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Rural women lauded for achievements

Some 500 million rural women live below the poverty line

Rural women and their achievements have been honoured at a prize-giving ceremony at the national exhibition site in Murten.

Two Swiss were among six winners of the women's creativity in rural life prize, awarded by the Women's World Summit Foundation (WWSF).

The prize, awarded annually by the Geneva-based WWSF, is given to women around the world who have found creative ways of improving the quality of life in rural communities.

In this way, the WWSF hopes to reward to contributions of rural women, who often have to face harsh conditions and poverty.

This year the prize was awarded at the ExpoAgricole in Murten on October 15 - World Rural Women's Day.

Swiss winners

Johanna Dönz, farmer and florist from Chur, canton Graubünden, was one of two Swiss among this year's 32 winners and one of the six who attended the ceremony.

The other Swiss recipient was the Urner Wollhandwerk Team from Canton Uri, a group of mountain women who make innovative products from wool.

Dönz was forced to come up with new ways of supporting herself and her family when the amount of land the family farm could lease was reduced by one third.

She believes rural women tend to lack the confidence and emotional support needed to take risks and try new things.

"I get the feeling that women who live in rural, mountainous communities lack self confidence and are afraid to recognise and express their own skills," Dönz told swissinfo.

"Too much pressure is put on them by men and they are nervous about promoting themselves or to say now I am going to do something with my life."

Laughed at

Dönz was named as one of this year's recipients because of her success in starting up her own flower business, despite no formal training as a florist.

But she said when she first started to cultivate flowers she was ridiculed for her ideas.

"This basically means that anyone who tries to do something new will be made fun of and only later will people sit up and take notice.

"It also means that even though many women have very good ideas they don't have the courage to turn their ideas into reality."

Besides helping with the family farm and running her own business, she also offers flower arranging courses to neighbouring women.

No recognition

Rural women like Dönz account for a quarter of the world's population. In industrialised nations, they perform over 30 per cent of agricultural work and in regions such as sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, they produce around 80 per cent of basic foodstuffs.

Yet, according to the WWSF's Maria Penaloza, the contributions of rural women, as well as the challenges they face, tend to go largely unnoticed.

"In many places, they are also the main people responsible for maintaining community life because often the men go to the cities and leave them on their own to raise the family, produce the food and keep rural life active," she said.

According to the foundation, there are 500 million women living below the poverty line in rural areas.

In many parts of the world, they have little or no status and frequently lack the power to secure land rights or gain access to vital services such as financial credit, and training and education.

Encouragement

Penaloza says the group set up the creativity prize back in 1994 to highlight the vital role women play in ensuring food security, as well as the sustainability and stability of rural areas.

"We know that women do a lot of work that is taken for granted, so the prize is to give women not only encouragement for themselves, but also to tell the world that we have to pay attention to these women," explained Penaloza.

Penaloza added that the prize was also aimed at getting rural women more support from their communities, families and husbands as well as eventually from governments.

"So when women finally have the same access to their rights as men, rural life should improve for everybody," she said.

Action

The WWSF hopes that by highlighting the achievements and courage of women like Johanna Dönz, they will encourage others to think creatively in the face of adversity and turn awareness into action.

"First it has to come from the rural women themselves. They have to realise on their own that they are capable and that they don't want to lead a life of submission."

"They also have to recognise that they can contribute a lot and that they are role models for other women."

swissinfo, Isobel Johnson and Anna Nelson

rural women facts

Rural women make up more than one quarter of the world's population.
In industrialised nations, they perform over 30% of agricultural work.
In sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean, they produce 80 % of basic foodstuffs.
500 million women live below the poverty line in rural areas.

end of infobox


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