UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday called for action to protect the rights of rural women and girls on the occasion of the International Day of Rural Women.The empowerment of rural women and girls is essential to building a prosperous, equitable and peaceful future for all on a healthy planet, said Guterres in a message. "Yet rural women and girls remain disproportionately affected by poverty, inequality, exclusion and the effects of climate change," Xinhua reported.The UN chief called on countries to take action to ensure that rural women and girls fully enjoy their human rights, including the right to a life free of all forms of violence, discrimination and harmful practices, and to quality, affordable and accessible education throughout their lives.The secretary-general underscored that investing in the well-being, livelihoods and resilience of rural women and girls is needed. "Achieving this requires investment, legal and policy reforms and the inclusion of rural women in the decisions that affect their lives."The first International Day of Rural Women was observed on October 15, 2008. The day, established by the UN General Assembly on December 18, 2007, recognizes the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.