Most of the constraints that women workers face derive from cultural attitudes and values that give women low status in society and relegate their work and needs to second place. Thus, practical measures to increase the productivity of women's labour, create employment opportunities, improve working conditions and reduce the workload and wage disparities experienced by rural women will remain largely marginal, if little is done to address the inequity and discrimination that lie at the heart of the problem.
In order to achieve gender-responsive agricultural policy and planning decisions, accurate information about the conditions of the rural population is crucial. The tools and methods used for collection of information therefore need to be adapted to the situation at hand and supported by participatory approaches so as to involve and engage rural communities in planning for their own future. With accurate information about rural women and men, the work of rural women in particular can be highlighted and their increased access to fundamental productive resources promoted. The allocation of and access to productive resources remain important steps to sustainable development. With rural women as producers of a large part of the world's food for household consumption, food security is largely dependent on the acknowledgement and consideration of their work.
Changing from the inside out, to institutionalize gender-responsive policy and planning, is not going to happen overnight. Learning comes from doing. Naturally, new approaches and methods meet with resistance. Therefore, gradual evolution, establishing and securing small successes, works better than going abruptly to scale. It is only realistic to start on a small scale with a focus on practical actions (rather than philosophies), to undertake collaborative field work, and to build larger programmes slowly over time as attitudes and capabilities begin to change; in fact, a process approach.
Because agricultural planning is usually perceived as a large undertaking - covering millions of farmers, several agro-ecological zones, and several farming systems - the general pattern has been to produce national or regional plans, generally covering five- to ten-year periods. But planning exercises producing voluminous long-term plans are less useful than before. Instead, a strategic mind-set, which focuses on learning, skill and capacity building for responsiveness, is more important than ever.
The challenge is to try to view every element of every farm through the lens of each female and male farmer to redefine every line in agricultural planning in terms of the farmers' perceptions.
There is no such thing as an insignificant improvement. Well-focused actions can produce significant, enduring improvements, if they are in the right place. Business systems thinkers refer to this principle as "leverage". Tackling a difficult problem is often a matter of seeing where the high leverage lies, a change that - with a minimum of effort - would lead to lasting, significant improvement. The only problem is that high-leverage changes are often invisible to planners (although usually obvious to farmers).
Governments in partnership with the private sector and civil society need to formulate strategies for improving the quality and use of information for gender-responsive policy-making. An attitude of listening followed by quick response to specific needs in a specific place with specific groups of women and men farmers is desired. Aimed at shortening the development cycle, elements in such a strategy could include:
Decentralized planning in its various forms represents a new hope for the population in rural areas in focusing on the problems and opportunities of a specific group. In general, there is a strong concern with poverty alleviation and involving the local population, including women, in this type of planning process.
To this end, it is a matter of high priority to enhance the capacity of governments and their partners to collect primary data and to analyse and use gender-disaggregated data for formulation of gender-responsive policies, strategies and programmes in the agricultural sector. Institutionalization of gender-sensitive planning through the systematic use of socio-economic and gender analysis is an important step in building the capacity of national partners to capture and respond to new global trends and emerging issues.
This technical paper for the High-Level Consultation on Rural Women and Information is a synthesis of the following documents.