Today is the United Nations' International Day of Rural Women, celebrating the vital role women play in strengthening local economies, enhancing development and eradicating rural poverty.

In both developed and developing countries, women make crucial contributions to agricultural productivity and food security, as well as providing food, water and fuel for their families.

Yet despite their importance in the developing world, women's efforts frequently go unnoticed.

With little or no status in society, women continue to face discrimination that denies them equal access to education, political influence and medical care.

In India, gender inequality is reflected in its low position on the Gender Equality Index 2013, ranking at 135 out of 187 countries.

The extent of inequality in Bangladesh is more extreme, with the country positioned at just 147 on the Index.

In India, only 27 per cent of adult women have reached a secondary or higher level of education and women hold just 11 per cent of parliamentary seats.

These existing gender inequalities are exacerbated for women affected by neglected tropical diseases such as leprosy or lymphatic filariasis.

Rachna lives in Bihar, one of the poorest states in India. When Rachna discovered that she was infected with leprosy, her family began to treat her differently.
I didn’t want to tell anyone about the disease after knowing that my own family felt differently towards me. My parents didn’t tell anyone in the community because they were afraid that everyone would hate me.
The stigma surrounding diseases like leprosy often results in women being excluded from the community, shunned by their families or abandoned by their husbands.

International Day of Rural Women is dedicated to women like Rachna who are forced to overcome challenges in the face of discrimination and inequality.

Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, says “Empowering rural women is crucial for ending hunger and poverty. By denying women rights and opportunities, we deny their children and societies a better future.”

You can support women affected by leprosy in rural areas by joining our Beat leprosy campaign.