Twenty-seventh FAO Regional Conference for the Near East

Doha, Qatar, 13 - 17 March 2004

Policy Framework for Mainstreaming Gender in Agriculture and Rural Development in the Near East Region

Table of Contents







1. The purpose of this document is to provide information on FAO’s approach and support to mainstreaming a gender-equality perspective in agricultural and rural development programmes in the Near East countries. It gives an overview of actions taken by FAO within the framework of the FAO Gender and Development Plan of Action (2002-2007) to support member countries to integrate gender considerations in the formulation of agriculture and rural development policies, programmes and projects. Suggestions are made on how to strengthen the current efforts.


2. The Gender and Development (GAD) approach is implemented in programmes and projects formulation for almost a decade, in several countries of the Near East Region, following their adoption in 1995 of the Beijing Platform for Action on Women. This approach considers the roles and relations of both men and women in the evolving socio-cultural context of each country in the formulation of policies, programmes and projects. FAO has adopted “gender mainstreaming” as the main strategy for supporting its members in this area. It involves ensuring that an analysis of the different roles, rights, needs and priorities of both women and men is a central part of the formulation of all development interventions, and that appropriate actions are identified to address gender gaps.


A. Gender Roles in Agriculture

3. Gender roles in agriculture vary from one country to another within the Region. The average of women active in agriculture is 30%. However, their real participation is largely underestimated because of the definition for economic activity used in census and national statistics tools. Also, data collected are not gender disaggregated. Rural women in the Near East contribute to food security at household level, and they participate actively in agricultural production. As in other Regions, women’s participation is significant in subsistence food production for household consumption. Most of them hold small-scale plots, mainly located in the mountains. Also, they are employed as labourers in the modern agricultural sector and they perform diverse operations. In some countries of the Region, almost 90% of livestock raising and management is in the hands of women. Sometimes they manage medium-size farms, such as in Algeria and Egypt where women benefited from the new reclaimed lands.

B. Access to Resources and Services

4. In most of the Region’s countries, the legislation guarantees to men and women the same rights regarding access to resources and services. As mentioned above, women are active in the agricultural sector, and they run diverse activities. However, they do not benefit from all the support and related services provided to rural populations to improve their skills, working conditions and productivity. Their participation in agricultural training and extension is still limited, since the timing of extension sessions is often incompatible with women’s total workload (domestic and agricultural tasks). In addition, extension staff is still predominantly male, which generally limits communication for cultural reasons. Female extension agents generally work in offices and often deal with traditional home economics matters, embroidery and carpet making. Rural women’s access to credit is still limited. Schemes adapted to the local context, including agricultural banks, co-operatives and social funds for development, are still being experimented with in most of the countries.

5. Commercialization remains a big constraint as few women are involved in this function, which results in weak returns relative to their efforts. Rural women suffer from relative high illiteracy rates compared to urban women, and lack of health services. Environmental problems hit rural women particularly hard. Deforestation and desertification processes have led to a quadrupling of women’s time spent gathering fuelwood. Nevertheless, women possess valuable knowledge about, and participate actively in, environmental conservation and natural resources management throughout the region. The application of structural adjustment policies and certain aspects of globalization may have negative impacts on rural women and men, especially small-scale producers, due to the scarcity of resources and lack of skills (technical and management sides) to face the competition of a free market economy. "Feminization” in the agricultural sector is growing especially between 1990 and 2003, due to armed conflicts, natural disasters, embargoes and migration. The number of female-headed households is increasing: in Egypt, they represent almost 30%. Migrants settled in peri-urban areas are living in bad conditions, mostly worse than conditions in rural areas, which affect the nutrition and food security. Participation of women in local organizations, particularly in the decision-making structures, is very limited in rural areas.

C. Institutionalization of the Gender Approach

6. During the last decade, progress was made in the use of a more gender-sensitive approach within the Region, when Gender Strategies, National Plans of Action, and Poverty Alleviation Programmes were formulated. Women obtained high positions in policy, administrative and scientific domains. Women's Associations were created, and gender machineries are institutionalized at central, as well as at decentralized levels- through establishing councils, committees, Gender/Women in Development Units and focal points. However, efforts made by the countries are more visible at macro level; while progress is less visible at grass-root level and constraints still exist. One of the main issues relates to the access of those who live in remote areas to information regarding their rights, laws, and legislation, as well as to resources and services.


7. FAO’s activities are based on the commitments and recommendations reflected in the Political Declaration adopted at the World Food Summit: five years later, as well as from regional priorities, and the FAO Gender and Development Plan of Action 2002-2007. This plan of action presents a framework in which FAO can mainstream gender in all aspects of its work and improve its capacity to assist countries in achieving equitable and sustainable agriculture and rural development. Its main goal is to help rural men and women achieve sustainable development and food security by promoting a gender-sensitive approach in the formulation of rural development policies, programmes and projects. The main activities undertaken by the Regional Office for the Near East within this policy context are summarized below.

A. Preparation and Dissemination of Information on Gender in Agriculture and Rural Development

8. Data on gender roles linked to the priorities of the Region is being collected to make more visible the contribution of women. The main topics are related to agrarian reforms, and access to natural resources management with emphasis on land, water, medicinal and aromatic plants; as well as the role of traditional knowledge in biodiversity and food security.

B. Promotion of Gender and Population in Policies, Legislation and Civil Institutions and Support to Establishing of Gender Machineries

9. Technical documents and guides related to gender and agriculture were prepared; regional training of trainers sessions on Socio-Economic and Gender Analysis (SEAGA) programmes were organized. Socio-economic and gender analysis methodological tools are being adapted to the socio-cultural characteristics of the Region. FAO is attempting to have its training materials and other publications available in the official languages used in the Region. Regional Workshops on gender and rural development programmes in the Near East countries were organized.


10. It is important for people dealing with rural and agricultural development policies and programmes to have proper understanding of gender concepts and goals. Also, the gender terminology used should be adapted to the socio-cultural context of the countries. The approach targets women’s and men’s role in the family. The following recommendations were made by the participants in the above-mentioned workshops, taking into account the priorities and the context of the Region:

(i) Member Countries were called upon to:

(ii) FAO was called upon to:


FAO Gender and Development Plan of Action: 2002-2007.

Siam, Gamal. 2003. The Impact of Immigration on Female-headed Household Livelihoods.

Ekaas, Sissel.2002. Strengthening the Role of Women Farmers in Achieving Food Security.