The twentieth century development gains in the Asian region were marked by spectacular success in the economic sector of a few countries. But world focus on such success hid from view the inequities in the economic and social spheres existing within these successful countries as well as in other slow-growth countries. “Several countries in the region achieved high growth rates and rural poverty saw a substantial decline during the 1980s and 1990s. However the impact was not uniform across the region. Three fourths of the world's poor (1.3 billion) live in the rural areas of the Asia and Pacific region. The South Asian sub-region in particular has been the home of two fifths of the income poor of the developing countries. Most of the poor in the region are small and landless farmers living in rural areas. The poorer people are found among women, children and youth, older persons, ethnic minorities and victims of disasters and conflicts. Poverty involving the rural sector could remain the significant issue in the first decade of this century, considering the fact that about 80 percent of the world's economically active population are engaged in agriculture in Asia.” (PAI 1998) Hence in the Asian region, concerns such as the following continue to dominate the development agenda: achieving economic growth with shared prosperity among rural communities; fostering gender equity in shared prosperity; fostering local responsibility for planned development and sustainable resource management; and achieving effective local governance that promotes prosperity and gender equity in rural communities.
Most recently the Asian approach to development has been guided by principles of equity and participation. These two principles emerge in programming ideas such as participatory local planning, equitable participation of stakeholders that is inclusive of women and neglected clients, effective local governance and fostering the local community's responsibility for local prosperity and ecological sustainability. Though equitable participation in local planning was promoted by development agencies and civil organizations, commitment to these processes varies widely among and within the countries. It has become increasingly acceptable to weigh gender considerations and to include women in development. But gender-equity commitment is yet to be consolidated and actions are yet to be formalized as consistent programmatic approach.
FAO is committed to and does promote gender-responsive planning. In brief, FAO gender-responsive planning has come to mean essentially “first, learning about how gender shapes the opportunities and constraints that women and men face in securing their livelihoods within each cultural, political, economic and environmental setting. Because women and men have different tasks and responsibilities, and different livelihood strategies and constraints, they must each be consulted. There is overwhelming evidence that development has to address the needs and priorities of both women and men in order to be successful” (FAO 1999b).
According to FAO, an ideal gender-responsive agricultural planning process would entail the following elements (FAO, 1999b):
Information flow up and down, and across the planning ladder to provide valuable information to all stakeholders;
Dialogue, negotiation, consensus building and the creation of channels of communication that allow farmers and planners at all levels to take decisions together about appropriate actions;
Building linkages and partnerships among stakeholders at the same level as well as between levels;
Empowering women and men to express their needs and aspirations in the institutional planning process at all levels; and
Follow-up to community-based planning efforts and to the commitment of resources (both financial and human).
The elements of gender-responsive planning such as free information flows, dialogue, negotiation, participatory decision-making, building of linkages, articulation, resource allocation and action often confront gender-defined hurdles and barriers preventing women to be included as key stakeholders. But most often due to reasons of cultural conditions and resource and social constraints that are gender specific, women are not effectively integrated in the local planning process.
Information generation for local planning has been the main rationale for practising and promoting methodologies such as participatory rural appraisal, participatory research and participatory learning; however, it also suffers from a few weaknesses such as:
insufficient analysis, synthesis and use of qualitative information as tools for local planning;
inadequate contribution of women in the participatory process to identify gender-specific concerns for local planning; and
lack of approaches to use effectively sex-segregated qualitative information for participatory local planning.
It is recognized that “the generation and use of information on rural gender issues compete with many other priorities … Important rural/urban, gender, age and other differentials at the sub-national level are overlooked in research and evaluation. This makes it difficult for issues of social equity and the specific needs of male and female agricultural producers to be adequately addressed” (FAO 1999a). The gender-specific limitations stemming from applying information generated from participatory processes and gender gap issues stemming from involving women in participatory local planning should be examined by planners at the provincial and district levels, to streamline the planning process with local communities. The recommendations and outputs from an earlier FAO expert consultation on participatory research methods and gender database for local planning were integrated into the deliberations of this workshop.