Yesterday, today and tomorrow: women, food and poverty

event141016-familyfarmingA series of international days as observed by the United Nations has and is taking place over several days this month.


Yesterday was International Day of Rural Women, the first of which occurred in 2008. The day is about recognising “the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.”

Rural women are crucial in attaining sustainable rural development but they often face inequalities in terms of access to productive resources, finance, health care and education. Women and girls are also more likely to be undernourished and to go without food despite the central roles they play in a household’s wealth and health. Gender equality and women’s empowerment are not only central to household welfare though but to rural communities, national economic growth and global food security. UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, in her speech on the International Day of Rural Women, highlighted the message that rural women need to be at the heart of all development efforts.

UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, in his speech marking the occasion, talked about the need to address discrimination and unequal access to resources in the first instance. Rural women often rely on natural resources for their livelihoods. For example, in developing countries, rural women represent approximately 43 per cent of the agricultural labour force. UN Women’s publication Realizing Women’s Rights to Land and Other Productive Resources, published with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), examines the factors affecting women’s rights to land and resources, presenting success stories and future priorities. UN Women also supports several initiatives that promote the leadership of rural women and has partnered with the FAO, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) for the “Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women” initiative, which “engages with governments to develop and implement laws that promote equal rights”.

Rural women are key to producing and providing food for their families. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation and Farming First have produced the interactive graphic “The Female Face of Farming”, which shows the role women play in agriculture around the world.


Today is World Food Day and the theme is Family Farming: “Feeding the world, caring for the earth”. This has been chosen to “raise the profile of family farming and smallholder farmers”, a key focus of the UN designated 2014 International Year of Family Farming. Family farms, the main form of agriculture in the food production sector, play a significant role in providing food and managing natural resources and thus contribute to the goals of ending hunger and poverty, protecting the environment and achieving sustainable development. 500 million out of 570 million farms across the globe are family farms, responsible for at least 56% of total agricultural production. This infographic was produced for World Food Day to highlight the critical role of family farmers.

To coincide with World Food Day, the FAO have released their annual report, The State of Food and Agriculture, this year focused on innovation in family farming, arguing that “family farms must be supported to innovate in ways that promote sustainable intensification of production and improvements in rural livelihoods”. FAO-Director General José Graziano da Silva also discusses, in his opinion article, both the potential of family farmers to help the world attain sustainable development goals and their need for greater support in order to reach this potential. Later in October (the 27th to 28th), the Global Dialogue on Family Farming (GDFF), will bring together government representatives, family farmers and their organizations, civil society, private sector, academia and development agencies, to look back at the achievements of the International Year of Family Farming and to set a course of action post-2014.


Tomorrow, the 17th October is International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, a day that has been observed since 1993. This year’s theme is “Leave no one behind: think, decide and act together against extreme poverty”.

This theme relates to the challenges of both identifying those in extreme poverty and of increasing their participation and inclusion in society. This directly relates to the Post-2015 Development Agenda and ensuring extreme poverty is adequately and effectively included in the Sustainable Development Goals. Not that the Millennium Development Goals have been forgotten just yet, their infographic shows that while extreme poverty rates have been cut in half since 1990, 1 in 9 people go hungry, and calls for the stepping up of action ahead of the 2015 deadline.

For those wanting to learn more about International Day for the Eradication of Poverty you can watch persons affected by poverty share their views at the official commemoration at UN Headquarters, live, on UN webcast tomorrow.

A panel discussion held today at the United Nations Headquarters entitled, Beijing+20 – Leaving No One Behind: Women, Poverty, and Participation, which explored the “disproportionate effects of poverty on women and women’s contributions to ending poverty”, highlights that poverty and gender are interrelated issues, as are poverty, hunger, food and women. Although observed on separate days, viewing these issues as part of a larger system and tackling the underlying contributing factors can only help develop appropriate and effective solutions to global crises. One of the overriding messages of all three days is that only by supporting people, be it women, those marginalised from society or family farmers, will we end poverty, hunger and inequality.



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