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Across Asia and the Pacific region, rural women’s contribution to the agriculture sector and rural production is marked by considerable diversity, and influenced by factors unique to the specific community and household in question. The general situation is characterized by patterns of change and continuity, or in other words, flexibility and rigidity. Mounting economic pressures have compelled many women to modify their roles and to perform a range of tasks not normally associated with women. Despite these new responsibilities in the economic sphere, however, women have largely continued to maintain their traditional gender roles in the domestic sphere. By comparison, men’s roles have not adapted in the same way. For instance, as women have taken on a greater share of traditionally male activities, the rigid boundaries of social norms have been maintained for men. For women, this has given rise to an increasing workload, an increasing responsibility for physically demanding activities and poor returns on their efforts.

In this context of an increased and more onerous workload for rural women, the effect of persisting gender inequities in access to productive resources is even more significant. Indeed, it has been associated with an increased risk of food insecurity in the region. Lack of attention to women’s work and drudgery of tasks and inequitable access to resources are imbedded in gender biases, which are passed on through cultural conditioning and social norms, at both the household and community level. Reflected in intrahousehold behaviour, these biases also spill over into the institutional context and policy arena, contributing to unrelenting rural gender inequality. Regional trends in economic integration, environmental degradation, migration, technology, and continuing vulnerability to natural disasters have a significant impact on the various contexts within which rural women operate. However, the nature of the opportunities and threats that these trends present for rural women - and, by extension, for agricultural production and food security - have not yet been systematically studied, analysed and quantified to support policy and programme formulation.

Based on the preceding analysis, the following interventions are recommended to improve the situation of rural women in Asia and the Pacific region: i) improve the collection and analysis of sex-disaggregated data in the agriculture and rural production sectors, as well as the capacity of national agencies in this regard; ii) improve the gender planning capacities of national agencies; iii) pursue interventions that attach a valuation to unpaid work; iv) empower rural women through improved education and access to information and technology; v) improve rural women’s access to basic services to reduce drudgery and enhance their participation in technology development; vi) take advantage of advances in new information and communication technologies to improve women’s access to information and technical knowledge and vii) undertake analytical studies to asses the impact of regional trends in economic integration, emerging technologies, HIV/AIDS and vulnerability to natural disasters.

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