Mothers' Union tells United Nations “rural women globally face issues of isolation, poverty and lack of access to essential services"
Mothers’ Union has told the United Nations that isolation, poverty and lack of opportunity are some of the issues women living in rural communities face. It is calling on member states to recognise and value the vital contribution of women to rural communities, and wider society and to create and implement policies which address the unique challenges they face.
In a document ahead of the 62nd United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW), to be held in New York from 12 to 23 March, Mothers’ Union outlines the challenges that women in rural communities face globally.
The theme of the forum at this year’s UNCSW is “Challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls.”
Mothers’ Union carried out a survey among its members around the world to find out about their experiences of rural life. It found that isolation and loneliness are challenges in both the global north and south and the issues of economic empowerment are even more acute in rural than urban communities.
“We assume that challenges faced by women in Africa or Asia are unique to them, but our results found that rural women in the UK, Canada and Australia face very similar challenges to women in Kenya, Southern Africa, the West Indies and Papua New Guinea,” said Mothers’ Union’s Chief Executive, Bev Jullien.
Women in both the U.K. and internationally reported the difficulties they face from a lack of transport and access to essential services including healthcare, education and employment. The majority of unpaid care and work still falls on the shoulders of women, and members felt that women who care for children full-time in rural settings can be increasingly isolated due to a lack of transport and affordable childcare.
Older women also felt that isolation was an issue of concern, especially those with poor health or widows living alone. A member in the U.K. said, “There’s loneliness among elderly single women and widows living on their own. Women in rural areas also have difficulty in finding suitable employment, distance to the shops and social activities.” Another member in Uganda said, “In rural areas widows are excluded. They don’t have anyone to fight for them in acquiring ownership of land, for example.”
Members felt that attitudes towards women and girls in rural communities were more regressive than in urban areas and that traditional views such as not being allowed to participate in decision-making, or preventing women’s voices from being heard and stopping their involvement in leadership. A member in South Africa said, “Patriarchy is still entrenched. Women in rural areas are not included in decision-making, even in family planning. Other challenges girls and young women face are early and forced marriages.”
Such attitudes can lead to gender based violence, including domestic violence and abuse, female genital mutilation, child marriage and human trafficking. There is a particular lack of access to support services in rural areas meaning that rural women and girls are less able to receive the essential help, protection and support they need.
A delegation of Mothers’ Union members from Ghana, Zambia, Canada and the U.S will be attending the UNCSW this year, including Chief Executive, Bev Jullien, who said, “As a movement with more than four million members globally, we believe our members’ voices need to be heard. Many of our members live in rural areas and face many challenges daily. I’m glad that we can represent them at this international forum and call on governments to make tangible changes in their lives.”
Mothers’ Union is calling on member states to consider the following recommendations:
1.The economic empowerment of rural women
2.The universal and gender sensitive implementation of agenda 2030
3.Women’s meaningful participation and representation in decision-making
4.Eradication of Gender based violence and harmful practices
5.Access to services and infrastructure
6.Addressing attitudes towards women and girls