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The FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Government of Lao PDR, organised a regional consultation to review and share experiences on the status of rural women in the region ten years after the UN Conference on Women held in Beijing. The meeting comes as the momentum gathers in the global development community to review the implementation of the 1995 Beijing Declaration on the advancement of women.

In the years since 1975, significant progress in the status of women has been achieved by many countries in the region, albeit uneven. Some countries have made greater strides than others, and gender equality gains for urban women far outstrip those for rural women. Focusing on gender issues has important implications for economic development. Low-income food-deficit countries demonstrate greater gender inequality in rural areas in the form of discriminatory biases, unequal wages and access to resources, disproportionate workloads and poor education.

The post Beijing era promoted a balanced agenda to counter urban-rural disparities in resource allocation and create viable economic alternatives for rural communities. Such measures contributed to improving rural women’s access to resources, specifically to education, health care, sanitation, clean water and better incomes. Furthermore, direct investment in rural women was intended to improve their knowledge, skills and leadership potential to deal with an increasingly complex society and to take advantage of economic options in local communities.

Women make a critical contribution to household and national food security. Though Millennium Development Goal 3 (MDG-3) directly addresses women’s empowerment, gender equality concerns are an integral element of every MDG, particularly the goal that addresses the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger (MDG-1). Women play a key role in achieving this objective. Day after day, their labour and knowledge provide critical human capital for achieving food security and poverty reduction in Asia. Backing gender equality is seen increasingly as a way to promote sustainable economic and social development for society at large.

This publication provides a synthesis of the country papers presented at the expert consultation. The regional meeting brought together gender experts from 11 Asian countries as well as development partners such as Chulalongkorn University (Thailand), ILO, SEARSOLIN, UNESCAP and UNICEF. It explores the achievements to date and examines persisting constraints challenging rural women’s progress in Asia. I am convinced that the recommendations will allow further strengthening of national policies, programme strategies and legislative measures for the advancement of rural women in the region.

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

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