Raising the visibility of women farmers: High-level consultation takes place in Rome


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More than two hundred participants will attend the High-Level Consultation on Rural Women and Information. The inaugural session will be opened by FAO Director-General Mr Jacques Diouf. Guests of honour and speakers include: Ms Elizabeth Diouf, First Lady of Senegal and President of the International Steering Committee for the Economic Advancement of Rural Women. Ms Laura Balbo, Italy's Minister for Equal Opportunity, and Ms Angela King, UN Assistant Secretary General and Special Advisor on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women.

On 5 October, the first technical panel discussion, focusing on Gender Equality in Policies and Planning, will be moderated by Ms Margareta Winberg, Minister of Sweden for Agriculture and for Gender Equality Affairs. On 6 October, Ms Angela King will moderate the second panel discussion, on Dissemination of Gender Specific Information.

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Much of the developing world relies on food grown by women on small farms.Yet rural women's contribution to food security is largely invisible in national statistics. Bringing to light the value of women's farm labour is the aim of a High-Level Consultation on Rural Women and Information, a three-day meeting at FAO Headquarters in Rome, 4 to 6 October.

The Consultation will bring together Ministers of Agriculture and of Equal Opportunity, observers from United Nations agencies and members of non-governmental organizations. Their mandate is to develop ways to get reliable information about the role women play in agricultural production to agricultural policy-makers, the media and the general public.

Both women and men participate in food production. In developing countries, men tend to work on large-scale, highly mechanized farms growing cash crops for export, whereas women grow food for their families and for sale at small local markets, using simple technology. However, a number of factors - including recent economic crises, structural adjustment programmes, armed conflicts and natural disasters - have increased the burden rural women carry in producing food.

"Although women make an enormous contribution to food production, much of their work figures into the 'informal' economy, and as such has been traditionally undervalued or even invisible in national economic statistics," says Sissel Ekaas, Director of FAO's Women and Population Division. Driving a tractor for an hourly wage is considered 'work', whereas tending a garden or looking after domestic animals to feed the family is not.

"Because of this gender bias, policy-makers have very little data or analytical tools to measure the true social and economic value of women's farm labour," says Marie Randriamamonjy, Chief of FAO's Women in Development Service. "As a result, rural women are ignored when national agricultural policies are designed." For women farmers, the cost of being 'invisible' will be particularly high during the current international trade negotiations, which favour economic liberalization and privatization. Over the long-term, these reforms are expected to bring greater global food security, but in the short-term, they are likely to cause difficulties for small-scale and poor farmers.

Consultation to review Strategy for Action
During the high-level consultation in Rome, participants will review a Strategy for Action, a framework designed to assist policy-makers develop appropriate methods for collecting and analysing data on the economic and social contributions made by men and women farmers. This will not be an easy task, as the gender biases that have led to neglect in the valuation of women's work have also affected the way information is gathered and interpreted. Developing new methods for collecting information that encourage participation from both men and women farmers at the local level is an urgent priority.

Getting useful, accurate information to agricultural policy-makers is just one of the goals of the Strategy for Action. Print and electronic media have become powerful forces in shaping public opinion and influencing government policy. So it is essential that men and women working in mass communications be made aware of the importance of rural women's labour. Participants therefore will be examining ways of generating greater public awareness about women farmers' contribution to rural economic development and mobilizing public support for policies that recognize the value of their work.

Furthermore, it is not just policy-makers and the media who require this information. The small-scale farmers themselves, both men and women, need to be better informed about agricultural trends and policy decisions. Advances in communication technologies have created greater opportunities for an effective exchange of information at various levels and for empowering farming communities. In reviewing the Strategy for Action, participants will be trying to find ways to strengthen the channels of communication between rural populations and policy-makers in the hope that this will lead to more equitable and sustainable agricultural development.

Small-scale women farmers in developing countries face enormous challenges, but well-focused actions, particularly public information campaigns, can create the momentum needed to change agricultural policy. The aim of this international consultation is to help start the ball rolling.

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4 October 1999


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