Rural women face unique challenges: a briefing for CSW62

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 ‘…[T]here is little or no reliable sex-disaggregated data. Such data are key to getting an accurate picture of what the gaps are and where they lie so that policy interventions can be monitored to ensure they are impactful and relevant.’

Report of the Expert Group Meeting on the CSW 62 Priority Theme: Challenges and Opportunities in Achieving Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Rural Women and Girls, UN Women, Rome, 20-22 September 2017

Download the full CSW62 brief here


In March 2018, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW62) considers the priority theme ‘Challenges and Opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls’.

Women and girls face diverse challenges across the globe with factors such as age, disability, geography and more influencing their circumstances and opportunities.

However, people living in rural areas often face different challenges from those living in urban areas. These can include more limited employment opportunities and relative isolation from markets, infrastructure including energy, water and sanitation, and services including health and education.

This has particular impacts on women and girls, given gendered roles and responsibilities. For example, women and girls continue to bear major responsibility for unpaid household and care work, and so the time and labour burdens associated with lack of infrastructure fall heavily on them. However, persistent gender data gaps limit insights into the situation of rural women.

Individual level, gender sensitive measurement can address these gaps. Data at the individual level is critical, because every person experiences poverty differently. At the individual level, we can look at the intersection between characteristics like health and education, gender and environment, so we can better understand the root causes of poverty and overcome structural barriers to equality.

Figure 1 contains data from an IDM study in Fiji, 2015. This study found a difference in water access between poor rural, urban and informal settlements. It also found:

  • The collection of water in Fiji is gendered, with women having primary responsibility for collection
  • In rural settlements, the distance travelled to access water was up to 90 minutes each day (walking a longer distance to a water source takes time away from other productive activities and potentially exposes women and girls to increased risk of violence).
  • Urban settlements were the least deprived because the majority of residents had water piped into their dwellings
  • Women were more likely than men to report they did not have enough water to meet their needs.

Residents in both rural and informal settlements were more deprived than those in urban areas, but the nature of deprivation differed: residents in informal settlements struggled with water reliability, and residents of rural areas struggled with travelling long distances to access water. Being able to disaggregate data, including for sex and location, is key to understanding where to focus our efforts for change.

Revealing inequality within households

The IDM collects data from more than one individual within a household, which may allow us to explore the relationship between poverty and gender within the household. Better understanding inequality inside households can support more informed policy and targeted investments to achieve the SDGs.

Improved measurement = improved data

Measuring multidimensional deprivation at the individual level and sampling multiple adults within the same household can reveal inequality inside households, providing a more complete picture of poverty and inequality.

The IDM program is exploring better ways to capture the diverse circumstances of individuals experiencing deprivation.

For example, the revised IDM Survey (2018) introduces a measure of land tenure security, a particularly salient issue for rural women, with multiple implications for women’s empowerment.

For more information about revisions to the IDM survey, see the 2017 Methodology Update.


An informal settlement outside Port Moresby, PNG. Photo credit: Ben McFadden

Challenges of reaching women living on the edges – neither rural nor urban

Definitions of ‘rural’ and ‘urban’ are not as clear cut as generally discussed. Many individuals live in peri-urban settlements, which are also referred to as ‘informal’ or ‘squatter’ settlements. They may be less geographically isolated than rural communities, but still not benefit from infrastructure development in urban settlements.

With increasing rural-urban migration in many countries, making visible the situation of women in peri-urban settlements can support a deeper understanding of how internal movement is impacting lives, and highlight priorities for policy makers. In Suva, Fiji, for example, an estimated 20% of the city’s population live in informal settlements, and Government of Fiji statistics show poverty rates are highest in informal settlements, across all parts of the country.

IDM data from Fiji showed that those living in peri-urban, or ‘informal’ settlements, were more deprived than both rural and urban communities across a range of dimensions, including water access, shelter quality, and health status.

Download the full IDM brief for the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 62.