It is another occasion of International Women's Day. But how far has the rural woman gone in as far as attaining self-reliance? How many rural women can emphatically say that they are empowered and sing from the same hymn book with the men?
Many still search for answers. But March 8, has been put aside to commemorate the important aspects of a woman's toil. But a village woman always comes up against marked disadvantages compared to their more enlightened urban counterparts. Why the odds stacked against the rural woman?
First, a good number are single mothers opens up the talking point. And the challenges of single moms, you guess! Second, when quite a number of husbands are out, gathered around ‘malwa' pots, with straws connected to their tongues this woman faces the responsibility of making pertinent contributions to the rural economy. She produces and processes food.
Feeds and cares for her family. And overall, brings income, adding to the well-being of the household. But against huge odds, in many communities, the woman faces wide-ranging discrimination. She can't gain access to land. She is even denied education because the shoe-string budget for school fees must first go to boys in the family. And when she finally gets her chance to enter the classroom, the woman gets expelled upon discovering her pregnancy. After delivery, never returns to school. A basic right snatched from her. Therefore, in a world where this gender equality thing is being widely proclaimed as essential for sustainable development, empowering the rural woman can't wait for tomorrow.
Empower them to improve livelihoods and overcome poverty. Without the power, emancipation songs will get louder but this woman will continue to face violence at home, in armed conflict collecting firewood and water. Effort is still needed to ensure that this woman comes out of her snare. Improve her social standing and economic ranking in the village. Recognise her importance. Start to create participatory platform to ensure that when she talks, her husband take his seat to listen.
Deliberate steps are required to change things. So that where a school girl gets pregnant, keep her in school. To the ones found to be expecting or have become mothers, let them choose to continue with studies or stay home. Give her education so she acquires qualifications and be empowered. She needs relevant skills to be employable. Sending her out of school won't help. It denies the girl-child a chance to acquire skills that provides decent life-sustaining skills. About 16 million girls between six and 11 never get a chance to finish school.
Gender disparity is a major player in this. It is reported to be highest in Arab States, sub-Saharan Africa and South and West Asia. Across sub-Saharan Africa alone, 9.5 million girls never set their foot in a classroom. It means that only a few complete schools owing to various challenges.
Therefore, we can set the stage to bringing girls up to speed, in order that they are not left behind. It requires a lot of promotion at all levels. From grassroots to the very top, there is urgent requirement to include equity and inclusion in policies in order to protect girls in all circumstances.
Then they will be able to have the confidence to go about business. And more will go to school, stay in school, get some useful skills and become empowered citizens. So let this international women's day present be used to spread that message about a rural woman's' importance.
The writer is a civil engineer