Rome, March 8 -- The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) celebrated International Women's Day today for the first time at its Headquarters, highlighting the theme: "Empowering Women, Feeding Humanity." This event gathered together FAO Member Nations, representatives of International and Italian non-governmental organizations and international staff members.

FAO Director-General, Dr. Jacques Diouf, in his message delivered by Mr. Howard W. Hjort, Deputy Director-General, recalled that when nominating a woman a little more than a year ago as Director of the Women and Population Division, he initiated a new policy which today culminates in the implementation of the Plan of Action approved unanimously by the Organization's governing Conference. "Now we are moving from words to deeds," Dr. Diouf said adding that he believes FAO's programme to be one of the best among those of the United Nations System.

Dr. Diouf, noting women's contribution to agriculture in developing countries, expressed his concern at the feminization of poverty, saying, "Out of 1.3 billion people considered to be living in absolute poverty over 70 percent are believed to be women. Women in developing countries work up to one-third more hours than men for a fraction of the income." However, said the Director-General, despite limited access to resources or services and an unfavourable legal environment, "the perseverance with which rural women confront these obstacles signals the vast untapped potential that could be released to benefit this and future generations."

For this reason, Dr. Diouf said the World Food Summit, which will be held this November, will embrace the actions necessary to advance the role of rural women in achieving both household food supply and income, national food security and overall well being.

During the celebration of International Women's Day, FAO presented two new tools: a film on Women in Fisheries and a training package on Gender Issues in Forestry. These publications are to facilitate the evaluation and promotion of gender participation in Forestry planning.

Films, music, mimosa corsages and a lunch, organized by UN Women's Guild members from all regions of the world, gave the event a festive mood in honor of the rural women for whom FAO helps gain recognition as deserving of full rights and as co-participants in the development process.