“Rural women have higher educational level than men”, Joel Hernández, head of Sustainability and Agrotechnology at BBVAMF

International Rural Women’s Day: BBVAMF assembled a round table to discuss the achievements and challenges of rural women in Latin America

15 October 2019
Fundación Microfinanzas BBVA

More than 1.6 billion women live in rural areas: they produce more than half of the food we consume, but only 2% of the lands they till are their property, and they receive only 1% of the available loans to boost the agricultural sector. Today, as we celebrate International Rural Women’s Day, promoted by the United Nations to make rural women’s efforts more visible regarding the role they play in achieving sustainable development. It also serves to amplify their voices, and put a spotlight on the “invisible” jobs they do, so that they can be more economically independent, better provide for their families, and fight climate change. The BBVA Microfinance Foundation (BBVAMF), which serves 1.2 million women in Latin America (60% of its total clients), has organized a panel event in Casa de América, to discuss about the achievements and challenges of the more than 60 million rural women in the region, who not only face gender gaps, but also struggle with hunger, lack of employment and a greater technological disconnection.

“Rural women find it more difficult to progress: their access to resources to become economically independent is very limited, they spend more time taking care of their children and the elder members of their families and their contribution to agriculture is usually invisible”, assured head of Women Empowerment at BBVAMF, Laura Fernández, during the discussion. More than 150,000 rural women in five countries in the region have been granted a loan by the BBVAMF: they possess higher education than rural men and 70% of them are above 30 years of age. However, as the head of BBVAMF’s Sustainability and Agrotechnology, Joel Hernández, points out, “less than one third are farmers, compared to 55% of men. They face more obstacles to undertake a business activity in this sector because it requires more invesment in assets and more technical skills, although it has been observed that they are more willing to innovate and develop more sustainable activities that improve their standards of living.”

According to the European representative of the Interamerican Institute of Agricultural Cooperation, (IICA), Soraya Villaroya, “this is the time to acknowledge rural women as necessary players to guarantee food security and the social and economic progress of the American continent. Making this a priority, is an excellent decision.”

Women’s role in environmental protection

Lack of water, one of the effects of climate change, especially affects farming families, and women, for the most part, as they are more exposed to economic vulnerability, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). However, FAO also confirms that women are increasingly acknowledged in this area, as they have been recognized as defenders of territories, biodiversity and the cultural identity of their communities. “Communication could and should push a change in society’s mentality. Access to information is key to give an example and grab the opportunity to solve current challenges”, said Teresa Montoro, journalist and director of the “Hora América” program of Radio Nacional de España (RNE), during the debate moderated by the head of Efeminista, Patricia Crespo.

Women like Angélica Valbuena, served by the Foundation in Colombia, invests in organic farming to provide for her children and be a model in the community. “If I had known that I could do this alone, without a man, I would have started long ago. I needed confidence, to love myself and believe in myself a little bit more. Like the financial institution that believed in me.”

To support her effort, as well as those of other entrepreneurs like her, the Foundation offers specific products like MebA (Microfinance for Ecosystem-based Adaptation) in Colombia and Dominican Republic; Agrocrédito and Macadamia value chain in Dominican Republic and Ruralfin in Panama. Furthermore, the BBVAMF is working on support programs for rural women, which include medical examinations, psychological, legal or informational assistance, to improve their activities.