The fact that agricultural sector planners rarely take rural women's needs into consideration can have a serious impact on food security, for example, as agricultural training and services are not targeted at the rural women who grow a significant amount of the world's food. In many cases, planners lack information about the important role that women play in agricultural production and household food security. But, as mentioned above, more often than not they do not know how to learn from women farmers about their activities or how to respond to their needs. One way to address these problems is to improve information on the situation of rural women and men and to involve them in local processes of planning in the agricultural sector.
In many parts of the world, there is a renewed recognition of the crucial role that the agricultural sector can play in increasing export earnings, generating employment and improving food security. Within economic liberalization and privatization formulas, efforts to raise productivity, achieve food security and reduce poverty must consider the micro- and mesolevel institutional and cultural factors that mediate their impact at the local level. For the farming sector, economic policies should avoid giving a differential advantage to large-scale and commercial farming while largely ignoring the smallholder sector which is the most vulnerable and has the most impact on rural women's and men's work and lives.
Policies should recognize the need to place people at the centre of the development process. This promotes a gender-sensitive and participatory approach to development based on a cyclical and multidirectional flow of information between international agencies, governments, NGOs, research institutions, extension and community development services and individuals in rural households.
To take advantage of changing macroeconomic dynamics, rural workers need their governments and civil society to invest in human capital development, education, schools, vocational and technical training, and in the expansion and improvement of the rural infrastructure to serve agriculture and rural non-farm enterprises (e.g. roads, electric power, sewerage, health facilities, schools and marketplaces).
In most countries, there is still a need for proactive policy to ensure that women are a part of the dynamic process of change and that their requirements are addressed separately from men's, where necessary. This means that policies need to:
Policy recommendations rely on up-to-date, accurate and detailed information. The present lack of a reliable assessment of the different contributions made by women and men to an economy represents a significant obstacle to promoting gender-responsive sustainable development. Action is needed to support the collection, compilation, analysis and diffusion of time and task allocation data disaggregated by sex as well as the development of indicators on women's participation in agriculture and the rural economy. Changes will first need to be made in mainstream data collection programmes by broadening the definitions of work to include both paid and unpaid work and women's and men's separate contribution to agricultural and non-farm output. It is also important to raise awareness among policy-makers of the utility of these data, and thereby create a demand for data collection and use.
Government ministries, financial and training institutions, research centres, NGOs and other social and economic structures that sponsor agriculture and rural development programmes need to reorient their operations so that they also target rural women as clients of human resource development initiatives and beneficiaries of development programmes. Several important issues need to be addressed through institutional reform, the most important of which is access to land. This determines self-employed women's access to credit and complementary services. Education and training are other critical areas where a major investment in women is needed, not only to increase women's participation in economic development but also to achieve important national development goals that are very much related to women's knowledge and skill levels (such as reduced fertility rates and increased household food security and nutritional levels).
Connecting development in the rural sector to the priorities of local women and men farmers entails a strengthening (or creation) of institutional mechanisms for learning and responding to diversity and change. The potentially powerful role that information and communication technologies can play in providing improved access to and sharing of information for gender-responsive planning needs to be further addressed. Particularly with regard to gender, there is a clear need to change the "rules of the game", i.e. the everyday rules and procedures of institutions, which reflect the physical and social needs and capabilities and political interests of those who designed them in the first place. Since women are rarely involved in political, economic and social decision-making, these rules of the game are currently stacked against them. The challenge is therefore to institutionalize gender-sensitive policy and approaches by making equitable forms of social interaction routine and limiting the possibilities for choosing discriminatory forms of social organization.
The main thrust in supporting institutional change has been through sensitization and training of bureaucrats and technicians on gender issues and on the use of participatory approaches. The main objective of gender training is to help people in organizations to change the way they think by eliminating the stereotypical notions they hold about women's work and needs and consequently influence the way they act. Gender analysis training is also important to make allies and build support within the ranks by providing bureaucrats, policy-makers and planners with the knowledge and skills they need to deal with the conflict provoked by policy proposals to orient more resources to women.
In addition to training and sensitization, efforts to create gender-responsiveness should also be supported by:
The existence of a policy environment that encourages planners at the local level in particular, extensionists, mid-level planners and other development agents to take an interest in gender-sensitive participatory approaches facilitates the institutionalization of projects and methods.