The denial of equal educational opportunities to girls and women has been recognized internationally as a fundamental challenge to human dignity and a limitation to the scope of human rights. (UNESCO, World Education Report, 1995) From a developmental perspective, investing in the education of females has the highest rate of return of any possible investment in developing countries. (FAO, Women Feed the World, 1996) Without such investment, and a political commitment to improving educational opportunities, women will continue to comprise nearly two-thirds of the world's illiterate adults. (UNESCO, 1995)
Activities related to women-in-development are an integral part of the Research, Extension and Training Division's educational programmes and activities. Gender issues continue to be important in the development of educational policy and in the planning of new initiatives. Based on recommendations from a series of regional round-table meetings on "Strategies and Options in Intermediate and Higher Education in Agriculture" and a Rome expert consultation on the same topic, the Extension, Education and Communication Service (SDRE) carried out five case studies on the enrolment of women in higher and intermediate agricultural education. These case studies are summarized and consolidated into this report which includes a review of the trends and constraints that have an effect on the enrolment of women in tertiary level educational programmes in the agricultural sciences.
Economic and cultural constraints are limiting factors in complex societies and people do not always agree on the value of education for women. It is within the confines of these societies that decisions will have to be made about expanding educational opportunities for women. In the developing countries, the enrolment figures for women studying agricultural subject matter at the intermediate and higher levels of education may vary from as low as five percent to as high as 50 percent. Accurate figures on enrolment rates are difficult to find and the causal factors are often speculative and based on individuals' perceptions of cultural bias and tradition.
The goal is for women to be able to participate and contribute on an equal basis with men in the social, economic and political processes of rural development and share fully in improved conditions of life in the rural areas. In a practical sense, and at the action level, this goal suggests that in education, training and extension programmes of member countries, the participation of women must be supported and their equal benefits guaranteed.
Improving women's access to education in general, and to higher education in agricultural in particular, can contribute to increased food production at the household and national levels, improved nutritional status of families, and thus to the achievement of food security. Conversely, the failure to adequately address women needs for education in agricultural is at the root of the failure of many agricultural ' development efforts and attempts to achieve food security.
The World Food Summit Plan of Action recognizes the importance of the empowerment of women to the achievement of food security and the need to remove the constraints hindering them. Commitment One, of the World Food Summit Plan of Action reads: "We will ensure an enabling political, social, and economic environment designed to create the best conditions for the eradication of poverty and for durable peace, based on full and equal participation of women and men, which is most conducive to achieving sustainable food security for all".' The achievement of this commitment is a challenge that we still face. It is hoped that this publication will make a contribution to meeting that challenge.
Louise O. Fresco, Director
Research, Extension and Training Division
Sustainable Development Department