53rd United Nations Commission on the Status of Women
The Perspective of Rural Women on the Current Global Financial Crisis
Shirley Williams-McClain
New York, New York
March 2, 2009

Good evening colleagues from around the world.  I am happy to make a short presentation on The Perspective of Rural Women on the Current Global Financial Crisis.  I am Shirley Williams-McClain, Issues Coordinator for Rural Development Leadership Network. I am a rural woman from Holly Springs, North Carolina in the United States of America.  In fact, I am one of 30 million rural women in the United States of America.

According to Women's World Summit Foundation:

-Rural women, mainly farmers, are at least 1.6 billion and represent more than a quarter of the total world population.

-Women produce on average more than half of all the food that is grown: up to 8O per cent in Africa, 60 per cent in Asia, between 3O and 4O per cent in Latin America and Western countries.

-Women own only 2 per cent of the land, and receive only one per cent of all agricultural credit.
-Only 5 per cent of all agricultural extension resources are directed to women. Women represent two thirds of all illiterate people.

-The number of rural women living in poverty has doubled since 197O.

In talking to poor rural women in my state and from my own observation this current financial crisis is devastating.  Poor rural women in my state feel very vulnerable.   They make the least amount of money and yet have to pay higher prices for gas, oil, electricity, food, transportation, housing and healthcare.   They are the victims of an unfair, and greedy economic system. The safety net that we worked so hard to put in place has been dismantled.  As in other countries, unfair international trade agreements have also contributed to loss of jobs and  a downward  spiral  in wages in their rural communities.

I am here today, like many of you, raising high the voices and needs of poor rural women and their families.  I am here because they tell me that they still have hope that all of us together can fashion a better economic system and a better way of life.  That is why today I am so proud to be here at the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women representing these poor rural women.

The financial system around the world seems dismal and grim.  The cost of fertilizer and seeds is making it more difficult for women to grow food to feed their families.   The food crisis has caused food riots in many countries. People are starving and dying in many countries. We feel the pain here in the USA. The newly unemployed are standing in line for food at food banks, which are barely able to meet their needs. It is urgent that we act now!!  When prices rise so high, rural women  lose their employment and everything is at risk, including shelter, food, healthcare, transportation and  even life itself.

Would you agree with me that the financial system is broken?  It did not work well for women like me and many of you in the past so maybe we can help reconstruct something that works for all the people.

There exist real opportunities for us as rural women to improve our situation.  The current financial crisis may even offer a chance to create new models of exchange and leadership. We must have rural women at the table to make policies at the local, state, national and international levels.  When we are at the table, we can develop policies to create more equitable wages for similar work, gain compensation for home healthcare, childcare and eldercare, and housework.  If women were on more policy boards we would be more powerful to help ourselves.

We must improve literacy and financial literacy for rural women.

Poor rural women must organize into groups to strategize on actions and advocacy to improve their communities. We must take responsibility for our own advocacy.   Politically, rural women can and must be willing to influence policies and governments at every level, including local, state, national and international.  Rural women must be visible and heard.  Our voices must be loud.  We must be willing to take risks for the financial and social betterment of our families and our sisters everywhere.  Even within this body, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, we must raise our voices high and advocate for the needs of rural women everywhere.  We must not abandon the Millennium Development Goals.   In the final analysis, we, rural women, have to believe that we truly deserve and entitled to the very best of everything in the world.

I want to take this final moment to recognize and acknowledge all the organizations that are working on behalf of all the rural women in the world.

Thank you for your attention and feel free to contact me at:

Shirley Williams-McClain
Issues Coordinator
Rural Development Leadership Network
[email protected]