The vital role of women throughout history has ensured that communities and nations have been able to progress, safeguarding the stability and long-term development of society as a whole. Rural women play a key role in food production worldwide and form a large proportion of the global agricultural workforce.

Women comprise 43 percent of the world’s total agricultural labour force, rising to approximately 70 percent in some countries. Across Africa, 80 percent of agricultural production comes from small farmers, most of whom are rural women. They are key agents for development, as they assume transformational roles in economic, environmental, and social change — essential in sustainable development. 

Despite the catalytic role rural women assume in attaining these changes, there are several challenges which prevent them from reaching their utmost potential, which in turn could benefit their society at large. These include limited access to credit, health care, and education. These challenges are further aggravated by the global food and economic crises, and climate change. Structural barriers and discriminatory social norms also continue to limit rural women’s ability and power to make decisions. Their political participation in rural households and communities is also being compromised.

Therefore, empowering and motivating these women is required for overall economic productivity, given that the agricultural workforce is largely dominated by them. They are at the frontlines when agriculture and natural resources are at risk.  This is why the UN has introduced an ‘International Day of Rural Women;’ to educate the public on these women’s continuous and tremendous efforts, which often go unnoticed. 

The UN Secretary General, António Guterres stated that “as early adopters of new agricultural techniques, first responders in crisis and entrepreneurs of green energy, rural women are a powerful force that can drive global progress.” 

In addition to celebrating their diligent endeavors, this day also recognises and acknowledges the issues rural women are facing today. The result, hopefully, will be that citizens can gain awareness and contribute to these concerns with the aim of improving the quality of life for rural women globally. 

As this day brings commemoration and admiration, individuals that have been working strenuously to ensure that rural women are being given opportunities to better the environment they live in must also be celebrated. Individuals like Anzurat Akobirshoeva have made this the drive for their immense work. Anzurat was a Natural Resource Management Officer for the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), and is now working for the Mountain Societies Development Support programme, a project of the AKF. She devotes her time and know-how to help build women’s skills so they are able to get the most out of their farms. She has helped improve the community of the Badakhshan province in northern Afghanistan, by ensuring that farmers receive training on how to build low-cost greenhouses in order to diversify their crops. This has significantly aided the surrounding community, as these developments have led to greater opportunities in the market, resulting in extra income and a better quality of life. 

Additionally, Anzurat is currently managing a project entitled “Improving Livelihood and Biocultural Practices,” which focuses on biodiversity conservation, and the revitalisation of traditional knowledge and practices. 

Anzurat described how women play a “vital role in improving livelihood, as they are the main keepers of knowledge and practices.” She continued to explain that women have the power to transfer knowledge, and, hence “transfer their gained knowledge to their children on a daily basis,” in order to create a sustainable future. This would also ensure that the knowledge is “disseminated widely among the community.”

Women like Anzurat Akobirshoeva have dedicated their lives to help emancipate rural women from typical norms and empower them to continue bettering the communities within which      they live, using the skills they develop for a sustainable future. Mawlana Hazar Imam often emphasises the importance of the education of women in society.  In an interview for the documentary “Islam and the West” in Morgenland, Germany on 30 May 2009, he stated that “the better educated the woman is, the more respect she is going to get in modern civil society.”  

We, as members of this society, must reflect upon the concerns that the International Day of Rural Women highlights, and help educate our fellow citizens so that these women can continue shaping and developing their communities with dignity and societal support.