Founded in 1945, the United Nations (U.N.) is an international organization made up of 193 member states. The U.N. takes on many issues, including food production and gender equality. Four of its branches, the World Food Programme (WFP), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (U.N. Women), are working together to implement the Rural Women Economic Empowerment Project (Project). The Project works toward gender equality in Rwanda by empowering women through agriculture.
Rwanda has the highest population density in Africa, but the country is largely rural. Overall, about a quarter of Rwandans live in extreme poverty. However, in rural communities, the percentage of people living in extreme poverty rises to almost half. Because of Rwanda’s limited natural resources, its citizens depend on its agriculture economy.
World Food Programme
World Food Programme (WFP) is one of the leading humanitarian organizations fighting against global hunger. Responding in food emergencies and working with communities to “improve nutrition and build resilience,” WFP distributes approximately 12.6 billion rations per year. These rations are split between 80 countries and reach 80 million people.
In Rwanda, approximately 36 percent of households comprise of only women or orphans, and many of these households make money through smallholder family farms. Outside of the Project, WFP works with smallholder farmers in Rwanda to enhance their management capacities and boost their incomes. Already working toward gender equality in Rwanda, WFP also encourages women and girls to contribute to decision-making in their households and communities.
Within the Project, WFP helps improve rural women’s livelihoods and nutrition by providing:
- Iron-fortified beans
- Sweet potato cuttings
- Vegetable seeds
- Irish potatoes
International Fund for Agricultural Development
IFAD is an international financial institution within the U.N. that has reached 464 million people and provided $18.5 billion in grants and loans during its tenure. The agency focuses on small-scale agriculture as a means for poverty reduction, using a people-centered approach.
Working with the other U.N. branches, IFAD has contributed to the Project by funding the installation of maize milling stations to enable Rwandan women to process their own crops. The new milling stations mean that female farmers do not have to ship out and pay for their maize to be processed elsewhere, giving Rwandan women more control over their production and helping them maximize their profits.
Food and Agriculture Organization
FAO is another leading organization in the fight against hunger. Working in over 130 countries, FAO functions as a forum for negotiating agricultural agreements as well as a source of technical information about agriculture and aid development.
FAO contributes to the Project by running an FAO Farmer Field and Life School. The School introduces Rwandan women to modern farming techniques and teaches them the skills they need in implementing the techniques.
U.N. Women primarily works with governments and civil societies to design policies and programs that ensure gender equality. The organization has four strategic priorities:
- Women and girls are violence free
- Women have economic autonomy
- Women participate in and benefit equally from governance systems
- Women participate in building sustainable peace and resilience and benefit equally from humanitarian action
Rwanda is actually the only country in the world with a female majority in its national parliament, and the country adopted a revolutionary constitution in 2003 that prioritized gender equality in Rwanda. However, according to U.N. Women, women’s literacy rates in Rwanda are still ten percent below Rwandan men’s and gender-based violence remains an issue.
U.N. Women contributes to the Project by training participants in entrepreneurialism and responsibility sharing. The training gives women the tools to start their own small business and teach them how to delegate. Rwandan women are taught how to maximize their resources and profits without overburdening themselves.
Beata, a widow with four children, has greatly benefited from the WFP-IFAD-FAO and U.N. women joint Project in Rwanda. The FAO School taught Beata how to plant the iron-fortified beans WFP provided and helped her build a cistern to collect rainwater. Now, her children can work on the farm instead of hiking to get water every day. The Project’s aid helped Beata grow a sizeable surplus of beans for the first time, to buy a sewing machine and to pay for her daughter’s education.
According to IFAD “Women are major contributors to agriculture and rural economies, yet they have significantly less access to services, markets, and assets, including land, than men do.” Aiding female famers not only promotes gender equality but also boosts economies.
So far, the Project has helped over 17,000 women directly and has indirectly benefited over 83,000 more. Extending into 11 districts across Rwanda, the Project has already made substantial progress toward reducing poverty and achieving gender equality in Rwanda.
– Kathryn Quelle