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«A growing world population and the urgency of eradicating hunger and malnutrition call for determined policies and effective actions. A peaceful, stable and enabling political, social and economic environment is the essential foundation which will enable States to give adequate priority to food security, poverty eradication and sustainable agriculture, fisheries, forestry and rural development. Promotion and protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to development and the progressive realization of the right to adequate food for all and the full and equal participation of men and women are also indispensable to our goal of achieving sustainable food security for all.»

(Paragraph 13, Rome Declaration on World Food Security,
World Food Summit, 13-17 November 1996, Rome, Italy)

Sustainable agriculture and rural development and food security cannot be achieved by efforts that ignore or exclude more than half of the rural population. The truth of this statement should be self-evident, especially in light of the fact that half of the rural population (i.e. women) also constitutes more than half of the agricultural labour force and is responsible for most of the household food production in low-income food-deficit countries. Agriculture is still the main source of employment for women in the developing world. About two-thirds of the female labour force in developing countries, and more than 90 percent in many African countries, is engaged in agricultural work.

Development strategies are clearly more equitable when they consider the different needs, constraints, opportunities and priorities of men and women. Compelling evidence suggests that such inclusive strategies are also far more effective and sustainable. Recognition of men's and women's valuable and distinct skills and knowledge can help to shape policies and programmes that contribute significantly to both economic growth and equity objectives.

For decades, FAO has been involved in efforts to improve the status of rural women, and it recognizes and supports their contributions to rural development. The Gender and Development Plan of Action (2002-2007) strengthens this commitment by making gender considerations a key factor in all FAO activities. It is based on the recognition that women's and men's full and equal participation in agriculture and rural development is absolutely essential for eradicating food insecurity and rural poverty.

From «Women in Development» to «Gender and Development»

Ever since the First World Conference on Women in Mexico City in 1975, approaches to «women's issues» have changed considerably. Development agencies, including FAO, first advocated the Women in Development (WID) approach, which was useful in making the importance of women's productive work more clearly visible, as well as in recognizing women's essential role in development. This approach focused on using development resources to improve women's conditions, for example through projects for women.

However, the WID approach tended to focus solely on women as a separate, homogeneous entity and to ignore the basic structure of the unequal relations between women and men. Because it failed to take into account the wider social and economic context, WID often ignored the issues of how men might be affected and how important gender interactions are.

Over time, WID evolved into Gender and Development (GAD), which focuses on analysing the roles and responsibilities that are socially assigned to women and men, the social relations and interactions between women and men, and the opportunities offered to one and the other. The GAD approach defines gender and the unequal power relations between women and men as essential categories of analysis. Rather than focusing solely on women and «women's projects», GAD provides a framework and an obligation to re-examine all social, political and economic structures and development policies from the perspective of gender relations.

In order to implement this new conceptual approach, gender mainstreaminghas emerged as the common strategy employed by FAO and other development agencies to promote gender equality. Within the UN system, GENDERmainstreaming has been defined as «a strategy for making women's as well as men's concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated. The ultimate goal is to achieve gender equality.»

With the new Gender and Development Plan of Action, FAO will continue to make efforts related to implementing this strategy in different fields, including: building capacity on gender issues; providing gender-specific technical advice on policy and the planning of projects and programmes; conducting studies on key issues, such as land tenure and access to resources; and promoting gender-disaggregated data collection.

Why a gender and development plan of action?

The Plan of action presents a framework in which FAO can mainstream gender into all aspects of its work and improve its capacity to assist Member Nations in achieving equitable and sustainable agriculture and rural development. Its purpose is fourfold:

Strategic objectives for the plan of action

FAO has established four medium-term objectives for its Gender and Development Plan of Action, which are derived from the global goals of FAO's Strategic Framework 2000-2015. These commitments aim to promote gender equality in:

Global trends

As recommended in the FAO Gender and Development Plan of Action, application of the Gender and Development approach entails focusing on a number of important global trends that will have a major impact in the coming years on gender roles and relations in agriculture and food security.


As state controls on trade and investment are removed, countries all over the world are experiencing greatly expanded markets. More and more aspects of life have been commercialized. Some countries and regions have benefited from rapid growth. Others have suffered growing inequality and marginalization. Overall, income inequalities among countries have grown sharply. In East Asia and the Pacific, per capita income quadrupled between 1975 and 1999. In sub-Saharan Africa and other least-developed countries, on the other hand, per capita incomes fell to below their 1970 levels. The benefits and risks of globalization have also been distributed unequally within countries. The impacts of globalization differ profoundly depending on whether they affect urban rather than rural areas, commercial farmers rather than smallholders, or men rather than women, those particularly in rural areas. Globalization tends to favour large-scale, commercial farming over household subsistence production. Small-scale farmers in low-income food-deficit countries have been hurt by temporary surges of lower-cost imports and diminishing attention and resources for agricultural development. Most of these farmers are women, who already suffer from limited access to resources, markets, training and decision-making opportunities.

Population dynamics

Rural-urban migration - By 2020, most of the people in developing regions will live in cities. The paces and patterns of urban migration vary considerably. Latin America and the Caribbean are already as highly urbanized as Europe and North America, while sub-Saharan Africa and South-Central Asia remain predominantly rural. The impacts of migration on women and men also differ markedly. In Latin America, women who migrated to cities play a major role in reducing rural poverty by sending money back to their home villages. In parts of sub-Saharan Africa, male migration to urban areas has led to a rapid rise in the number of female-headed rural households.

Migration may challenge the traditional patterns of gender-based roles in rural areas, but the barriers that limit women's access to essential resources and services remain as strong as ever. In many countries, rural-urban migration has contributed to both the «feminization of agriculture» and the «feminization of poverty».

Rural ageing - As birth rates decline and people live longer, the world's population is ageing. Worldwide, the number of people over 60 years of age is expected to triple by 2050, reaching a total of almost 2 billion. Because many younger people migrate to the cities, ageing is often felt first and proceeds fastest in rural areas. The combination of urban migration and ageing has already had a major impact on the composition of the rural labour force and the division of labour by age and sex. Policies will need to take into account the specific needs and contributions of elderly rural men and women. In many rural areas, HIV/AIDS is decimating the rural workforce and elderly people are facing increasing workloads as they assume responsibility for growing numbers of AIDS orphans.

HIV/AIDS - The HIV/AIDS pandemic is a major threat to food security and rural development. At the end of 2001, an estimated 40 million people worldwide were living with HIV/AIDS - 95 percent of them in developing countries. Within these countries, AIDS is hitting rural areas even harder than cities. FAO has estimated that in the 25 most-affected African countries, AIDS has killed 7 million agricultural workers since 1985. And another 16 million could die over the next 20 years. The impact on agricultural production and food security has been devastating. As adults fall ill and die, farm output plummets. Invaluable knowledge about indigenous farming methods and strategies for coping with food shortages are lost. Furthermore, biological and social factors make women and girls more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS than men and boys (HIV infection rates in young women are sometimes three to five times higher than they are for young men). The epidemic has also increased the unequal burden of work borne by women and girls, who are traditionally responsible for growing most of the food and caring for the sick and dying.

Increased pressure on natural resources

As the world's food producers, rural women and men play leading roles in both the use and the preservation of natural resources. Traditional farming systems are of crucial importance, often reflecting generations of experience in adapting to local conditions, relying on a variety of indigenous crops, recycling biomass and using specific techniques such as terracing and water harvesting. However, farming can also be a leading cause of environmental degradation, particularly when population pressure and a demand for greater production lead to the clearing of marginal lands, the overuse of mineral fertilizers and pesticide, or the mismanagement of soil and water resources. The rapid growth of commercial agriculture has increased the pressure on both the environment and smallholders, whose limited access to new agricultural technology and inputs often leads to greater exploitation of natural resources and thus to environmental degradation.

Urban and peri-urban agriculture

The rapid growth of cities has been matched by a rapid growth of agriculture in and around urban areas. FAO estimates that about 200 million urban farmers worldwide supply food to 700 million people - one-quarter of the world's urban population. Urban and peri-urban agriculture are an important source of fresh food in cities, and also provide employment and income for millions of men and women. Female and male urban farmers have successfully established intensive vegetable gardens on small plots, making efficient use of limited water and land resources. However, urban farms can pose risks to public health and the environment. Fertilizers, pesticides or wastes from farm animals can pollute the air, soil and drinking-water. Women and men farmers in urban areas have also confronted many of the difficulties faced by smallholders everywhere, including land scarcity and lack of services. Because of their lower economic, social and legal status, women farmers face particularly severe obstacles.

Disaster-related and complex emergencies

As disasters and emergencies become more frequent and larger in scale, there is greater awareness of the need for a better understanding of how social factors affect both communities' vulnerability and their ability to respond. Emergencies affect women and girls differently from men and boys. Men are usually the primary casualties in wartime, while women often lose the capacity to sustain their families' livelihoods as a result of loss of seeds, livestock, tools and productive gardens. As women often have the primary responsibility for family care and feeding, they are put under great stress. In addition, conflict situations considerably increase the trauma of gender-specific physical insecurity for women and girls; and they are also at high risk of nutritional deficiencies. Gender analysis can help the development of disaster mitigation and recovery strategies that address the needs of both women and men effectively. FAO and the World Food Programme (WFP) have jointly produced a socio-economic and gender analysis guide for emergency situations.

Information technology

New information technologies are radically transforming the way that information and knowledge are disseminated and shared around the world. The technology revolution could accelerate progress towards gender equality, but it could also exacerbate existing inequalities. Much has been written about the digital divide between rich and poor countries: more than 70 percent of the world's Internet users are based in Europe and North America, where - in addition - more than 90 percent of the data on Africa are stored. Similar gaps persist between urban and rural areas and between men and women, especially in developing countries. Rural women usually have less access than men to information and new technologies. Consequently, they are at a disadvantage in making informed choices about what to produce. Lack of information also limits women's influence in their communities and their ability to participate in decision-making. When assessing the opportunities and risks of new technologies, it is essential to give attention to gender differences and to ensuring that women's voice is heard so that technological developments can be exploited in the way that best prevents them from increasing inequalities.

Dimitra, exchange of information and network:
essential requirements in the fight against hunger and poverty

Dimitra is an information and communication project that has been implemented by FAO in Europe, Africa and the Near East since 1998. It has gathered information on 844 organizations concerning rural women (650 of which are in Africa and the Near East), 1 909 project descriptions involving or concerning rural women and development, and 830 publications. Dimitra is based on the active cooperation of a network of ten local partners in Africa and the Near East. Its main goal is to empower rural women and to improve their living conditions and status by highlighting the extent and value of their contributions. It provides a tool with which grassroots organizations can make their voices heard internationally and is guided by three main principles: partnership - valuing local knowledge and working closely with local partners; participation - involving the active contribution of civil society organizations; and networking - encouraging the exchange of good practices, ideas and experiences.

The project uses both traditional (such as rural radio) and new communication methods and tools to distribute information (for example, the Dimitra online database is accessible free of charge at and on CD-ROM). The database is also published in guidebooks, such as the Dimitra guidebook on European organizations working with/for rural women in the South and the Dimitra guidebook on African and Near Eastern organizations. A biannual newsletter provides information about the activities of the project and its partner organizations.

After five years of implementation, Dimitra continues to consolidate and extend its Africa and the Near East network, aiming to promote information exchange by strengthening information and communication skills and to update and disseminate information on gender and rural development issues. It aims at facilitating access to information, sharing local knowledge and expertise and guaranteeing that rural people, especially rural women, are less marginalized. Dimitra is a useful instrument for making gender issues, information and communication an integral part of development strategies and policies.

The strategic objectives of the Gender and Development Plan of Action (2002-2007) will be pursued
through gender mainstreaming efforts that focus on four priority areas of intervention:

Planned actions for mainstreaming fall into the following categories:

Glossary of gender-related terms

Gender - Refers to the social, economic and cultural roles and relations between women and men; takes into account the different responsibilities of women and men in a given culture or location and in different population groups (children, aged people, ethnic groups etc.).

Empowerment of women - A process through which women, individually and collectively, become aware of how power relations operate in their lives and gain self-confidence and strength to challenge gender inequalities.

Gender analysis - A tool to assist the strengthening of development planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation in order to make programmes and projects more efficient and relevant.

Gender mainstreaming - Involves ensuring that attention to gender equality and the different roles and needs of women and men is a central part of all development interventions.

Gender-sensitive indicators - Used to monitor the progress made in achieving gender equality.

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