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I. The UN and other organizations

The Millennium Development Goals

In September 2000 at its Millennium Summit, the United Nations adopted a set of eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (Box 3). The MDGs are inter-related and mutually reinforcing and the UN has established time bound, quantified, and monitorable targets and indicators for each goal. Although only two goals specifically mention women, none (with the possible exception of the eighth) can be achieved without giving close attention to women and to gender issues.

Box 3: Millennium Development Goals (1990-2015)

1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2. Achieve universal primary education
3. Promote gender equity and empower women
4. Reduce child mortality
5. Improve maternal health
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases
7. Ensure environmental sustainability
8. Develop a global partnership for development

Research in the past 30 years has shown consistently that women are over-represented among the poor in both rural and urban settings. They have less access to land and productive resources and when they work in paid employment, they receive lower wages than men. At the same time, it has been shown that women play important roles in agriculture and food production in most parts of the world. For this reason, the first MDG - to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger - must focus on women and their work in agriculture because they are significant actors in the provision of food security. The second goal also has a strong food security component. World Bank research has shown that increasing women’s primary schooling would enhance agricultural output by 24 percent (FAO 2002).

The improvement of global food security is an underlying theme for all the MDGs because improved nutrition will have a positive impact on child mortality, maternal health, and disease resistance. However, only the seventh goal deals specifically with natural resource management. Its targets (to be achieved by 2015) are to:

Taken alone, each of these targets presents a massive challenge and different UN agencies have chosen to focus on each target. The UN hosted the International Conference on Financing for Development in March 2002 in Monterrey, Mexico, which was attended by government, private sector and civil society leaders in addition to senior officials of all the major intergovernmental financial, trade, economic, and monetary organizations. The Monterrey conference reaffirmed the commitment of the broader international community to meet the MDGs by 2015. The World Bank estimates that an additional US$40-60 billion will be needed annually to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

Several of the MDGs have strong cultural implications and it will be difficult to achieve them exclusively through the infusion of money and development assistance. As will be discussed below, experience has shown that food security problems cannot be addressed simply with the provision of technical solutions. In most cases it is necessary also to change attitudes, values, and laws, both statutory and customary, to make food production more efficient, worldwide as in many cases women farmers have been disadvantaged by existing laws, attitudes, values and practices.

International Fora for Natural Resources: Water

Since the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, numerous rural development initiatives have focused specifically on water. Agenda 21, the action plan that emerged from the conference, provided FAO with an impetus to establish its Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) in 1996. Its objective is to assist with the improvement of food security at national and at household levels on an economically and environmentally sustainable basis, and to improve people's access to food.

Box 5: The Dublin Statement on Water and Sustainable Development

Principle No. 3 - Women play a central part in the provision, management and safeguarding of water

This pivotal role of women as providers and users of water and guardians of the living environment has seldom been reflected in institutional arrangements for the development and management of water resources. Acceptance and implementation of this principle requires positive policies to address women’s specific needs and to equip and empower women to participate at all levels in water resources programmes, including decision-making and implementation, in ways defined by them.

Effective use of existing water resources has been an important focus of the programme. More recently, FAO has established regional strategies and programmes aimed at raising food security in low income, food deficit countries through multidisciplinary and participatory approaches. Priority will be given to structural reforms, harmonization of policies, reduction of trade barriers, and development of human resources at both national and regional levels. Other initiatives are also underway. For example, FAO’s TeleFood programme, established in 1997, is raising international awareness about the problem of hunger by sponsoring concerts, sporting events and other activities. Since its start, the campaign has generated more than US$10 million in donations. Money raised through TeleFood pays for small, sustainable projects that help small-scale farmers produce more food for their families and communities.

Important principles about the effective management of world water resources emerged from the International Conference on Water and Environment in Dublin in 1992. For the first time, there was a specific focus on the role of women and this was clearly recognized in the third of the four guiding principles for the action agenda that came out of the conference (Box 5). Further support for the integration of gender into water resource management came from the first two world water forums (Marrakesh, 1997 and The Hague, 2000). The Third World Water Forum, slated for March 2003 in Kyoto, Japan, will also have sessions on gender and water and water and poverty. It is evident that the relationship between gender and water is being recognized. Whether that recognition has led to concrete improvement in women’s water rights is less clear. The UN has declared the year 2003 as the International Year of Freshwater and there is hope and expectation that progress will be made towards a greater inclusion of women into water resource utilization and management.

Water Programmes

Increased water-related activities are also underway in the research sector. The CGIAR system established a Challenge Programme on Water and Food in November 2002 to focus on a “pro-poor” approach...“All projects, will ... take special care to design research frameworks that take gender issues into account wherever relevant” (CGIAR 2002:8). This wording is vague and to date only one of the five working groups has set a research question that specifically mentions women. The global and national food and water system working group asks: “How can the rights and access to water of the poor, women, and socially excluded groups be established and safeguarded in the processes of global and national demographic, economic and political change that are shaping the developing regions?” and “How will changes in global water cycles affect food provision and the access of the poor, women, and disadvantaged groups to ecosystem services” (CGIAR 2002:24, 26).

Box 6: FAO Activities for the International Year of Freshwater

On going activities include

  • water resources inventories and evaluation;

  • development of a global water information system;

  • water policy formulation and river basin planning;

  • improved water use technologies and management tools;

  • water development and irrigation expansion; and

  • water quality control, conservation and environmental effects projects.

Finally, the FAO is putting increased emphasis on the provision of water for food security and has identified three basic concerns: to produce more food with less water; to protect water quality and the environment, including human health; and to close the food consumption and production gap, particularly in Africa. Although the FAO’s on-going activities are stated in gender-neutral language (Box 6), the organization’s Gender and Population division has developed a set of tools and methodologies aimed at ensuring that gender concerns are integrated into all of its on-going work.

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