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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.


The good news is that creating a better livelihoodfor rural women often requires little investment. The key ingredient is simply opportunity.

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.

“Ihave collected at least 120 bags or 12,000 kg of manure from my pigsty. If Iwere to buy this manure, it would have cost at least 480,000FCFA ($898.50). I nowproduce corn, beans and Irish potatoes on the same half hectare of farm andhave gotten another half hectare for cabbage, leeks and carrots. I started allof this after having gotten seeds from Heifer. I harvest at least 1000kg ofcorn, 50kg of beans, 150kg of Irish potatoes, 6,000kg of cabbage, 2000kg ofcarrots and 750kg of leaks yearly. All of these were reserved just for menbefore; now look at where I am as a woman.”

Lifeis tough for rural women. It takes a great amount of industrial spirit to eke alife in places where there is so little. Yet, a large percentage of the worlddoes it every day, in the remote recesses of the earth, in places that areoften un-named and uncharted.

Soit is meaningful that on the International Day of Rural Woman we all pausefor a moment to recognize the brave, industrious women who make it happen. It’simportant that we look at them, if only for a day but hopefully for longer andsay to them: "We see you, you are making a meaningful contribution to the world, and we acknowledge you."

Author

Heifer International

Heifer International is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization working with communities to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth.

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