South Africa says Namaste to Ahlan!

Ms Almomany and Ms Swaminathan at the GCARD3 south africa

Ms Almomany and Ms Swaminathan at the GCARD3 South Africa Photo: Showkat Rather

Johannesburg, South Africa, 7 April 2016 by Showkat Rather – Achieving food and nutritional security along with ensuring equal rights to women is one of the key challenges faced by the world. But there seems to be a ray of hope in India and Arab world, where women have set examples in creating a niche for nutritional security and at the same time have empowered and enlightened other women.

According to United Nations Women, it is calculated that women could increase their income globally by up to 76 per cent if the employment participation gap and the wage gap between women and men were closed. This is calculated to have a global value of USD 17 trillion.

Imagine a strong network of over millions of rural women working for a common goal to achieve nutritional security and ensuring ‘She’ has an equal opportunity to be independent – both socially and economically.

Resonating the voices of millions of rural women from India and Egypt, Ms Umadevi Swaminathan from Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), India, and Ms Zeinab Almomany, President of Specific Union for Farmer Women in Jordan and Sakhrah Women’s Society Cooperative, met at the Third Global Conference on Agriculture Research and Development (GCARD3) held in Johannesburg, South Africa this week.  Coorganized by CGIAR and the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) and co-hosted with Agriculture Research Council (ARC) South Africa, GCARD3 brings together over 500 delegates from across the world.

Travelling thousands of miles from their home countries to attend GCARD3, these women realized that they both were working for the same goal: empowering rural women and securing their future. They have a mission to ensure rural women’s voices are heard and not overlooked across the world.

With a strong network of over 2 million rural women from over 14 states in India and the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries, SEWA is an organization of poor, self-employed women workers. These are women who earn a living through their own labor or small businesses. They do not obtain regular salaried employment with welfare benefits like workers in the organized sector. Constituting 93% of the labor force, they are the unprotected workers of the unorganized sector.

SEWA organizes women across different countries to ensure that every family obtains full employment. Through self-reliance, SEWA ensures that women can become economically autonomous and self-reliant, individually and collectively, in terms of their decision-making ability.

“We are here to share our experiences and network with professional organizations so than we can find out how we can work together at the grassroots level”, says Ms Swaminathan while expressing her views at one the key thematic sessions of GCARD3 – Ensuring better rural futures.

“We have created the platform for rural women so that their voices are heard, and to ensure they have healthy diets and are able to not only shape their own future, but the future of their children,” she added.

Ensuring women are empowered in a professional way, SEWA partners with a number of organizations including the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), where it is introducing rural women to digital technologies, connecting them with rest of the word and promoting healthy diets through the consumption of foods like nutrient-rich millets.

According to reports, about 2 billion people are deficient in key vitamins and minerals. Women and children are most vulnerable. Data from UNICEF reveals that 159 million children are stunted, 50 million are malnourished and 41 million are overweight.

Major forms of malnutrition in children under the age of five all pose a threat to the long and short-term development of children, families, communities and nations. Therefore it’s important that organizations like SEWA and ICRISAT come together and stimulate rural populations, especially women, to eat healthy diets for their nutritionally secure future.

Like SEWA in India, the Specific Union for Farmer women in Jordan is another strong network of rural women, where rural women are heard and connected with other thousands of rural Arab women.

“Women from Arab countries are one of the biggest victims, when it comes to fighting for their rights, their voices need to be heard in platforms like GCARD3, which envisages that No-one is left behind,” said Ms Almomany.

The union has over 5000 members and is aiming to develop and empower women farmers and girls in rural communities all across Jordan and other Arab countries–economically, educationally and socially. The union also works to evolve sectors like agriculture, environment and education by facilitating education loans for girls.

As GCARD3 aims to promote effective, targeted investment and build partnerships, capacities and mutual accountabilities at all levels of the agricultural system, this new partnership between India and Arab nations through the dialogue and collaboration of these two important women leaders, is the testimony of its success.

*Namaste is a greeting used in India and Ahlan is an Arabic way to say “hi”.

Originally posted in THE GFAR BLOG by Showkat Rather

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