The new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have gender equality and women’s empowerment at their core. It has been acknowledged that for the SDGS to be truly transformational, rural women are a key constituency in assisting national governments to achieve inclusive and gender-equitable results.
In October 2015, former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon once remarked, “Rural women are the backbone of sustainable livelihoods and provide food security for their families and communities”. The then UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka also reaffirmed that rural women play a key role in underpinning sustainable development and further stressed that following the framework of Agenda 2030 will help in accelerating progress for rural women. Rural women play a critical role in supporting their households in the achievement of food and nutrition security, in improving rural livelihoods and in generating income and overall well-being. Rural women account for a substantial proportion of the agricultural labour force, perform most of the unpaid care work and are significant actors in food production as well as in the agricultural, forestry, fisheries, and livestock sector.
Non-Aligned Movement too recognises the significant role that rural women play in the realisation of the development goals. NAM has reaffirmed the vital role of women and the need for their full and equal participation and leadership in all areas of sustainable development, as well as resolving to undertake legislative and administrative reforms to give women equal rights with men to economic resources, equal access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, credit, inheritance, natural resources and appropriate new technology. The Movement has also recognized the importance of promoting, protecting and enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by rural women and girls, including the right to development.
NAM has welcomed the adoption of the Resolution 70/132 on improvement of the situation of women in rural areas which states that the empowerment of rural women is critical for the realization of their rights and to secure the well-being of their families and communities. Their contributions are vital to agricultural and rural development and local and national economies. Rural women are key to the success of virtually all the proposed sustainable development goals, not only proposed goal 5, to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls, but also across the framework, particularly synergies with goals 1 (end poverty in all its forms everywhere) and 2 (end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture).
NAM Member States have reiterated the importance of empowering rural women as critical agents for advancing agricultural and rural development In realisation of this, number of NAM Member States has undertaken a series of initiatives to promote the development and welfare of women in the rural areas and which is yielding positive results. Here, we focus on two NAM countries- namely India and Bangladesh. India’s rural development programs have helped organize 22 million women into Self-Help Group (SHGs). A notable program in India has been Support to Training and Employment Programme (STEP) which aims to enable groups of women to take up employment-cum- income generation program and provide support for further improving training and employment conditions of women. The target group includes the marginalised asset less rural women. In Bangladesh, rural women are now engaged in rural development works across the country as labourers. Further, through the Kallyani scheme, Bangladesh is bringing the internet to isolated rural areas through a social enterprise that empowers women to become entrepreneurs. The women, known as Kallyani, travel between villages via bicycle and bring with them a laptop, tablet, smartphone, Wi-Fi hotspot and digital camera that villagers can use. The women have also been trained to give simple legal and medical advice.