Women’s Day 2012: UNESCO’s efforts for rural women

Rural households headed by women are among the most vulnerable of the world’s approximately 1 billion rural living in extreme poverty in developing countries. Women and girls constitute 60 percent of people suffering from chronic hunger worldwide. From a new online atlas highlighting educational challenges for women, to efforts to empower women journalists, and a partnership for girl’s education in Senegal, UNESCO will celebrate the hopes and dreams of women worldwide on International Women’s Day this March 8th.

  Too often marginalised, women living in rural settings face steep challenges to the exercise of their human rights, their personal development and the pursuit of their aspirations.     

Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director General on Women’s Day 2012

New data to be released this Women’s Day in a free interactive atlas highlight the educational challenges women face worldwide, but especially in rural communities. In Burkina Faso, for example, only about 22% of rural girls attend primary school compared to 72% of urban girls or 82% of urban boys. And in Morocco, although in recent years the gender gap has been closing, rural women still lag behind rural men with just over half (55%) of rural males and only a little over a third of rural women (37%) receiving at least 5 years of education.

Rural women and girls face some of the highest rates of educational poverty in the world. UNESCO estimates that about 80 percent of the 67 million children out of school live in rural areas, the majority of whom are girls. Young girls from poor rural households are the least likely of any social group to be in school or to ever gain access to education. Illiteracy rates in rural areas are almost twice as high as in urban areas, and higher still among women. This holds back progress towards development targets and prevents rural economic growth. Improving education for women and girls in rural areas is a central issue both for achieving gender equality and for poverty eradication.


In an effort to address these challenges, UNESCO, in partnership with the Barefoot College, organized a high level panel on “Rural Women and Girls: Education for Empowerment” held in New York on 29 February during the 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (27 February to 9 March). The discussion centered on the need to expand educational opportunities and outcomes for rural women and girls as both a fundamental human right and an essential condition for sustainable development.

"The rights of rural women must be protected, and their aspirations must be supported.  International Women’s Day is a chance for all to take a stand against this form of discrimination and marginalization that weakens all of our societies" said UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova.


First celebrated over 100 years ago, International Women’s Day has grown into a global celebration of past struggles and accomplishments of women, and more importantly an opportunity to look ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women.  Celebrated by the UN since 1975, this year’s Day is dedicated to the “Empowerment of Rural Women and Their Role in Poverty and Hunger Eradication, Development and Current Challenges”.  In 1945 the Charter of the United Nations became the first international agreement to affirm the principal of equality between women and men.  UNESCO, in turn, as the lead UN agency for Education, Science and Culture has placed gender equality as one of its two global priorities.  



Inauguration of Art exhibitions
UNESCO Headquarters, Hall Room IX, 9.00 AM - 1.30 PM, 8 March


World Atlas of Gender Equality in Education
UNESCO Headquarters, Hall Room X, 6.00 - 7.30 PM, 8 March


"Trafficking in Women and girls"
UNESCO Headquarters, Hall Room IV, 11.00 AM - 1.00 PM, 8 March


"Choir of the Vassar College concert"
UNESCO Headquarters, Hall Room I, 1.00 PM - 1.30 PM, 9 March


"The Highest potential of Women"
UNESCO Headquarters, Hall Room IX, 3.00 PM - 5.00 PM, 16 March

Join the celebration

  • Did you hear something sexist in the media? Contact the shows & explain your thoughts

  • Have a good look at school textbooks. Are women’s issues completely absent or misrepresented? Raise the issues with the school

  • Donate some time or money to an organization working for women’s rights around you.

  • Want to help young girls? Suggest a website that promotes positive female role models, such as women engineers or scientists

  • Donate your time to help stop violence against women in your country: domestic violence’s shelters, rape crisis centers, local NGOs working on international issues such as genital mutilation 

  • Think about one small gesture you can do everyday to help achieving gender equality

  • Find out about a famous scientist woman and her life and achievements and tell her story to a group of children in a classroom

  • Give a girl a book about a famous scientific woman, like Marie Curie, she can foresee as a role model.