Marking International Day of Rural Women, UN Women called on Sierra Leone to ensure that women and girls living in rural areas enjoy their human rights as this would enable making “progress for all”. “The empowerment of rural women and girls is essential to building a prosperous, equitable and peaceful future for all on a healthy planet,” the UN Women said, stressing that “it is needed for achieving gender equality, ensuring decent work for all, eradicating poverty and hunger and taking climate action”. In Sierra Leone, UN Women says rural women represent 70% of the agricultural labour force adding that despite the important role women play in natural resource management and food production their works is often informal and poorly paid, offering little access to social protection or income security. “Rural women in Sierra Leone are often discriminated against ownership, access to and control of land, and most importantly, women are not realizing their economic impact from their agricultural activities. This is largely because of discriminatory, customary and statutory laws which favour men to women.” Isatu Sesay, program officer, Initiative for Women and Children said, “As child labour is common in the countryside, girls form a significant part of the agricultural workforce. This means rural women and girls remain disproportionately affected by poverty, inequality, exclusion and the effects of climate change.” Sesay said that includes the right to land and security of land tenure; to adequate food and nutrition and a life free of all forms of violence, discrimination and harmful practices. She added that every woman and girl should expect the highest attainable standard of health, including sexual and reproductive health; and has a right to quality, affordable and accessible education. Sesay says women and girls are responsible for water collection and fuel collection in most rural households without access to drinking water or electricity. The arduous journey, she says often takes several hours, poses much safety risks and hampers their ability to get an education or make a living. In addition, cooking with unclean fuels can result in long-term and even fatal health problems for women, Sesay stated, in countries like Sierra Leone that rely heavily on fuels like coal, wood, manure or crop waste for cooking, women account for 6 out of every 10 premature deaths through household air pollution. Stating that improving the lives of women and girls in rural areas requires “legal and policy reforms” and their inclusion in the decisions that affect their lives, Sesay stressed that “investing in their well-being, livelihoods and resilience, we make progress for all”. Noting the critical role that women’s groups play in sustainable development, the UN’s gender-quality agency, UN Women, noted that enhanced access to safe drinking water and sanitation brings gains in girls’ education and eventually increases women’s paid work to generate goods and provide services. She further pointed out that extending the reach of water grids and continuous piped drinking water to rural communities, is therefore an important priority with multiple benefits.
By Sylvia Villa
Wednesday October 17, 2018.