Rural women subsidising public service investment

Rural women subsidising public service investment

Date: October 31, 2017
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By Sifiso Dube

Johannesburg 31 October: It is 3 o’clock early morning when my late grandmother, Velelaphi hears a loud knock on her door. A boy of about 17 years of age seems to be out of breath as he tries to tell her his reason of knocking at this witching hour. It is another call for Velelaphi’s midwifery services in a homestead about five kilometres away. She opens her wardrobe to fetch her midwifery kit and with a torch in hand, she hurries into the night with this young boy. Three hours later, she has helped a young mother deliver her first born baby boy. She is paid two weeks later with a goat. This is the story of many rural women who act as midwifes for the simple reason that health care centres are usually inaccessible and far in the rural areas.

The 62nd session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW)’s priority theme is on challenges and opportunities in achieving gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls. It is time that governments invest in service delivery in the rural areas. Poor delivery of services such as antenatal care, general health care, education, water and sanitation has affected rural women immensely. With maternal mortality rates higher than 300 out of 100,000 live births in seven Southern African countries, Member States need to re-think the model of public health investment. Hundreds of rural women still give birth without any skilled health attendance or with less than four antenatal visits. Women like my late grandmother have to subsidise the governments by stepping in to provide ‘makeshift’ maternal health care to desperate poor rural women.

Lack of government investment in public services is largely caused by the occurrence of Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs). Africa is losing approximately US$50 billion annually through IFFs, mostly through commercial activities, criminal activities and corruption which contribute to the persisting gender gap [1]. IFFs contribute to governments failing to sufficiently finance basic public services such as maternal care, education, sexual and reproductive health, social protection. Rural women end up subsidising these tasks without pay,  yet they should be recognised as valid contributors of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Bleeding of the meagre resources of rural women in the form of silent public service subsidies must stop. An effective social contract should benefit rural women and politicians alike.

African Union’s Agenda 2063 calls for investment in technology especially to improve agricultural production. The African dream of retiring the hoe to the museum by 2063 will not suffice if rural women are left behind in the agro-technology agenda. Rural women largely survive by toiling the land. These women have little access to commercial markets and remain in the margins of agricultural sector beneficiaries. The efforts that rural women put in producing household food and income should be compensated through government investment in rural agro-economy. Women like my late grandmother survived from brewing traditional beer with ingredients from her communal farm. Had the farm been equipped with hi-tech equipment, she would have produced this beer and other farm produce at a commercial scale. Access to technology and markets is key in improving rural women’s income from agriculture.

Recognising rural women every 15 October is only but one contribution towards leaving no one behind. Investment in basic public services is key to stop the resource bleeding of rural women’s income and time. Governments’ provision of health, education and economic resources is a non-negotiable for rural women’s empowerment. This will prevent generational subsidisers of basic public services. For example, my mother inherited my grandmother’s traditional midwife skills and has assisted deliveries of a few babies in my village due to the village hospital being more than 20 kilometres away. The vast indigenous knowledge that rural women possess in health care, food preservation, maternal and child care, environment conservation will enable sustainable development without leaving anyone behind.

Sifiso Dube is the Alliance and Partnerships Manager at Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links News and Blogs service.






[1] FEMNET (2017): What are the Gender Dimensions of IFFs? Strengthening African Women’s Engagement

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