Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific

Hiroyuki Konuma

FAO Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific

He Changchui
Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific
Delivered to the

Lane – Xang Hotel, Fa-Ngum Road, Vientiane, Lao PDR
August 31 to September 3, 2004

Your Excellency
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen

On behalf of Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and on my own behalf, I welcome you all to this regional expert consultation on “Policies and Programmes for Advancement of Rural Women in Beijing Plus 10 Era: Innovations and Constraints.” We thank you all for responding to our invitation and taking on the journey from various countries in the region to be with us today as well as those who represent various national agencies and development agencies for honoring us with you presence. At the outset, I should record my sincere appreciation to the Government of Lao PDR for their collaboration with FAO to organize this meeting in Vientiane. The meeting as a cooperative effort with Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry demonstrates FAO commitment to work closely with national partners for the advancement of rural women. As always, FAO values your contribution of ideas and analyses from representatives from the regional countries to strengthen our regional technical mandate and activities to improve the situation of rural women in the post Beijing Plus 10 Era. I thank the national focal institution namely National Agriculture and Forestry Research Institute of the Ministry and Meeting Secretariat of Ministry for the capable support given in organizing the meeting. Of course last but not in the least, I thank the FAO Representative in Laos and the staff for assisting regional office to organize the meeting in Vientiane.

The focus of the meeting is “Rural Women in Post Beijing Plus 10 Era”. This consultation will highlight the issues related to rural women in the region as the momentum gathers in global development community to review the implementation of Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BPFA) for the advancement of women. The BPFA implementation review corresponds with the global action in progress to accelerate development intervention performance to realize Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Hence, FAO activity to focus on rural women at this time gains relevance from various common and cross cutting development priorities. The MDG One stresses the importance of eradication of hunger and poverty while MDG 3 focuses on empowerment of women. The Beijing Platform for Action builds upon CEDAW (Convention of Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) to promote gender equality and advancement of women. Since 1996, FAO World Food Summit Plan of Action has recognized the collective potency of these combined development objectives and proclaimed that rural women and men are partners in achieving stable food security. At the conclusion of World Food Summit: five years later held in 2002, FAO launched a programme for “International Alliance Against Hunger” that aims to build multi-sectoral partnerships to eradicate hunger. At the World Food Summit: five years later, FAO Member countries reaffirmed their political commitment for gender equality in FAO programmes. Thus, FAO mission in the region could be coined as technical agenda for a “Hunger Free and Gender Equitable Asia.”

Yet, I recognize that many regional policies and programmes overlook the crucial contribution by women to household and national food security. This oversight is not just a gender consideration, but also one of rural human capital endowment and investment interest. Day after day we all observe in the region rural women toil in rice fields, horticulture orchards and home gardens in the rural areas of countries in the region under the Asian sun and rain. These women’s labor and knowledge make up the stable human capital input for agriculture and rural enterprises – most functioning in subsistence scale-in the region. Yet, family investment in female education and public investment in technical training for the women to expand their economic and social participation remain minimal. Currently, another growing concern to rural human capital viability that incorporates gender dimension is the impact of HIV AIDS on rural households’ labour allocation. Women take on additional farm work as well as care giving tasks in the households with persons living with AIDS. These rural realities are sure signal to development community on the need to emphasize rural women as a critical human capital for achieving food security and poverty reduction in the region.

Though MDG 3 provides achievement in girl’s education as an indicator of women’s empowerment, it would be important understand that gender equality becomes integral element of every MD goals. Furthermore, all-encompassing thrust for gender equality in post Beijing Plus 10 Era should adopt explicit attention for the advancement of rural women. The poor infrastructure development in Asian rural communities hampers not only productivity in agriculture and rural economy but also increases hardship to rural women in their access to agriculture services and markets. From another perspective, the inadequate service infrastructure for health care and water and sanitation impedes women’s care giving activities in the domestic front. Hence, it would be important to make an investment in rural infrastructure to improve women’s access to resources for production and subsistence resources.

I recognize provisioning of infrastructure alone will not be an end in itself to improve the situation of rural women. We should confront the existing social and legal barriers that undermine women’s access to resources in rural communities. I would propose multi front approaches to counter these persisting barriers. First, improve rural women’s awareness and understanding of their rights to demand access to resources and services. Second, improve their education and capacity to work with public sector as well as other service providers to expand their economic options in local communities. Third, improve the learning among those both men and women who hold traditional views on women’s role and rights to change their perception and action to accept the new realities of gender equality. Fourth, accept the reality that rural women are key stakeholders in agriculture and rural development and thus explore with rural women local options for improving their production and living skills to achieve stable food security and livelihood. Fifth, move beyond analysis about women to communication with rural women for generating of policies and programmes that directly benefit rural women.

This meeting will present papers and encourage dialogue on policies and programmes for rural women in the nexus of review on implementation of Beijing Platform for Action review of 10 years after global community accepted it. It is highly desirable that policies and programmes intended to promote advancement of women, in particular as related to rural women, should be anchored to macro realities in the respective nations. Gender considerations should be an integral element of the national policies and programmes associated with agriculture and rural development as well as economic growth and national resource management strategies including natural resource management. Yet, what we observe in the region is distinct lines of policies and programmes- one focusing on sector development for example agriculture and rural development and another focusing on women and development. These national parallel processes seldom insect to achieve an integrated approach for the advancement of rural women. I seek the wisdom of this august gathering to find strategies to bridge the technical collaboration divide that undermines the advancement of rural women.

I am heartened to learn that this meeting is a collaborative effort between FAO gender and development programme and Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry of Government of Lao PDR. I encourage the representatives from FAO member countries to promote such technical collaboration crossing the boundaries of science and borders of agencies for achieving a common cause of improving chances to achieve the objectives of Beijing Platform for Action as well as to realize Millennium Development Goals. Such inter-sectoral interaction would be a path for a collective action to realize the dual goals of gender equality and poverty alleviation. Therefore, I urge each of you to be the emissaries to strengthen partnership across the disciplinary divides and technical boundaries common within national agencies to realize gender equality gains in agriculture and rural development sectors in your respective countries.

I wish you all an interesting and productive consultation as well as a pleasant stay in Vientiane. We look forward to our continued collaboration in the future.

Again, I thank you for being with us today.