Rural women and girls deserve gender equality too

By Caitlin McInnis

The 62nd session of Commission on the Status of Women will take place in March 2018. The Australian government will be present at the session and recently took submissions from experts and the public as to what it should prioritise and advocate for when attending the session. The Castan Centre’s Acting Director Tania Penovic made a submission together with Angela Gibbs highlighting five main areas that the government should focus on.

Established to promote “gender equality and the empowerment of women”, the Commission helps to “shape global standards on gender equality”. The main theme for the 2018 session will be the furtherance of gender equality for rural women and girls. The session will also review the agreed upon conclusions from the 47th session of the Commission which focused on the “participation in and access of women to the media”.

According to Gibbs and Penovic, the government needs to consider the positive role women-only or women-focussed spaces or centres play in the empowerment of rural women and girls. Places such as Babarra Women’s Centre, located in remote northern Australia, are run for and by local women and “provide activities, employment and training opportunities through the establishment and operation of appropriate small business enterprises”.

A major factor identified by Gibbs and Penovic in achieving gender equality is ensuring rural women and girls have access to quality education. Education ensures women and girls are economically empowered and contributes to better health and well being outcomes. Unfortunately, in rural areas accessing quality education is difficult. Gibbs and Penovic point out that studies have shown that where a family cannot support all children attending school due to workload or the cost of schooling, it is usually the girl child who is forced to drop out of school.

Access to health services is another big issue facing rural women and girls. The Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) requires state parties to ensure that rural women have access to adequate healthcare facilities. However, in 2012, more than half of Australia’s rural maternity units had closed over the previous 15 years due to safety concerns, cost and workforce shortages.

On top of health, food security is a significant issue for rural women and girls. Statistics from UN Women show that rural women currently represent 43% of the agricultural labour force, however, they are “less able to access land, credit, agricultural inputs…and obtain lower prices for their crops”.

Finally, Gibbs and Penovic’s submission looks at political participation and local leadership. Under CEDAW, states must make sure that women’s participation in government is supported. Without the voices of rural women and girls in government, making sure their voices are heard and their needs are part of the public political agenda is difficult.

Read Angela Gibbs and Tania Penovic’s full submission here.

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