International Women's Day (2012) Speech at IFAD Headquarters by Kanayo F. Nwanze

Empowering young rural women: Inspiring futures

IFAD Headquarters, Rome - Italy Conference Room
8 Mar, 2012

Esteemed Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great pleasure to welcome you to IFAD to celebrate International Women’s Day.

If there is one message that I would like you to come away with today, it is this -- women hold the key to ensuring food and nutrition security in developing countries. If we truly want to eliminate poverty and hunger, we must empower women and create the conditions for equality. We have a duty to recognize the contributions of women, and to remove the obstacles they face.

At IFAD we are keenly aware that empowering women can have a dramatic impact on so many levels. On individuals, on families, communities, and even on countries. Investing in women is an investment in productivity and food security, as well as peace and security as a whole. 

In every country where we work we have seen that when women have savings, they re-invest in their communities and in their own future. Women have proven to be prudent savers and savvy entrepreneurs.

But the obstacles that women face are considerable. Women are often denied access to basic education and health care. They are denied a voice in political and economic decision-making. Women are held back by unequal property rights and limited control over resources. In addition, violence against women is widespread, and it is women who bear the brunt of conflict situations. 

The United Nations has named 2012 the international year of empowering rural women to end poverty and hunger. During this year, IFAD’s particular focus will be on young rural women. Working with adolescent girls and young women presents a unique opportunity to transforms lives, not only of the young women themselves but also of future generations. When these young women have access to resources and service, they can become powerful agents of change in their families and communities. They are the future leaders, farmers, businesswomen, teachers and mothers of tomorrow.

Today’s generation of young people is the largest in history. At a time when the world population has topped 7 billion and is heading towards 8 billion, we need these young people to be the farmers and rural entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

We must ensure that rural girls, as well as boys, are educated; that young women, as well as young men, receive training,  so that they can be the community leaders, the business people and the productive farmers of tomorrow.

This is not just our vision for today’s youth, but their own vision for themselves.

Three weeks ago, IFAD hosted a special meeting to address youth in agriculture. Thirty-five young women and men attended, representing farmers and producer organizations from around the world. 

These young people all agreed that there is an urgent need for a new rural reality based on a positive image of farming as a dynamic business. They demonstrated a refreshing creativity, dynamism and desire to take advantage of new opportunities. We must not let them down!

International days are an opportunity to draw world attention to important issues – but we must remain focused on these issues each and every day of the week, and not just on the official day.

Gender equality and women’s empowerment have always been at the core of IFAD’s efforts to reduce poverty, for reasons of both development effectiveness and justice. These two dimensions are inseparable; you cannot have one without the other.

We have made much progress, but we also know that we need to do much more, and to do it faster. Enabling women to have more equal access to economic opportunities and services, and improving their livelihoods, is not only a matter of justice -- it is also one of the most effective strategies for reducing poverty and malnutrition. Indeed, as my colleagues at FAO have found, giving women the same access as men to agricultural resources and inputs could increase production on women’s farms by as much as 30 per cent. Doing this would reduce the number of hungry people in the world by 100 to 150 million people.

In other words, greater justice leads to improved food security and greater development for all.

Thank you.