‘Draconian’ Italian visa restrictions prevent rural women attending global food summit on International Day of Rural Women

As governments gather for a world food security summit in Rome on Monday – International Day of Rural Women – women from rural Bangladesh and Senegal are being denied a global platform to speak out due to hostile Italian immigration restrictions. 

Santona Rani, a smallholder farmer from the village of Tajpur in Bangladesh, was due to travel to the Italian capital with ActionAid International’s delegation to speak to global experts and decision-makers on food security about the everyday barriers faced by rural women in the developing world, as governments fail to recognise the role that rural women have to play in overcoming global hunger.

But Italy’s draconian immigration policies meant she was denied the visa needed to attend this key event and will miss out on the opportunity to influence policy at the highest level.

Another speaker from Senegal, who was due to be part of ActionAid’s group, was also prevented from travelling to the 45th Plenary of the UN Committee on World Food Security (CFS).

Remaining members of ActionAid’s global delegation will take their messages to Rome, and put pressure on world leaders and their representatives to demand for rural women:

  • The right to participate and benefit from rural development, as set out by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW);
  • A fair share of finance for sustainable farming solutions from donors, governments, multilateral institutions and philanthropists;
  • Repeal of intellectual property rights (IPRs) on seeds that prevent women farmers from accessing natural resources*.

Campaigners say that food security cannot be adequately addressed before the rights of rural women are recognised.

“It’s time for governments not only to recognise the rights of rural women, but also to acknowledge their power to reduce global food insecurity and help cut harmful emissions,” Santona Rani says. 

Ruchi Tripathi, Head of Resilient Livelihoods and Climate Justice at ActionAid International, says:

“There can be no solution to ending global hunger without securing the rights of rural women.

“Denying women from developing countries like Santona a global platform to speak out on these issues due to draconian visa restrictions, is part of the problem. Their voices are vital to the debate on world hunger. 

“The latest figures show there are now more than 821 million people who are not getting enough to eat. That is unacceptable when we know the world already produces enough food for everyone.

“Empowering women and rural communities, and meaningful investment in sustainable agriculture are essential if we are to end global hunger and malnutrition.”

The Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) annual report on food security, published in September, shows global hunger is on the rise, meaning that the world is at risk of failing to meet its sustainable development goal of ending hunger and malnutrition by 2030.

Hunger has been rising since 2014, due to a potent combination of conflict, climate change and economic downturns.

ActionAid believes that the solution to ending world hunger is empowering rural women and investment in climate-friendly, sustainable agriculture and strengthening of global food governance through the CFS.

This form of sustainable agriculture known as ‘agroecology’, empowers women living in rural areas, ensures year-round access to healthy food and more diverse diets, cuts poverty, creates employment opportunities, fosters climate resilience, reduces dependence on harmful chemicals, values tribal and indigenous knowledge, regenerates soils and protects the environment.

A growing body of evidence supports this move, including the recent report by the Climate, Land, Ambition & Rights Alliance (CLARA), which shows transforming agriculture and land practices would help limit global warming to 1.5°C.

Editors' notes

For more information and interviews contact Jenna Pudelek in the ActionAid International press office on jenna.pudelek@actionaid.org or call +44 (0)7586572161.

 

The CLARA report, which will be published on Monday (15 Oct) shows how greater ambition to secure land rights, restore forest ecosystems and move towards more sustainable agriculture and food production systems can help limit global warming to 1.5°C by reducing global emission by 21 gigatonnes of CO² by 2050.

Santona Rani is president of the Rajpur Women’s Federation, which consists of 20 groups supporting more than 500 vulnerable and marginalised women. Action Aid’s Promoting Opportunities for Women’s Empowerment and Rights (POWER) project has been working with Santona’s group since 2016 to increase their independence and ability to control their own income by providing training in sustainable agricultural practices, recognising and reducing the unpaid care work they carry out, such as looking after children and older relatives, and prevention of violence against women.

 

*Monopoly seed laws

The rapid expansion of Intellectual Property Rights (IRPs) and seed laws – promoted by a handful of powerful corporates, endorsed by multilateral institutions and enforced by governments keen to ‘modernize’ agriculture – has privatised seeds and other germplasm, such as leaves, pollen and pieces of stem from which plants can be grown, for new technologies and practices in many developing countries.

The majority of smallholders, particularly women, rely on peasant seed systems to access diverse local seed varieties, land races and native germplasm that is adapted to their local environment and cultures.

IPRs marginalise traditional and indigenous seed systems and transfer monopoly ownership to commercial interests. This undermines women’s key role as seed savers and overrides farmers’ rights to save, use, exchange and sell farm-saved seed – a core foundation of sustainable agriculture.