Today is International Day of Rural Women. In honor of the rural women with whom Heifer works, Elizabeth Bintliff, regional director of Heifer’s West Africa Program, wrote the following post.
Say the word “rural” and it conjures up all kindsof images, some positive and some negative; vast expenses of land, no modernfacilities, illiterate or ignorant people, poor, agrarian, scarce and more.When you put the word in the context of a developing country, and add thegender dimension, one begins to understand the enormous challenges that ruralwomen face.
It is for all these reasons and more that the UNGeneral Assembly established the International Day of Rural Women in 2008 to becelebrated on the eve of World Food Day. This day commemorates what the UN characterizes as “the critical roleand contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancingagricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicatingrural poverty.”
For all the challenges they face, rural women stillhave to feed and sustain their children and families against innumerable odds. Theirdays often begin earlier than the sun rises and end long after the sun sets. Inbetween, they are fetching water – often across great distances, usuallybalancing heavy vessels on their heads, gathering firewood for fuel, workinghunched-over on farms to grow food using rudimentary implements, sometimes withbabies tied precariously on their backs. Life for rural women can be especiallydifficult, and the rewards of their labor are usually small.
TakeDiana Asua, a 37-year-old wife and mother of three children, for example. Shelives in a rural community of Santa in Cameroon and is her husband’s secondwife. In addition to her own children, she is raising the six children of herco-wife, who is now diseased.
Dianadescribes herself 11 years ago as “a mere housewife who depended on my husbandtotally for everything about my upkeep and that of the family. I was also engaged in farming, as any villagewoman would do.”
Agift of pigs from Heifer in 2007 turned things around for her. Soon, theavailability of manure meant better farm production, there we pigs to fattenand sell, there was income to pay for school fees and medical bills. There wasa path out of poverty. Inthe time since she first received her animals she’s sold 116 pigs and manykilos of vegetables.