According to the UN, empowering women living in rural areas is essential in the fight against extreme poverty.
As a girl growing up in the suburbs, my encounters with rural life took place on my aunt and uncle’s farm in West Virginia. I was struck by the abundance around me. Acre upon acre of land, ringed by tree-covered mountains, rows of corn that seemed to stretch for miles, and a big kitchen table piled high with food and encircled by family.
When I grew up, I loved taking my kids back there. Once, my son Jack asked where “Aunt Betty’s peacock” was, because he had seen one at a farm park I’d taken him to and assumed that all farms had a peacock strutting about. There was no peacock on this working farm, but there was no shortage of livestock, either. Getting far away from the city and the suburbs meant fresher air, beautiful scenery, and bearing witness to long hours of intense yet rewarding work for the family on the farm.
Did you know that the UN celebrates the International Day of Rural Women today?
I didn’t either.
My view of who a rural woman is has shifted over the past eight months since my trip to Armenia with World Vision.
My memories from my aunt and uncle’s farm were in stark contrast to my experience in Armenia. The Armenian villages we visited were so remote, that “isolated”—rather than rural—is how I would describe them. And the landscape, striking in beauty with majestic mountains all around, had ground that stayed frozen 7-8 months every year, making farming difficult. I saw so much struggle, from the daily quest for dried animal dung to be used for heating—since firewood was so scarce—to women who seemed trapped without a support network in a cycle of bearing baby after baby yet without the means to care for them properly. My eyes saw lack rather than abundance.
Children went to bed hungry, and some were sent to state-run institutions so that they could receive what their parents couldn’t provide. Medical bills or a bad batch of fruit could send a family teetering over the edge.
I remember meeting Aida, who lived with her husband and seven children in a small, remote village in the Amasia region. My teammates and I laughed as we pitched this way and that, trying to navigate our way through the deep snow. We passed a communal outhouse with a tin roof and made our way into a tiny rented home with sagging floors. I soon learned that only the eldest child had winter boots. It made our laughing trek up the hill, bundled in parkas and warm boots, seem a lot less funny, to think of this family isolated and housebound for months at a time.
It was easy to feel hopeless, especially when I contrasted my life as a woman and mother to some of the women like Aida I met in Armenia. I tried to imagine having to choose between keeping my family intact and sending my children away so they could eat. To not getting my kids vaccinated because I didn't have warm enough clothes to wrap them up and make the snowy trek to a doctor.
But not all was bleak.
As a result of our visit, each of Aida’s children gained World Vision sponsors, and Aida will benefit from development programs that World Vision will soon implement in her community. When we were able to meet families who had been part of World Vision’s established economic development programs, I could see how empowering rural women would raise the raise the standard of Aida’s family, other families, and entire communities. One mother I met had been given a knitting machine and was able to sell sweaters to earn money for her family. Other women were trained in growing, harvesting, and packaging local produce that could survive despite the unforgiving weather, and had gained experience marketing their products to high-end gift shops.
I also got to see firsthand how giving families the gift of livestock, something our family has done for years through the World Vision Christmas catalog, helps real people gain an economic foothold.
I met a lot of women in rural Armenia: caring, determined, hard-working women who wanted to better themselves and their families. It was inspiring to see the joy that came along with opportunities that might seem small to you and me, but that provide hope and empowerment to those who need it.
“There is no tool for development that is more effective than the empowerment of women.” –Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the UN.
World Vision's child sponsorship program works at the family and community level as well to empower people to break the cycle of poverty together. Join us and sponsor a child in Armenia today!