Women's rights: Let’s not wait another hundred years

In the hundred years since the first International Women’s Day there has been much progress in the advancing of women’s rights, but much more remains to be done.

For 2011 International Women’s Day, Oxfam looked at the role of women in food production, an especially important issue given rising global food prices and food shortages. Events were organised across the world to support women food producers to raise their profile and help the world understand the vital role they play in helping feed the world, as well as the challenges they face. 

Oxfam believes that to help overcome poverty, women need to be empowered to know and be able to exercise their rights, and they need to be able to be part of the decision-making that affects their lives. 

Take the example of access to food. Each day almost a billion people go to bed hungry, many of them women and children. This is an appalling statistic, and it is only likely to get worse as food supplies come under increased pressure from factors such as climate change which is drying up harvests in some areas, and washing them away in others. And as the growing global population, predicted to rise to 9 billon by the middle of the century, puts an increasing strain on the world’s resources. 

Women produce most of the world's food

But did you know that in many developing countries it is women who provide the majority of the agriculture labour and produce the majority of the food consumed by families? Yet despite their central role, they are frequently ignored in global and local decision-making about food production. In Sub Saharan Africa they produce 70-80% of household food, yet they own just 1% of the land, and therefore are often invisible to those making the policies to support agriculture and food production. Research shows that only five per cent of agricultural outreach and support services (extension services) are addressed to rural women and in Africa women receive only 10% of the credit allocated to small scale farmers. 

If women had the same access to support to produce food that men have, then the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that agricultural production could be increased and the number of hungry people in the world reduced by 100-150 million people. 

So Oxfam decided that the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day would be a great opportunity to raise the profile of women food producers. Events were organised across the world for them to have their say, for them to meet with politicians and decision makers, the media and the public, to share experiences of their challenges and solutions, to demand that politicians address their needs, and to celebrate their successes. 

IWD events around the world

In Tanzania, hundreds of women marched in the capital, Dar es Salaam, and then presented the government with thousands of cards celebrating the contribution of women and calling on the government to recognise the contribution of women and improve support to women farmers, strengthen women’s land rights and end gender based violence.

In Bangladesh a Female Farmers’ Hearing’ was organized where women agricultural workers could share their stories with policy makers and the public, to increase the recognition of contribution that female farmers make in providing food and highlight their particular vulnerability, especially in the context of  climate change. The State Minister who was attending became so moved by the story of Ambia Khatun, one of the testimony providers from the village of Khadimpur, that she invited her to share her story with the Prime Minster of Bangladesh at a state function.

In Peru, 100 women, accompanied by the first female mayor of Lima, displayed 100 messages related to the reality of rural women and asked the authorities to recognise the role of rural women in providing food for their families and the cities and highlighted the challenges they face, such as not owning the land they work on or receiving a fair wage for their work. 

In Mexico and the Philippines, as well as workshops and discussions on the role of women food producers, traditional food fairs were held, promoting the food that women have produced. 

And in the US, Australia, Canada and the UK supporters held dinners, social events and film screenings to raise awareness about the role of women food producers, the challenges they face and celebrate their successes. 

These are just some of the many events held around the world celebrating the role of women as food producers for International Women’s Day. But more importantly, we must continue to raise these issues every day, in all our lives. Let’s not wait another hundred years before women’s role as food producers is properly recognised and supported. 

Read more

> International Women's Day 2011

> Watch: Walk in My Shoes: a march for women's rights in Bukavu

> Oxfam's work on gender equality

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