End Hunger and Poverty.

Climate change has a significant impact on the health and nutrition security of millions of people, and affects women and children living in developing countries, particularly those living in rural areas. At the same time rural women play a critical role in adapting to climate change, enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food and nutrition security and contributing to the reduction of poverty levels in their communities.

Women comprise 43 percent of agricultural labor in developing countries. While women produce 60-80% of the food consumed at the household level in developing countries and 60% of the chronically hungry are women and children.  This is in part due to a lack of economic and land rights for women to access land, credit, seeds, fertilizers etc.  Women also face challenges related to key aspects related to nutrition security such as limited household food access, education on and access to maternal and child care and health care.

Rural women have less access to health care services (including maternal health), information related to prevention of negative health outcomes(e.g. HIV/AIDS transmission) and adequate water and sanitation; rural children are twice as likely to be malnourish as urban children. Malnourished rural girls become malnourished rural mothers and this impacts their chances for a long and healthy life (there is a 40% more under five mortality in rural than in urban settings), and impacts mental and physical development, future productivity and livelihoods.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), by giving women equal access to productive agricultural resources – land, inputs, training, credit – women’s farm productivity would increase by 20-30%, countries’ total agricultural output would increase by 2.5-4.0% and 100-150 million fewer people would be hungry.  A recent report from CARE in Bangladesh showed that women that participate in empowerment interventions to fight sexual harassment were less likely to have stunted children than woman that receive only direct nutrition interventions. This reinforces the fact that in order to address the impacts of climate change on health and nutrition security it is critical to invest on women empowerment and transformative leadership.
The World Health Organization (WHO), has recently called for philanthropists and country leaders to commit more money to improving health services for rural women. UN Women believes that rural women can more readily fulfill their roles in building a better society if their reproductive health is improved. Investments in the health and education of women and girls and in programs that support their empowerment, economic improvement and engagement on climate adaptation decision making, benefit everyone.

The Center of Public Health and Climate Change at the Public Health Institute (PHI) is working to enhance women’s leadership to address the challenges of climate change to health and nutrition security and to integrate health and food and nutrition security and gender equality as key pillars of climate resilient sustainable development.


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