Forum at UN discusses role of rural women farmers

March 6, 2012

NEW YORK, United States — Listening to and supporting rural women is fundamental to ending poverty and hunger, and achieving peace and development that is sustainable.

That was the message from Michelle Bachelet, executive director of UN Women, who opened the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women here on 27 February.

The main theme of the Commission, which runs until Friday, is "the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication, development and current challenges."

To support the theme, the Baha'i International Community issued a statement and hosted an interactive forum on 1 March, co-sponsored by the World Farmers Organization (WFO), which offered a space for rural women farmers to share their experiences.

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UN Women's executive director Michelle Bachelet delivers the introductory speech at the opening of the 56th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, held in the General Assembly Hall at UN Headquarters in New York, 27 February 2012. Pictured right is Marjon Kamara, Chair of the Session. Photo Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras.

The story of one – Cesarie Kantarama from Rwanda – was typical of the challenges that face many of them. When she started out she had little land and no capital or support. "But once I joined the women farmers' association, I started to get training and knowledge which reinforced my confidence," Ms. Kantarama told the gathering. "...[I] really starts when you are a member of an organization that gives you the confidence to seek out other opportunities and feel productive."

The importance of training was reinforced by Alice Kachere of the National Smallholder Farmers' Association of Malawi. "You can give women better seeds, but if they don't know how to use those seeds, it means nothing," she said.

WFO president Robert Carlson emphasized Michelle Bachelet's point about the importance of careful listening.

"We can't impose our views of what rural women farmers need," he said. "There has to be some local involvement that gives direction on how their needs are to be assisted. They need to set their goals."

In its statement to the Commission, the Baha'i International Community examined the connection between the empowerment of women and the construction of a new and more just social order.

"We sought to share the idea that for the empowerment of women to reach fulfillment, there must be a change in the hearts and minds of people, and in the structures of society," said May Akale, who led the BIC's delegation.

"More specifically, there needs to be recognition, on a fundamental level, that women and men are equal, and for social progress to take place, they need to work hand-in-hand.

Other activities hosted by the BIC for this year's Commission included a discussion on "Rural Women and Stakeholders: Framing Joint Actions;" an event that examined the stereotyping of religious women; and a panel discussion, titled "Older Women: Rights, Voice, Action."