High-level consultation calls for better information on women's role in agriculture

In developing countries, agricultural policies generally neglect the social and economic value of women's farm labour. But without measuring women's contributions and reflecting them in agricultural planning, it will be impossible to ensure domestic food security and promote sustainable and equitable rural development.

This message came through loud and clear at the High-level Consultation on Rural Women and Information, held at FAO headquarters in Rome, 4 to 6 October. It was attended by more than 350 participants, including 50 government ministers.

Ms Angela King, UN Special Advisor on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, speaks at the Consultation's press conference
FAO Photo

One of the issues addressed during the Consultation was how the lack of information about gender roles in agriculture affects the use of resources. Speaking at a press conference on the last day of the Consultation, Ms Sissel Ekaas, Director of FAO's Women and Population Division, described a pesticide training programme that had been put on for men farmers in Zambia after several crops had been ruined through excessive use of pesticides. After the training, the crops continued to fail because those responsible for the training were not aware that applying pesticides was the responsibility of women, who had been left out of the training.

Participants at the Consultation also expressed the hope that more accurate information about the role rural women play in agricultural production, processing and marketing will help pave the way to a greater realization of their political and legal rights. In many countries, both tradition and law prevent rural women from making decisions, owning land and borrowing money. A better appreciation on the part of the public, policy-makers and the media of the contributions women farmers make to sustaining rural communities can help bring about institutional reforms that will both improve food security and promote greater social justice.

At the Consultation's press conference, Ms Angela King, UN Assistant-Secretary General and Special Advisor on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, said she was encouraged to see that rural women are no longer being treated as "just passive beings, but active participants in shaping developing policies." Ms King added that she had been impressed not just by the high level of participation at the Consultation but by the thoughtfulness of the panel discussions and the related documents. She said the Consultation could serve as " a beacon for addressing issues relating to all forms of inequality."

During the Consultation, the participants reviewed a Strategy for Action, a framework that will assist decision-makers and planners obtain more detailed information about the economic and social contributions made by men and women farmers to agricultural production and rural development. The Consultation was part of FAO's preparation for the mid-term evaluation of the Platform of Action of the World Conference on Women (Beijing +5) in 2000, and its outcome should help to ensure that the situation of rural women gets the attention it deserves in that review.

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13 October 1999

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