Press Release 00/13
FIVE YEARS AFTER BEIJING: EMPOWERING RURAL WOMEN REMAINS A CHALLENGE
Rome, 8 March - On the occasion of International Women's Day, the Rome-based UN-food agencies, UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) released the following statement:
As the new century begins, there is a growing recognition for the crucial role that women play in development. Today, 8 March, on the occasion of International Women's Day, we recall the thousands of women and men from all over the world who crowded into the Chinese capital five years ago for the fourth World Conference on Women to review the progress made on women's issues during the previous twenty years. The Beijing Conference was also able to draw public attention to the world's estimated 1.6 billion rural women who produce most of the food in developing countries, create many jobs in rural areas, care for children and the elderly and teach values, traditional culture and agricultural knowledge. They do all this often with very limited resources.
Next June 2000, in New York, many countries, governments and world institutions will assess their actions and achievements five years after Beijing: With women's issues now firmly and irrevocably on the international public agenda, what more can be done to focus attention on the world's women and girls -more than half of humanity -- and their hopes for a more just and equitable society?
Since the Beijing Conference, many UN programs have reaffirmed their commitment to programs and projects that meet the needs of women. At the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP), rural women remain a major focus of development efforts. Joint reports, statements and activities by the three Rome-based UN agencies have underlined the important role played by rural women in food and agricultural production.
If the 1996 World Food Summit goal -- to reduce the number of hungry people in the world by at least half by the year 2015 -- is to be achieved, then even greater efforts will have to be made to improve the working and social conditions of the world's rural women.
Despite their contribution to food security, women's work is poorly understood, undervalued and underestimated. Work in the household is often considered part of a woman's duties as wife and mother, not an occupation to be accounted for in the national economy. Outside the house, a great deal of rural women's labor is unpaid. In most countries, women do not own the land they work on, and when they do it tends to be smaller, less valuable. They face great difficulties getting credit and often are thrown out of their homes if they are widowed or divorced.
Prevailing attitudes make the plight of rural women worse by denying them political power and social representation. Gender-biased legal and social structures and illiteracy are factors that prevent women from improving their economic situation, thus increasing the feminization of poverty. Since the 1970s, the number of women living below the poverty line has increased by 50 percent, compared with 30 percent for men.
FAO, IFAD and WFP, through their collaborative approach - emphasizing technical know-how, international financial assistance and food aid - are committed to ensuring that rural women have the support and access to resources they need in order to improve their quality of life. Working together, the UN food agencies have produced positive results for rural women in many parts of the world.
For example, women living in the Asian uplands are the beneficiaries of a 1998 FAO/IFAD regional programme of regeneration and growth for Asia's Upland Poor. In countries of Asia and Africa, FAO/WFP food-for-seed and food-for-work activities provide women farmers with technical training, credit to start income-generating activities and to buy land. In war-ravaged areas and poor rural communities struck by natural disasters, the three Rome-based UN agencies coordinate both initial emergency assistance and agricultural recovery programmes.
Increased importance should be given to the analysis of constraints faced by men and women in natural and human disasters. The HIV/AIDS pandemic, especially in Africa, intensifies existing labour bottlenecks in agriculture and increases widespread malnutrition, adding to the problems of rural women.
With the renewed political will shown by the member countries of FAO, IFAD and WFP, the next decade should see rural women in developing countries become equal partners with men in development and generally recognized as the main food producers.
IFAD Coordinator, Communications & Public Affairs
WFP Ms. Heather Hill, Information Officer
FAO Ms. Liliane Kambirigi, Media Relations