Empower rural women to end poverty

Men and women are affected by poverty, but studies show that giving economic aid to women makes a bigger impact on child nutrition, health, and education. Empowering rural women may be the key to ending poverty.

Pervez Masih/AP/File
Pakistani women carry water on their head after collecting it from a reservoir on U.N. World Water Day, in Hyderabad, Pakistan, Saturday, March 22, 2014. Empowering rural women could result in better results for impoverished areas.

Atop a hillside, in the remote village of Gitega, Rwanda, 27-year-old mother of two Jeanette Uwimanimpaye wakes up at 5am to begin her day.

Many of the women in Jeanette’s village farm for a living. The ones who don’t farm work as porters— they carry bricks that are made in a nearby valley up to the nearest road, more than an hour’s climb up, at a price of 2 Rwandan Francs (less than one cent) per brick. These are the only two options for women in Gitega to earn an income, Jeanette says.

“One of the greatest challenges women living in my village face is poverty,” Jeanette says. “Men can earn more than the women because they are able to find jobs in town, whereas the women have to stay in the village to care for their children and house throughout the day.”

Around the world, 75 percent of people living in poverty depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Many of these people are women just like Jeanette. While rural poverty affects both men and women, research suggests that putting more income in the hands of women leads to improvements in child nutrition, health and education. The economic empowerment of rural women— through increased access to livelihoods training, education, and health and financial services— is key to reducing rural poverty across the globe.

One Acre Fund’s comprehensive 4–part model is designed to help rural women improve their farms’ productivity, increase their incomes, and grow their way out of hunger and poverty. With increased income comes increased purchasing power— farmers are able to invest in livestock and small businesses, pay for their children’s education and health care, and even bring running water to their homes.

Even with programs like One Acre Fund to help them, Jeanette and women like her still must work incredibly hard to ensure their families’ survival. This rural women’s day, Jeanette provides us with a glimpse of what day-to-day life is really like for her and her family.

After waking up, Jeanette sweeps her compound to start the morning with a clean home. Her two sons, Jerome, 5, and Isaac, 3, wake slowly after her and make their way out of the bedroom. After sweeping, she helps Isaac dress and feeds both children.

Once the children are dressed and fed, Jeanette locks up the house and together they walk to her field. Today, Jeanette’s farm work involves preparing the soil for planting, which she must do using nothing but her hands and a hoe. Jeanette’s husband, Antoine, works as a brick-maker, so his time to help with farm duties is limited. It will take Jeanette a full week working alone to fully prepare her fields for for planting.

Later on, Jeanette walks over to another part of her farm, where she harvests some sweet potatoes to cook for lunch. Before she begins cooking, she must scrub the pots and utensils from the night before with dirt to clean them, peel and wash the potatoes she harvested, shred cabbage, dice tomatoes—all with a handle-less knife. She then cooks it all on a three-stone fire in her mud hut kitchen. The entire process takes her two hours without a moment’s rest.

“The work I enjoy most is cooking because it means I have food for my family,” Jeanette says. “When I’m done, I see that they are happy and full—it in turn makes me happy too.”

Jeanette and her sons sit to enjoy the food she’s cooked, and later her younger sister joins them. Jeanette and her sister were orphaned in 1994 when their parents fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo at the height of the Rwandan genocide. Their parents fled with three of her five siblings, while Jeanette and her sister were left behind. She says since that day, they have never heard from their family again.

Both Jeanette and her sister used to struggle to feed their children, but since joining One Acre Fund, they both have enough food to feed their families for the entire year.

“Not only does more harvest mean more food,” she explains, “but having enough food at home often means there will be peace between the husband and wife when there might not have been before.”

In the afternoon and evening, Jeanette will attack a seemingly endless list of other chores and activities she plans to do before the sun sets—visit the market, more cooking, more land preparation. Before heading off to market, she smiles and encourages us to visit again. She is eager for us to share more stories of the resilient women in her community.

In remote areas across sub-Saharan Africa, women are responsible for growing the food that will feed their families and communities. Solutions to boost the productivity and incomes of rural women can directly reduce poverty and increase food security in the world’s most vulnerable regions. As the development community works to achieve the sustainable development goals, we must remember that rural women are central figures in the fight to end global hunger.

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