About the Author: Ertharin Cousin serves as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies in Rome.
For nearly a century, March 8 has been celebrated globally as International Women's Day. Yet I am particularly excited about this year's celebration because the United Nations has declared the global theme in 2010 as "Equal rights, equal opportunities: Progress for all." Although this theme applies to all women in all sectors, I think it has a very apt meaning for women striving to make progress in agriculture. By unanimously endorsing the Rome principles for food security and poverty alleviation the global community acknowledged the pivotal role of agricultural development and the important role of women. Even before endorsement of the Rome principles, the Obama Administration announced development as a key pillar of the foreign policy agenda.
Women today account for the majority of the developing world's agricultural workforce. In addition to being mothers and wives, they gather water and fuel, toil on the land and produce half of the world's food. Women provide the backbone of the international agricultural workforce, however, rural women have limited access to the resources that they need. Women are not accessing their full potential, leading to decreased agricultural output and increased under-nutrition of their children.
To achieve our poverty alleviation and hunger reduction goals, the international community must continue to tap the vast resources of rural women. By promoting equal rights and equal opportunities, we strive to give women assets equal to those of men and we promote growth in agricultural development, leading to increased food security and nutrition. Not only does agricultural development play a central role in hunger mitigation, it also provides for poverty alleviation when rural farmers can grow more food to feed their families, sell more of their products and generate some additional income. Hence, the global possibilities that agricultural development presents are endless. The international community must take this day to honor women and to recognize their vital role in tackling global food security goals.
The Obama Administration has pledged to invest at least $3.5 billion in food security over three years, and the Fiscal Year 2011 budget requests includes $1.6 billion. These budget increases reflect the Administration's desire to strengthen and prioritize the role of women in agricultural development by promoting sustainable agricultural production, linking farmers to markets to help increase access to food, increasing the incomes of the rural poor, and promoting target interventions.
We support women's roles in agricultural development to continue the fight against malnutrition and poverty. To achieve this goal, we must include women in dialogue at all levels, improve women's access to resources, particularly financial services and agricultural inputs. We also invest in labor-saving technology that will allow women to increase their agricultural production. Most importantly still, we must invest in women's education because this not only increases agricultural output but also serves as a tool to alleviate poverty. If working together the international community provides women with these tools, greater opportunities will be generated for women, and with these opportunities women will succeed.