Local economy, social innovation and gender-based policies: ingredients to unleash the potential of rural women in the Mediterranean


On the 15th October 2020, the ENI CBC Med Programme celebrated the UN International Day of Rural Women via a webinar during which 60 people discussed about the barriers that rural women face in the Mediterranean area and ways to boost their economic inclusion, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. From the expert point of view of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) and the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Montpellier (CIHEAM IAMM) to live testimonies of rural women and best practices of funded projects, the webinar provided a platform for sharing and advancing new, innovative ideas.

Reliable data to ensure promotion and monitoring of gender-based policies

According to UN-ESCWA policy brief 2020, “Women in the Arab World will lose approximately 700,000 jobs as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.” Having in mind that only 21 % of women in the MENA region are included in the labour market compared to 77 % for men, it is urgent to address women unemployment, especially in rural areas, as they are the driving force of the local economy. Therefore, UfM's endorsement last July of a set of indicators related to gender equality and women empowerment in the MENA region is a first step towards promoting gender-based policies in the Mediterranean.

From lack of skills to unfair inheritance laws: what women really face in the Mediterranean area

Women sometimes don’t have access to knowledge, finance, and resources such as water and lack of social guarantee. Still, rural women are the pillars of the local economy when men migrate to urban areas. They are also the ones who preserve the environment and ensure the conservation of the Mediterranean diet and cultural identity. 

Social and economic empowerment is a prerequisite for women political empowerment

If you give a woman the tools to be economically independent, she will gain in self-confidence, be able to take decisions on her own and eventually take part in the political life: indeed, economic empowerment can lead to political empowerment with the participation of women in political life. 

What can be done, especially in the COVID-19 era?

It is clear that Mediterranean rural women have a tremendous unexploited potential. But if we apply some new concepts such as rural social innovation, women employment and economic inclusion could be improved. First, this can be done by making rural women fully part of the local economy through promoting short supply chains which are of utmost relevance in the context of the pandemic marked by lockdowns and mobility restrictions.

Different ENI CBC Med funded projects are working to provide skills, training, mentoring and resources to help women become active contributors to local economic development.

Secondly, by addressing social behavior and break some stereotypes: i.e. women can be farm managers. Finally, by promoting gender-based policies, include men in the process to foster changes in perceptions and behaviours and engage women in food security programmes as they play a crucial role especially in the COVID-19 context. 

Find out more in the webinar report "Unleashing the potential of Mediterranean women in rural areas: constraints and solutions in the COVID-19 era" 

From the ENI CBC Med team, we would like to thank all speakers for their valuable participation: 

  • Anna Dorangricchia, senior expert ‘Social and civil affairs’, Secretariat of Union for the Mediterranean
  • Elen Lemaître-Curri, deputy director of the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Montpellier (CIHEAM IAM), France
  • Kirsten Sutherland, project manager, Association of Cooperation for Peace (ACPP), Spain
  • Israa Hindawi, Director of the Women’s Cooperative Society for Saving and Credit in Jaba’, Palestine
  • Hedi Bchir, project coordinator at the Center of Arab Women for Training and Research (CAWTAR), Tunisian partner of the InnovAgroWoMed Project
  • Nathalie Colasanti, research fellow at the University of Rome ‘Tor Vergata’, Italy. Coordinator of the InnovAgroWoMed Project
  • Souha Ben Mehrez, agricultural engineer and beekeeper, Tunisia