FAO appoints women representatives to Africa
FAO's efforts to "mainstream" women in both its operations and its senior management reached a highly visible milestone just in time for International Women's Day. With two women taking up their new posts as FAO representatives (FAORs) to Namibia and Malawi, several FAO offices in Africa are now headed by women.
Just six years ago, none of FAO's 78 country representatives were women. Maria-Guilhermina Soares, currently FAO's representative in Colombia, was the first appointed female FAOR, to Guinea-Bissau, in 1992. Since January 1994, when Dr Jacques Diouf became FAO Director-General, five other women FAORs have been appointed. The two most recent, Emelia Timpo and Susan Mills, took up their positions in February 1998. Timpo is representative to Namibia and Mills to Malawi . The other women FAORs in Africa include Florence Chenoweth in South Africa, Marie-Noelle Koyara in Cape Verde, and Seiglinde Ring in Mozambique. In addition, Viktoria Sekitoleko, FAOR to Zimbabwe and Botswana, is the Subregional Representative in the Subregional Office for Southern and Eastern Africa, which covers 21 countries.
With strong technical backgrounds in agriculture, fisheries or forestry, FAO's country representatives make the Organization's technical expertise more readily available to the governments of member countries. They interact with their country counterparts to coordinate the planning and execution of technical cooperation activities, and they also alert headquarters and regional and subregional offices to emergencies affecting food and agriculture sectors in the country.
Before leaving for Windhoek, Timpo has been intensively briefed on the country and its agricultural sector by FAO's technical divisions. She knows about the importance of the livestock sector and the large ranches in the southern part of the country, and about the subsistence farmers in the north. Despite this, she insists "I go with an open mind".
Convinced of the importance of a participatory approach, Timpo said "the biggest challenge for me is how to ensure that all the players are at the table, both at the planning stage and then in following through, because only in this way will our achievements be sustainable for Namibia".
Asked for her thoughts on the theme for World Food Day 1998 - "Women Feed the World" - she replied, "I think you couldn't have selected a better theme. It's wonderful. There needs to be greater emphasis on the role of women in the development of any activity for food security". She went on to say, "I think the issue of ensuring that the women are an integral part of whatever we do is critical. You know that if women are involved and have the necessary know-how, invariably there will be food on the table and there will be income-generating activities and in the end they will ensure that there is food security."
Susan Mills, the new FAOR for Malawi, was equally enthusiastic about this year's World Food Day spotlight on women: "The 1998 theme will highlight women's important contribution to both household food security and national economic well-being. In the past, much of development planning focused mainly on the reproductive role of women. Now, there is acknowledgement of women's important economic contribution and more emphasis is being placed on raising women's productivity to thus increase their family's income".
With a largely agriculture-based economy in Malawi - agriculture provides approximately 33 percent of gross domestic product, and more than 80 percent of employment - the country should benefit from Mills' impressive background in agricultural issues. A Canadian national, Mills has extensive experience in the agricultural science and technology sector and worked many years for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. She began her working relationship with FAO in 1994 as the Canadian coordinator of events related to the Organization's Fiftieth Anniversary in Quebec City, and was later appointed as Canada's national secretary for the World Food Summit and the country's chief negotiator in the development of the Plan of Action. "Intensive discussions at the Summit with representatives of member nations and with people in my own country preparing for the meeting sensitized me to what food security means to individuals and how important the work of FAO is in bringing to the attention of the citizens of the world the issue of the 800 million people in the world lacking basic food and nutrition", said Mills.
Mills commends the ongoing efforts of the Government of Malawi to develop a long-term strategy to enhance food security in that country and hopes that she can contribute to the effort by bringing together the various players - government, non-governmental organizations and other UN specialized agencies - working on the same problems. "You can spend too much time on talk, but if you don't spend enough time talking with people from different areas who might each have a different portion of the answer to the problem, it only takes one area that you've left out, and you won't be able to resolve the problem. Together, we've got to find concrete ways of moving forward".
Mills sees her new posting in Malawi as a tremendous challenge and welcomes this first opportunity to live and work in Africa. "I hope that I will be able to live up to the capacity of FAO and its mandate and be able to support the Government of Malawi in its goals in food security in the next two years."
9 March 1998