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In 1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing, concluded with the endorsement of a comprehensive Platform for Action that sought international commitments to improve the condition and rights of women and their communities worldwide. Many of the declarations made in the Beijing Plan of Action are in line with existing commitments made by States at other UN world conferences[1] including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

In September 2000, the UN Member States adopted the Millennium Declaration, whereby they determined to strengthen human rights, peace and development, to and improve the UN's competence to act on behalf of humanity's priorities. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were developed as a framework for implementing the Millennium Declaration and, with their related time-bound targets and indicators, represent a focused commitment on the part of the international community to a broad definition of development.

While the Beijing Conference had an impact on policy and legislation in many countries, there is still a long way to go in terms of translating policy and legislation into action. Since 1995, a number of resolutions have been approved by the UN General Assembly in support of rural women. In 2002, the resolution on improving the situation of rural women was adopted; this called upon Member States and UN bodies to continue their efforts to ensure an integrated follow-up to UN conferences and summits, and give greater importance to the advancement of rural women in their national, regional and global development strategies.

Within this framework, FAO's Gender and Development Plan of Action (2002 - 2007) states that "sustainable agriculture and rural development and food security cannot be achieved by efforts that exclude more than half of the rural population." Women's contribution to agriculture and food security is widely recognized across all regions. Despite the above-mentioned international commitments, women, in particular in rural areas, have not significantly improved their economic position and social situation, and basic prerogatives related to human and social reproduction continue to be subordinated to productive and commercial goals.

Hunger and poverty are, in general, consequences of inadequate and restricted access to land and other resources, such as capital, inputs and technology; being women among those with less access to land, while accounting for a large share in small-scale food production.

Over the past few decades, governments and civil society have been attempting to implement land regulations that seek to improve women's land rights. Nevertheless, most initiatives developed to promote land reform programmes continue to underestimate the implications that gender-asymmetric land policies entail for agriculture and food security. Most modern institutional arrangements for land tenure tend to maintain existing gender and social inequities. Political changes are required to revisit existing institutional mechanisms to ensure that rights to land are acknowledged as basic human rights and that women's equal rights are effectively incorporated into land policy and tenure programmes. This compendium has been put together to provide an improved understanding of the complex issues concerning gender and land. It draws on research commissioned by FAO, and has been compiled by the Gender and Development Service in collaboration with the Land Tenure Service.

[1] Strategies for Gender Equality: FAO's Implementation and Follow-up of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action

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