Theme for 10th anniversary: Sustainable infrastructure, services and social protection for gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls
Today, October 15, is International Rural Women’s Day. It is also my mother’s birthday. She would have been 90 years old today. She died when she was 83 in 2012.
My mother, Mildred Pratt, was a rural woman. I share her journey in A Black Woman’s Journey from Cotton Picking to College Professor: Lessons about Race, Class, and Gender in America (http://menahprattclarke.com/a-black-womans-journey/). She grew up in Henderson, Texas, a small rural community in east Texas. As one of eight children, born on the cusp of the Great Depression, she grew up in the sharecropping lifestyle – a lifestyle of working another’s land for survival. A farming lifestyle of raising animals, picking cotton, and cultivating vegetables. A lifestyle steeped in poverty and hunger. A lifestyle in which education was often inaccessible. A lifestyle that emerged after Emancipation, yet barely exemplified an emancipated lifestyle.
In A Black Woman’s Journey, we learn about the roughness of rural life. Chopping wood for heating and cooking; carrying water from wells for drinking and cooking; and sewing and quilting. Barely having modern necessities – using outdoor toilets and relying on kerosene lamps – she survived. Surviving in the midst of legalized racial segregation and sanctioned discrimination as a poor African-American woman, whose grandmother was a slave, required resilience, strength, perseverance, determination, and creativity. These virtues and characteristics still define many rural women today.
Mildred’s journey is one that epitomizes the importance of empowering rural women who make up 25% of the world’s population. Many rural women, often indigenous, are women of color. Many are still living the same lifestyle as my mother did almost 100 years ago. Like her, their journeys and daily struggles often remain invisible, their plights dimly visible in the distance, obscured by the bright lights of the cities. When women anywhere become invisible, we perpetuate inhumanity.
Rural women across the world are hidden figures — fighting poverty, fighting for food security, fighting for land ownership, fighting for educational opportunities, and fighting for their family’s survival. Women all over the world are working day and night shifts – first, second, and third shifts. They are often mothers raising children, wives supporting husbands, and daughters caring for the elders, the elderly, and the ill. Their work sustains communities, even as they fight the oppression, sexism, and abuse steeped within many of their cultures.
Today, I remember the rural and indigenous women that I’ve met and seen across the world – women in the rural areas of Sierra Leone, women in Egypt, women in Israel, women in South Africa, women in Greece, women in Morocco, women in New Zealand, women in Canada, women in China, and women in rural Appalachia in the United States.
Today, on the 10th Anniversary of International Day of Rural Women, let us acknowledge and celebrate the role and influence of rural women as social justice agents of change across the world.
Today, as we recognize and celebrate International Rural Women’s Day, let us bring rural women to the forefront and let us confront and address their daily challenges. Let us support organizations that seek to support them. Let us build the capacity of rural women to lead meaningful, impactful, and transformative lives. Let us be agents of change.
To learn more, visit: http://www.un.org/en/events/ruralwomenday/background.shtml