In Cameroon, the prevalence of poverty remains higher in rural areas (66%) than in urban areas (7%) (BUCREP, 2021). Women represent the poorest portion of the population, though they contribute more than 55.8% of national agricultural production (Yotchou, 2012). Women represent 71.6% of workers in the informal agricultural sector, but unfortunately, 51.5% live below the poverty line, and 79.2% are underemployed (OCHA, 2019).
In 2020, statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MINADER) showed that Cameroonian women constitute more than 70% of the rural workforce. They produce almost 90% of food crops and only represent 3% of the industrial agricultural sector. This hinders rural development, which is essential for the achievement of the development goals laid down.
The objective of this paper is to highlight the importance of rural development in reducing gender inequalities in Cameroon. This analysis, based on national statistical data, focuses on demonstrating to local elected officials and public authorities the need to promote rural development and its impact on the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG 5), which aims to achieve gender equality and empower women (UN, 2015).
Factors of Rural Development
Rural development refers to the management of human development and the orientation of institutional and technological change to improve inclusion, durability, knowledge, and living standards in rural areas in a context of equity and sustainability.
In Cameroon, rural development is not sufficiently financed by the public sector, although it is one of the priorities of the strategic frameworks for the fight against poverty (GRET, 2002). Moreover, the fight against poverty is one of the major objectives of the National Development Strategy (NDS30). It is mainly to reinforce the rural population’s access to quality education, land, natural resources, finance, and infrastructure.
– Access to Quality Education for Rural Inhabitants: Cameroon has made commitments in favor of education for all, notably in the framework of the 1990 World Conference on Education for All in Jomtien, Thailand. Article 1 of this declaration on education for all states, “Every person – child, adolescent or adult – has the right to benefit from training designed to meet his or her basic educational needs.” But unfortunately, rural areas in Cameroon remain on the sidelines when it comes to quality education. In the Far North and Eastern regions of Cameroon, the rural population still suffers from a lack of educational infrastructure. This lack of infrastructure is accompanied by a lack of teaching staff, and the few teachers who are assigned often abandon their posts because of the poor conditions in the area.
– Access to Water: In the northern regions, in particular, the rural populations are victims of global warming. Agricultural activities are affected particularly because of the drying up of water bodies. Equally, the livestock sector is not exempted from this. The lack of pasture forces farmers to turn to alternative solutions that are not accessible to all to feed their livestock.
– Financing of Agricultural Projects: In Cameroon, several agricultural projects are implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MINADER) to support and assist the rural population in their production process. Unfortunately, this objective is still not being achieved due to a lack of communication. Although some farmers manage to get information and benefit from these projects, they are not sufficiently equipped and trained on new agricultural techniques, which makes their production below optimal. Furthermore, the agricultural programs and projects set up in the ten regions by MINADER do not necessarily take into account the needs of rural women, especially when it comes to access to finance. Between 2010 and 2020, of the more than 112 agricultural projects and programs developed in Cameroon, only 36.7% or 41 of them took gender into account in their conception, while 64.3% (i.e., 71 projects and programs) remained gender insensitive in their conception and implementation.
Rural Development in Reducing Gender Inequality
Despite the measures taken by the Cameroonian government to reduce gender inequality, rural women continue to be discriminated against in society. Rural development would therefore be a way to address this issue by focusing on three main points: Improving inclusion, improving life expectancy, and improving knowledge.
– Improving Economic Inclusion: In Cameroon, many agricultural projects and programs do not take into account the gender aspect. According to MINADER, of more than 100 agricultural projects developed in Cameroon between 2010-2020, more than half ignored the social constraints faced by women. Meanwhile, rural women are not only involved in production but also in the marketing of agricultural products. A deeper commitment by MINADER to promote the development of women-led agricultural projects in rural areas would help not only to reduce poverty but also the gender inequalities that persist. This initiative should be accompanied by women’s access to modern agricultural techniques. This approach would ensure the integration and adaptation of women to current social and economic trends.
– Improving Life Expectancy: In Cameroon, the maternal mortality rate is 669 per 100,000 live births. The infant mortality rate is 29 per 1,000 in a year. Renewing hospital infrastructures or building new ones will allow better care for pregnant women and infants (Fosso & Kane, 2020). Rural women participate in more than half of the national agricultural production. Access to hospital infrastructure and quality health care will help improve their living conditions, enabling them to continue to contribute to the local and national economy.
– Improving Knowledge: According to the National Institute of Statistics (INS, 2020), only 68% of girls in rural areas manage to complete their primary education, compared to 76% of boys. This can be explained by the cultural constraints that limit girls from carrying out domestic work. Improving the educational level of rural girls not only contributes to their social and professional development but also constitutes one of the main pillars of their empowerment process (Jacquemot, 2019).
The government should place more emphasis on supporting and monitoring rural agricultural projects by promoting, in particular, projects managed and implemented by women. Promoting the inclusion of women in the implementation of rural projects would significantly contribute to the development of the rural area. The government should also accelerate the decentralization process by giving Decentralized Territorial Communities (DTCs) the resources to ensure the development of their basic social infrastructure (construction of schools, hospitals, etc.). By accelerating the decentralization process, rural populations would fully participate in the expansion of rural markets, savings, and investments, which are essential for rural development. Rural women should be empowered to organize themselves into cooperatives to overcome the problems they face, especially those related to access to finance. The advantage of agricultural cooperatives is that they offer small-scale farmers’ market opportunities and services, like access to finance, training, information, technology, innovations, and outreach services (OCHA, 2011). This initiative would facilitate women’s economic empowerment and improve their living conditions.