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The Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action, adopted by Heads of State and Government in Rome, in November 199

acknowledge the fundamental contribution of women in achieving sustainable food security for all. In particular, FAO members committed themselves to foster equitable participation of women and men, and to adopt legislation guaranteeing women access to and control of productive resources. In this context, they recommended improving "the collection, dissemination and use of gender-disaggregated data in agriculture, fisheries, forestry and rural development".

Although the role of women as powerful agents for social transformation and development has been increasingly recognized by governments, much remains to be done to translate sensitivity and commitment into action. Agricultural development policies do not adequately reflect the needs of women and, even when women's needs are incorporated, they often fail to be translated into practice. Consequently, there is a growing recognition of the need to collect and disseminate information on the crucial role women play in agricultural and rural development, in order to improve policy and decision-making processes so that sustainable livelihoods and food security can be achieved in rural areas, without discrimination of gender.

FAO is assisting its members in their efforts in this regard. The selection of the theme "Women feed the world" for World Food Day and TeleFood in 1998 was further evidence of the importance that the Organization continues to attach to this crucial issue. One of FAO's key strategic objectives is to contribute to the eradication of food insecurity and rural poverty by assisting its members in developing policies for sustainable livelihoods in rural areas, ensuring equitable participation and the access of both women and men to productive resources.

I firmly believe that there is a need to take a more holistic view of farm production systems and to offer a framework that allows policy-makers and planners to gain a clearer understanding of the dynamics operating at the household and community levels. This would enable them to formulate more gender-responsive national policies.

Too often, the different and complementary roles and responsibilities of women and men in agriculture are overlooked, and so the differing impacts of policies and programmes on women and men are not given sufficient consideration. For this reason, formal statistics need to be supplemented by socio-economic research and analysis to ensure the formulation and successful implementation of agricultural development policies that respond to actual conditions.

The purpose of convening the High-Level Consultation on Rural Women and Information this year is to maintain momentum in our efforts to sensitize policy- and decision-makers, as well as the general public, to the actual and potential contributions of rural women as agents for social change and as important partners in agricultural and rural development.

This publication summarizes available, albeit limited, global and regional gender-related information pertinent to FAO's mandate. It discusses methodological and measurement issues, identifies data gaps and highlights the efforts that are still needed to improve the availability of data necessary for a better understanding of gender issues in rural and agricultural development, particularly in the developing countries.

If we are to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century and overcome hunger and malnutrition, agricultural and rural development policies and strategies must identify and support both women and men farmers on an equal footing. We need to know more about rural women - for too long the invisible protagonists of development - and to find out what they do, what they know, and what their needs and priorities are as farmers and food producers in their own right.

Jacques Diouf
Director-General, FAO

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