56th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)

Feb 27, 2012

Photo: The Voss Foundation


Rural women in developing countries are critical to addressing hunger, malnutrition and poverty, but they lack equal access to opportunities and resources. Rural women play a key role in supporting their households and communities in achieving food and nutrition security, generating income and contributing to agricultural and rural enterprises that fuel local and global economies. Yet despite their considerable contributions, rural women in developing countries lack equal access to opportunities and financial resources, such as credit and the right to own and inherit property.  Any serious shift towards more sustainable societies has to include gender equality.


  • Women comprise an average of 43 percent of the agricultural labor force in developing countries, ranging from 20 percent in Latin America to 50 percent in Eastern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.   If women had equal access to productive resources, such as fertilizers, seeds and tools, they could increase yields on their farms by 20 to 30 percent, raising total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5 to 4 percent. This, in turn, would reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 12 to 17 percent.

  • Women have less access to financial services than men. In rural sub-Saharan Africa, women hold less than 10 percent of the credit available to small holder agriculture.  In seven out of nine countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America, female-headed households were less likely to use credit than male-headed households.

Paid employment and decent work are central to achieving inclusive economic growth and inclusive development. Achieving sustainable development requires recognition of the burden of unpaid work faced by rural women. Rural women spend more time than urban women and men in household work including collecting water and fuel, preparing food, raising livestock and caring for children and ailing family members – often without pay.  A key to empowering rural women economically is improving their access to and participation in the formal labor market.  By addressing the differences between women and men in employment opportunities, expanding access to energy services and reducing the burden of unpaid work, governments can put in place policies that drive clean and inclusive growth.


  • Rural women carry a great part of the burden of providing water and fuel for their households. Girls in rural Malawi also spend more than 3 times more than boys fetching wood and water. Collectively, women from Sub-Saharan Africa spend about 40 billion hours a year collecting water.   The jobs of rural women who are employed tend to be shorter term, more precarious and less protected than those of rural men and urban people. The lack of flexible hours to accommodate family work combined with wage and job discrimination and limited representation of women in workers’ organizations are partly responsible for this.

Ownership, access to and control over land and resources, as well as property and inheritance rights are critical for the empowerment of rural women. When women can own and inherit land and property, they can enjoy equal opportunity and status in their families and communities and as well as sustain their livelihoods after the death of a spouse or father. Strengthening government capacities including formal and informal justice systems to guarantee women full legal rights to own property and to inherit is critical to ending poverty and driving equitable and sustainable development.


  • In many countries, women are prevented from owning or inheriting land, making it difficult for them to earn a living, provide for their families and access financial credit. In developing countries for which data is available, from 10 percent to 20 percent of all landholders are women, although this masks significant differences among countries even within the same region. The developing countries having both the lowest and highest shares of female landholders are in Africa.

Efforts towards achieving the MDGs will not be credible without the full and equal participation of rural women in decision-making. Enhancing rural women´s leadership and meaningful participation in all forms of decision-making at all levels, from Parliaments and public administrations to local governments and civil organizations, will ensure more attention is paid to meeting the needs of women and girls.


  • As of February 2012, 19.8 percent of national parliamentarians were women, up from 11.3 in 1995.  But the global average is far from the target of 30 percent set in 1995 in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. At the present rate, it will take nearly 40 years to reach gender parity. Currently, only six percent of heads of governments are women. Globally, although 40 to 50 percent of political party members are women, women hold only about 10 percent of the leadership positions within their parties.

  • Women within political parties tend to be overrepresented at the grassroots level or in supporting roles and underrepresented in positions of power.  There is an absence of a comprehensive global tracking of women’s presence and participation in policy and decision-making levels in public administrations (non-elected positions), and in the limited empirical evidence and scrutiny of the impact of past efforts of public administrations to advance gender equality.

Sustainable development demands the active participation of rural women in environmental policy-making, planning and budgeting processes. Highly dependent on local natural resources for their livelihood, rural women are disproportionately impacted by climate change. Women at the community level also possess invaluable local and traditional knowledge for responding to climate-related challenges and are powerful agents of change.  They must be involved in all aspects of adaptation and mitigation efforts in their communities if these efforts are to be sustainable.  This requires creating global, national and local principles and standards to incorporate gender dimensions and women directly into climate change initiatives and to ensure that climate financing responds to the needs of women and men equitably.


  • Evidence from 25 developed and 65 developing countries indicates that countries with higher female parliamentary representation are more likely to set aside protected land areas. A study of 130 countries shows that they are also more likely to ratify international environmental treaties.  In India and Nepal found women’s proportional strength in forest management committees impacts the effectiveness of their participation. The more women on the management committee, the greater is the likelihood that they will attend committee meetings, speak up and become office holders.

  • Since 1975, the number of disasters has risen from around 75 to more than 400 a year.   While women are generally more likely to die in a natural disaster, 2006 study of 141 natural disasters by the London School of Economics found that when economic and social rights are fulfilled for both sexes, the mortality rate for both sexes is equal.

  • In Africa, the proportion of women affected by climate-related crop changes could range from 73 percent in the Congo to 48 percent in Burkina Faso.  In villages where women are not actively involved in decision-making, they are more adversely affected by forest management decisions such as forest closures than in communities where they are more involved.

Effective responses to HIV require action to address gender inequality, including through the promotion and protection of rural women’s rights.  HIV is a critical problem for rural development and for rural women in particular, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.  Because of gender inequality, gender-based violence and the disproportionate burden placed on women and girls (often elderly women and young girls) of caring for family and community members living with and affected by HIV, women and girls are particularly impacted by HIV.  HIV has also been identified as the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age, highlighting the importance of linking work to address gender equality and HIV to sexual and reproductive health and rights.


  • Worldwide, more than 50 percent of people living with HIV are women and girls, and young women account for 26 percent of all new HIV infections.  HIV has also been identified as the leading cause of death among women of reproductive age. Yet only about 20 percent of young women in developing regions have comprehensive and correct knowledge of HIV.

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