The Cambridge English Dictionary defines the adjective 'unsung' as “not noticed or praised for hard work, courage, or great achievements.” The phrase 'unsung heroines' therefore refers to the women who did great deeds but received little or no recognition for them. Who are these women? The focus of this article is on rural women as we celebrate the International Day of Rural Women.

This is a day set aside by the United Nations to honour rural women. The official date for these commemorations is 15 th of October every year. Unfortunately, the day is not a public holiday hence many people do not know about it. The idea of honouring rural women with a special day was put forward at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, in 1995. It was suggested that October 15 be celebrated as “World Rural Women’s Day,” which is the eve of World Food Day. Why celebrate it on the eve of World Food Day? Is there a relationship between these two UN celebrations?

An unpacking of the role of rural women helps to understand why the UN set aside a special day in honour of these women, and why the day was set on the eve of World Food Day. What role do rural women play in different communities?

My first appointment as a priest after ordination was in rural ministry and this helped me a lot to understand the significance of rural women to global development. People from developed countries without a culture of two homes, one in the city and the other one in the rural area, would not understand the role of a rural woman. This is a situation where the husband works in the city while the wife remains in the rural area looking after the home and children. It is expected that at retirement the man will go back to the rural home and live permanently with his wife.

The role of the man then is to provide the money needed for the upkeep of the family while the wife is the one looking after the home. The rural woman has the responsibilities of maintaining the family home, looking after livestock, and ultimately producing food for the family through farming. Man provides money for the inputs but the actual work is done by the wife. Women are therefore the backbone of food production for many developing countries.

Women are important in enhancing agriculture and rural development. At retirement, the man is too old to make meaningful contribution to farming and rural development. This is the reason why this day is set on the eve of World Food Day because without these unsung heroines the whole world would starve. These women are significant in improving food security and eradication of rural poverty. They work very hard under risky conditions with minimum security and sadly they receive little recognition. They remain in the peripheries of the societal structures hence they are the ones who sustains the entire community.

Regardless of their hardworking, they remained subject to abuse and domestic violence. The proceeds of their hard work benefit the city man more than them. They do not have bank accounts and the entire surplus that is sold to the market enriches the man's pocket. How can we give these women the honour they deserve? Yes, a day is set aside to remember them but how many rural women know about this day? Practical measures should be put in place to empower these women so that they enjoy the fruits of their labour and hardworking. As the world embarks on the SDGs, no sustainable development can take place without prioritizing the plight of these unsung heroines.

Governments should prioritize developing rural infrastructure in order to make the life of these women comfortable. They are subjected to unbearable conditions such as no electricity and they rely on sourcing firewood in heavily deforested communities, no tap water and they have to walk long distances in search of water for household chores, no adequate grinding mills, no adequate shops for groceries and clothes, far away clinics which are under resourced, and no entertainment facilities to refresh themselves after a day´s hard work. This is the plight of a hard working rural woman and as we celebrate this day let us consider ways in which we can improve the life of these unsung heroines for the betterment of our world.