States shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in rural areas so that they can participate in and benefit from health care, education, social security, development planning etc equally with men.

Article 14 - Rural women 

Article 14 requires the UK Government to address the particular issues faced by rural women, taking all appropriate measures to ensure the application of CEDAW, including: planning, health care, social security, training and education, economic opportunities, community activities, housing, transport, technology and communications.

In its Eighth CEDAW periodic report (2017), the Government reported upon measures taken towards supporting rural women’s businesses, improving access to Broadband and considering women’s needs in the provision of rural transport.[1] In 2018,  Women’s Resource Centre collaborated with rural women living and working in North East of England to gather evidence about the effectiveness of these Government measures. It found these to be severely lacking.

The overarching issue facing rural women is exclusion created by scarcity of amenities and services: transport, internet, local schools, child and other care, affordable housing, health services, training and secure work. The cumulative effect makes many opportunities unreachable or unaffordable, drives women and families into poverty and limits their wider opportunities and life chances. This is exacerbated by a largely monocultural landscape where sexism in public and private life remains commonplace. Rural women with additional protected characteristics face further prejudice and discrimination.[2]

Closure of community-based services as a result of austerity impacts disproportionally upon rural women, particularly in their roles of mothers and carers. [3] [4]  Services scattered across vast geographical areas are difficult to access because of lack of personal transport, discontinued bus services and having to use two or three buses to reach a destination. Women without available personal transport can spend hours, catching and riding in buses, often with small children. Low income families can't afford travel expenses. [5] The cost to women’s organisations of providing holistic support to women is high, averaging £40 for travel alone. [6]

Rural women are often dependent on peripatetic mental health services with waiting lists of months, even where they are suicidal. [7]  There are many additional barriers to rural women accessing sexual violence services, having to travel long distances can be prohibitive in itself, irrespective of whether women have access to transport, because of the trauma they have experienced and nervousness around seeking help..[8] 

The seasonal nature of tourism and hospitality industries means disrupted income patterns for women who are in and out of the benefits system, affecting housing benefit as well. [9] Many rural women resort to taking several seasonal and low-paid jobs to make ends meet. Significantly high number of rural women are setting up micro enterprises, but the business support framework favours high growth and often fails them for seeking to remain small and local.[10]

While house building has increased dramatically, it mostly doesn’t meet the needs of rural women. Either it is unaffordable, or not social housing, or the expansion of tourism and demand for second homes keeps prices artificially high. An emphasis on affordability for buying homes is not relevant to women in poverty.[11] There are many country estate landowners and a significant number of rural women remain in this private rented sector, where repairs and upkeep are limited.[12]

Rural BME women are particularly marginalised, many in small towns and villages that were former mining communities, thus experiencing economic downturn. Language, culture and racism compound and intensify barriers faced. BME women have difficulty accessing support networks and experience loneliness and isolation because of lack of social interaction in culturally diverse environments. Disabled BME women face multiple and additional barriers which contribute to their social exclusion as well as challenges dealing with services and austerity measures. [13] [14]

Many rural BME women and families have been targeted by racism and as a result suffer from anxiety and in some cases, post-traumatic stress and depression. [15] BME women can encounter parallel discrimination when accessing services. [16] Those who have experienced domestic abuse are very often reluctant to contact the police for fear of insensitive responses or further abuse and violence. Difficultly accessing culturally sensitive services or specialist organisations located in large cities mean they often suffer in silence, living in fear and constant anxiety. [17]

We have the following recommendations to the UK Government in their implementation of Article 14:
  1. Investment in rural infrastructure including transport, housing and community-based services.
  2. Supporting the effective engagement and participation of women with intersectional perspectives in rural public life, including specialist services led-by and for BME women.
  3. Investment in independent support structures and resources for BME women in response to the growth and diversity of BME populations in rural areas.
  4. Gender mainstreaming of transport and housing policies as well as solutions, with smaller, locally focused initiatives to respond to geographical challenges.
  5. Locally based education, training and employability programmes for rural women, linked to holistic and culturally sensitive support, with funded specialisms to address intersectional barriers.
  6. Incentives for partnership work to provide additional support for rural women interested in business set up, including micro-enterprise initiatives and programmes.



Dr Sue Robson, a feminist community development practitioner and activist wrote this blog in collaboration with her colleagues Ijjou Derrache Thompson and Julia Lyford.

Ijjou is coordinator of Diverse Women’s Network, member of the North East Regional Race, Crime and Research Network and formerly employed by Darlington & County Durham Racial Equality Council.

Julia is coordinator of Fourth Action Women’s Workshop, member of the NE Rural Affairs Forum, the NE Equalities Coalition, active in the Local Action Group for Leader Rural European funds and formally regional adviser to the NE Equality and Diversity Forum.

 References and notes

[1] CEDAW/C/GBR/8 - Eighth periodic report submitted by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland under article 18 of the Convention, paras 160 and 161 [16 November 2017]

[2] Evidence collated by Co-ordinator of Fourth Action Women’s Workshop (March 2018)

[3] NHS Northumberland Clinical Commissioning Group (the CCG) considered the future arrangements at Rothbury Community Hospital at a meeting held in public on Wednesday 27 September 2017. The CCG’s Joint Locality Executive Board decided that the 12 inpatient beds at Rothbury Community Hospital should be permanently closed and that existing health and care services should be shaped around a Health and Wellbeing Centre on the site.

Katie Dickinson, Chronical Live (23.11.2016), Northumberland hospital changes are 'starving rural areas of services', union claims

[4] Evidence collated by Fourth Action Women’s Workshop (March 2018). Women's Workshop organises projects, learning and support for and with women, helping them break down barriers, achieve their goals and have a say.

[5] Evidence collated by Diverse Women’s Network (March 2018), Diverse Women's Network– Addressing the social and cultural isolation of rural BME women in County Durham: facilitating friendships, developing support structures andoffering guidance

[6] Evidence collated by Fourth Action Women’s Workshop (March 2018)

[7] State of Northumberland - Health & Well Being -

[8] Working with Rural Women Case Study, Grace Northumberland Rape Crisis Counselling Service (3rd July 2018)

[9] Evidence collated by Fourth Action Women’s Workshop (March 2018)

[10] Evidence collated by Fourth Action Women’s Workshop (March 2018)

[11] Evidence collated by Fourth Action Women’s Workshop (March 2018)

[12] Evidence collated by Fourth Action Women’s Workshop (March 2018)

[13] Evidence collated by Diverse Women’s Network (March 2018)

[14] Craig G. (2012) ‘A place called Townsville. Rural racism in a North East Context’ Durham University School of Applied Social Studies Durham

[15] Evidence collated by Diverse Women’s Network (March 2018)

[16] Evidence collated by Diverse Women’s Network (March 2018)

[17] Evidence collated by Diverse Women’s Network (March 2018)