News Archives

Rural women face poverty, discrimination, panel says

 


Rural women face poverty, discrimination, panel says

March 14, 2005

By Linda Bloom*

NEW YORK (UMNS)—Despite their important contribution to the world’s breadbasket, rural women face challenges of poverty, illiteracy and gender discrimination, according to panelists speaking recently at the United Nations.

In Africa, rural women work “from dawn to dusk” to produce 60 to 70 percent of the continent’s food, according to Elmira Sellu, a United Methodist missionary serving in East Africa. “If it had not been for the rural women of Africa, we would not have enough to eat on our tables,” she said.

Yet those same women have no legal right to own the land they till, and they are further impacted by factors such as the HIV/AIDS pandemic and civil unrest across the continent, she said.

Sellu, who is from Sierra Leone, participated in a panel discussion on rural women during the Feb. 28-March 11 Commission on the Status of Women. The discussion was sponsored by the Potohar Organization for Development Advocacy, a nongovernmental group working for the rights of rural populations in Pakistan. A new network, Rural Women United, was launched during the meeting.

Sameena Nair, who is involved in the organization, said most of the world’s population is rural and more than half are women, many of them poor and illiterate.

The panelists agreed that improving the plight of rural women is a challenge. Of the 30 million cases of HIV/AIDS in Africa, for example, nearly 60 percent are women, and 25 percent of those women live in rural areas. “How can empowerment take place when women die in such large numbers?” Sellu asked.

African women who fall ill often have little access to adequate health care. Those who aren’t infected themselves often must contend with infected husbands and an increased workload when their husbands become sick.

Teaching women about the risks of AIDS has been part of Sellu’s job as a regional missionary for the Women’s Division, United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.

“HIV education has been a priority in my work,” she said. “Correct information on HIV/AIDS is in itself power. The traditional practices that lead to the spread of the disease also are being addressed.”

Like African women, rural women in South Asia have little access to health care, no rights of land ownership and no opportunity to participate in decision-making, according to Arifa Mazhar, director of the Potohar Organization for Development Advocacy. “In most of the South Asian countries, the feudal system is strong,” she said.

Another threat is the agro-based technologies being pushed by multinational corporations in lieu of traditional farming practices. Those technologies, she warned, “have very, very serious and bad repercussions on users and consumers.”

Countries such as Yemen, the Sudan and Somalia have high mortality rates in their rural areas because of the lack of both infrastructure and health care, said Amal Basha of the Sisters Arabic Forum for Human Rights in Yemen.

In Yemen, 80 percent of its 20 million inhabitants live in rural areas, where illiteracy rates are high and religious extremism is on the rise. Tribal conflicts over land and resources, including water, are common, and the central government has little power over rural areas.

Sellu has personal experience with the impact that war can have on rural women. She recalled when rebels entered Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone, in 1999. Within two hours, the rebels had destroyed a farm project for rural women on the outskirts of the city, raping or killing the women working there. “They burned everything, they plundered everything,” she said.

Solutions to improve the lives of rural women include access to credit and land and the promotion of education. “Improving women’s education is probably the most important instrument to empower them,” Sellu said.

Educating women about the need for peace also is essential and must trickle down to the children in their homes. “Without peace, there can be no food security, and without food security, there can be no development,” she said.

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Ask Now

This will not reach a local church, district or conference office. InfoServ* staff will answer your question, or direct it to someone who can provide information and/or resources.

First Name:*
Last Name:*
Email:*
ZIP/Postal Code:*
Question:*

*InfoServ ( about ) is a service of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

Not receiving a reply?
Your Spam Blocker might not recognize our email address. Add this address to your list of approved senders.

Would you like to ask any questions about this story?ASK US NOW


Contact Us

This will not reach a local church, district or conference office. InfoServ* staff will answer your question, or direct it to someone who can provide information and/or resources.

Phone
(optional)

*InfoServ ( about ) is a ministry of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

Not receiving a reply?
Your Spam Blocker might not recognize our email address. Add InfoServ@umcom.org to your list of approved senders.