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The methodology employed in the synthesis report is a comparative analysis of the quantitative and qualitative data provided in the nine sectoral reports 2 on women in agriculture and rural development, prepared within the context of FAO's Programme of Assistance in Support of Rural Women in Preparation for the Fourth World Conference on Women. The data is supported, when available, by additional documentation on the African region, for which the sources are indicated. As the individual sectoral reports reference the data provided in terms of source and year, for the purpose of this synthesis report, national source references are not repeated. A complete list of references, including the national sectoral reports, can be found in the Bibliography.

(2 Benin, Burkina Faso, the Congo, Mauritania, Morocco, Namibia, Sudan, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.)

The preparation of the national sectoral reports represents an innovative exercise in compiling national statistical data on rural women in order to provide an overview of their situation and the constraints they face in each particular country. The reports are equally useful in that they identify gaps in the collection of data disaggregated by gender and thus where further work in this area is required.

However, the present report has several limitations, including variations in the quantity and quality of the information provided as well as the availability of data and the consistency of definitions used, especially over a given period of time. In particular, measuring women's participation in the labour force continues to be problematic all over the world. In Africa, although several countries have taken important steps to include unpaid family workers in the definition of the economically active, others continue to define the economically active as those who earn a cash income. The latter definition excludes a large number of women working in the agricultural sector, and especially in subsistence farming. As the definition of the economically active population varied among the countries examined, there were limitations to the comparability of the data at the regional level.

It is also important to note that the sectoral reports were prepared within a limited amount of time and resources, and therefore the information presented was that which was readily available at the national level. Given these constraints, data may have been omitted on the differences among women within a country as a thorough analysis of all available statistical indicators was not always feasible.

Moreover, given the lack of data disaggregated by gender at the national level, the information included in the sectoral reports may have only covered one aspect or institution and is thus only indicative of a particular situation. For example, in terms of rural women's access to credit, several countries have gender disaggregated data for only one institution. While such data is helpful in gaining an understanding of women's access to credit, a more thorough analysis is required for policy making and planning purposes.

In addition, it is necessary to be cautious when making generalizations about the situation of rural women at the regional level as it often differs not only among countries but also within a country, depending upon the socio-economic and ethnic groups to which women belong and to environmental and other factors characteristic of a particular area.

Despite these limitations, the synthesis report attempts to provide a general picture of the situation of rural women in Africa, focusing on the similarities among countries and identifying those countries which vary strongly from the norm. Overall, the analysis is essentially qualitative given the constraints and limitations mentioned above.

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