Friday, November 28, 2008

Rurality Then and Now, Here and There (Part V): Women's contributions to food production

Women's agricultural contributions are a common theme of two items that caught my attention this week. The first is the banner image below used to publicize the first International Day of Rural Women, which was just last month. The United Nations explains that the new day, first observed on 15 October 2008, was "established by the General Assembly in its resolution 62/136 of 18 December 2007." The designation recognizes“the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.”

The idea of honouring rural women with a special day was put forward by international NGOs at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. It was suggested that 15 October be celebrated as “World Rural Women’s Day,” the eve of World Food Day, in order to highlight the role played by rural women in food production and food security. “World Rural Women’s Day” has been celebrated, primarily by civil society, across the world for over a decade.

And here is another UN excerpt about the contributions of rural women, many of which are agriculture-oriented:

The International Day of Rural Women directs attention to both the contribution that women make in rural areas, and the many challenges that they face. Women play a critical role in the rural economies of both developed and developing countries. In most parts of the developing world they participate in crop production and livestock care, provide food, water and fuel for their families, and engage in off-farm activities to diversify the family income. In addition, they carry out vital functions in caring for children, older persons and the sick. Women make an important contribution to food production. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), 428 million women work in the agricultural sector around the world, compared to 608 million men. In many parts of the world, agriculture is the first sector of employment for women, for instance in Sub-Saharan Africa and in South Asia, where respectively 68 per cent and 61 per cent of working women are employed in agriculture.

While I am sure there is no relationship between the actions of the UN and those of the U.S. Mint, it nevertheless struck me as quite a coincidence today to see this image of an indigenous woman engaging in food production. Its similarities to the UN image were striking. This image of an American Indian woman growing corn, squash and beans will appear on a soon-to-be-released $1 coin. The U.S. Mint explains the image in a story by Matthew Healey:

Corn, beans and squash — the “three sisters” of Native American agricultural tradition — will appear on the nation’s one-dollar coins next year, in a design to be announced Friday by the United States Mint.

By the dictates of an act that Congress passed last year, the reverse side of the gold-colored Sacagawea dollars will bear a new design each year starting in 2009, as part of a thematic series showing Native American contributions to the history and development of the United States.

* * *

Adopting Indian farming methods proved crucial to European settlers’ surviving their early years in America.
So, just as the UN celebrates rural women--including indigenous women--and draws attention to their plight, the U.S. commemorates, in a small way, the contributions of American Indian women to food production in North America.

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