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The legal status of rural women in the developing countries is an issue that has been among FAO's concerns ever since the formulation of the Declaration of Principles and Programme of Action of the World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development in the late seventies. More recently, in 1988, the Organization adopted a Plan of Action for the Integration of Women in Development. One of the four spheres of action proposed concerns the legal status of rural women.

This was the context in which the FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Human Resources, Institutions and Agrarian Reform Division at FAO Headquarters in Rome, together undertook a systematic review of the treatment of rural women in constitutional, civil, labour and agrarian law to determine how existing legislation affects or limits their sharing in the development of the region. As part of this effort, nine national-level case studies were conducted and a Round Table on "Legal Mechanisms to facilitate Women's Participation in Rural Development" was held in Santiago, Chile in September 1990. At this Round Table, in-depth reports were presented by 19 countries, and a series of recommendations were put forward for eliminating discrimination against women embodied in the legislation or hallowed by practice when the laws are not in fact enforced.

This book, prepared by Ms. Ruth Baena de Esparza, a lawyer and expert on the subject, presents the historical background to rural women's subordination in law in Latin America and takes a critical look at the situation today. The book also takes up the recommendations and proposals for legislative changes and strategies put forward at the Round Table. Finally, an annex is included containing previously unpublished case studies on Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Mexico and Venezuela, together with a glossary of the legal terms used in the study, so that readers unfamiliar with the specialized terminology may find the work easier to understand.

It should be noted, however, that, given the incomplete conceptual overlap of apparently identical terms/expressions between those used in the Civil Law and Common Law countries and given, also, the absence of certain concepts from one or the other system, the terms and expressions used in the translation should be taken as those of common parlance and sufficiently indicative unless otherwise evident from the context.

FAO hopes that this publication will contribute to the debate on women's participation in agricultural and rural development, and draw governments' attention further to the importance of eliminating any and rule of law, or practice, resulting in discrimination against their citizens who are women.

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