Women Leaders Eradicating Rural Poverty

ICJW was proud to co-sponsor a Side Event at CSW62 on “Women Political & Business Leaders: Achieving Economic Solvency with Rural Women” on March 12, 2018. The event was sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Fiji, Estonia, Chile and Albania together with organizations:  FAWCO, PPSEAWA, LWV, ICJW and BPW.

This forum showcased best political practices that have led to the eradication of extreme poverty for rural women and girls. Leaders from Canada, Chile, Estonia and Fiji spoke about strategies to strengthen economic solvency.  These political leaders are combating issues faced by many rural women.  The plight of indigenous women was highlighted.

Opening Remarks by Hon. Mereseini Vuniwaqa, Fiji, Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation.  Today’s meeting brings together many women who have done much to alleviate poverty.  It is more important than ever to empower women in this era of climate change.  40% of agriculture is in the hands of women and this is an area where effects of climate change are most important.  The Minister emphasized that women can influence policy on many levels – women leaders can influence national policy.  All women can influence household and community decision making.  In the fight against poverty in the era of climate change, women are most vulnerable.

Rosalee Keech, the moderator, introduced the speakers.  She began by emphasizing that, when women are in leadership roles, more attention is paid to social issues and to making constructive change.  By 2015, the number of people living in extreme poverty ($1.50 per day or less) had decreased to 14% of people on earth.  This is still 800,000,000 people.  All of these people suffer from hunger, malnutrition and lack of education – the components of poverty.

Canada: Senator Marilou McPhedran (Canadian Parliament) uses her lens as a human rights lawyer to work for economic solvency and independence.  She’s working to overcome barriers by creating a legal framework based on rights.   In Canada improvement has been achieved by passing a budget based on gender and diversity.  There have been increased allocations for women entrepreneurs.  The gaps between women and men and rural and urban have been lowered due to new laws and a revision of the constitution which gave full rights (e.g. land ownership) to women.   However, more attention must be paid-especially to indigenous women-many who live in rural areas.

Gender-based budgeting is very important.  In Canada, the situation is now very good.  In the current budget, every article mentions gender and $1.65 Billion is allocated to women entrepreneurs.

Chile: Ms. Maria Soledad Berrios, Director of Programs and Regional Management with responsibility for the Promotion and Development of Women began by stating that the poverty rate in Chile is just 3% but most of the poor are indigenous peoples who are hard to reach.

Of 1.85 million rural women, 133,000 are farm workers; some are paid and some are not.  Many live in poverty and just 1 in 10 finish high school.  Three public policies exist to alleviate the situation:

  • Training program for rural women in which they learn technology. Since 1992, 30,000 women have been trained for 3 years each; participants include some indigenous women.
  • Loans for women – 16,000 women have low interest loans to start businesses.
  • Since 1995 there has been a National Board for Rural Women’s organizations. Today there are 17 participating organizations. In the last four years, they have been able to facilitate loans to women without involving their husbands or partners.

Estonia: Ms. Kristina Luht, Advisor on Equality Policies in the Ministry of Social Affairs.

From 2016 to 2023 there is a welfare development plan in place in Estonia which, for the first time, includes women’s economic independence.

According to the speaker, economic independence is very important for women in Estonia because it helps them get away from violence.  A big issue is that the gender gap in salary in Estonia is 25.3%, the biggest in the European Union.  But, there has been equal pay legislation in place since 2004.  The Labor Department will soon start to investigate why the law in not enforced.  They will use information technology tools to examine the salary structure.

Family leave policy is good – Parental leave is provided to women for 1.5 years at near full salary.  They are looking toward more equal leave; want to increase paternal leave from 10 to 40 days.  In addition, the government identifies family friendly companies and has, to date, named 40 such companies.

Estonia recognizes that we must change gender attitudes to create more female leaders and must encourage girls to pursue careers in non-traditional fields.  Note that the President of Estonia is a woman.

Fiji: Hon. Mereseini Vuniwaqa, Fiji, Minister for Women, Children and Poverty Alleviation has worked to shine a light on domestic violence.  In Fiji there are 189,000 rural women who live on 100 islands.  She shared that a huge improvement for this population came about with an increased investment in infrastructure.  With improved village roads came access to legal services, water and electricity.  There was a 6.3% decrease in poverty because of this crucial investment.  Other improvements helping rural women include provisions for loans, micro financing and credit.  The women serving in Parliament are working to ensure women’s social and economic rights.  There are many good laws and policies in place, but there must be more implementation.  A case in point is the continued prevalence of domestic violence but unfortunately it is still entrenched in cultural traditions.

Final Comments:

Canada:  There is unequal representation between rural and urban women in the government.  There is a need for leadership, education and the use of social media to reduce these gaps.  Implementation of laws and increased women’s participation are keys to improvement.  Women must support each other.

Chile:  There are more and more women serving in Parliament and in business. In order to eradicate extreme poverty, the needs of indigenous women must be targeted.  Training is key.

What can NGOs do to solve this problem:

  • NGOs must form partnerships with governments and institutes.
  • NGOS must use strong voices when addressing ministers.
  • NGOs must strengthen their roles and generate more space.
  • Best practices must be shared.
  • NGOs must increase intergenerational participation.
  • NGOs play a critical role and need to work in synergy with governments.

Event planned and reported by:  Joan Lurie Goldberg and Judy Mintz. Also attended by:  Madeleine Brecher and Fran Butensky.