1. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) took the initiative to organize a High-Level Consultation on Rural Women and Information from 4 to 6 October 1999. Financial support was received from the Governments of France, Italy, the Netherlands and Norway. The aim of the Consultation was to facilitate - at international policy-making and technical level - an exchange of views on the value of information as a decision-making and operational tool to support the role of rural women in agricultural and rural development. The objective was to examine the "Strategy for Action for policies meeting the challenges of both food security and gender equality - The role of information". The Strategy, prepared by the Secretariat, aims at informing more broadly policy-makers, planners, the media and the general public of the roles and responsibilities of men and women in agricultural production so as to ensure an equitable allocation of resources to the people who play a key role in food security.
2. The Strategy for Action falls within the framework of the follow-up to the World Food Summit (WFS), where the Heads of State and Government committed themselves to "ensure an enabling political, social and economic environment (...) based on full and equal participation of women and men" (Commitment 1 of the WFS Plan of Action). To this end, they set themselves several objectives including that of achieving "gender equality and empowerment of women" (Objective 1.3). This objective specifies that Governments "will improve the collection, dissemination and use of gender-disaggregated data in agriculture, fisheries, forestry and rural development" (paragraph f.).
The Strategy for Action focuses on a key area of the FAO Plan of Action for Women in Development (1996-2001), approved by the Conference in 1995 (C 95/14-Sup.1, Rev.1), relating to the availability, accuracy and use of quantitative and qualitative data and information on rural women. Such a strategic orientation is also found in the Beijing Platform for Action adopted at the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, which includes the objective of "generating and disseminating gender-disaggregated data and information for planning and evaluation" (Strategic Objective H.3, paras. 206-209).
3. The High-Level Consultation was attended by 326 participants, 43 of whom were members of government representing Ministries of Agriculture and for the Advancement of Women (or equivalent) from 111 FAO Members. The participants also included representatives of the United Nations system, intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, as well as development agents, communication and media experts, and social scientists from Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Near East (see list of participants).
4. The High-Level Consultation was opened by the Director-General of FAO. Speakers at the inaugural session included Her Excellency Ms Laura Balbo, Italian Minister for Equal Opportunity; Ms Angela King, Assistant-Secretary General of the United Nations, Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women; and Her Excellency Ms Elizabeth Diouf, First Lady of Senegal, President of the International Steering Committee for the Economic Advancement of Rural Women.
The keynote addresses were followed by a multimedia presentation and the inauguration of an exhibition. Both of these emphasized the actual and potential contribution of women to agricultural and rural development and food security, and the information needed for policy-makers and planners to formulate agricultural policies and programmes that are better tailored to existing production systems and social structures.
The High-Level Consultation appointed by consensus Her Excellency Ms Hafsatu Thiero Diarra, Minister for the Promotion of Women, Children and the Family of Mali, as Chairperson; His Excellency Prof. Paolo de Castro, Minister for Agricultural Policies of Italy, as Vice-Chairperson; and Ms Fatimah Hasan. J. Hayat, Permanent Representative of Kuwait to FAO, as Rapporteur.
5. The Strategy for Action was reviewed in the general debate that took place in the afternoons of Monday 4 and Tuesday 5 October 1999. Two technical panels were held in the mornings of Tuesday 5 and Wednesday 6. One moderated by Her Excellency Ms Margareta Winberg, Minister for Agriculture and Minister for Gender Equality Affairs of Sweden, the other by Ms Angela King, UN Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women. The discussion panels addressed the following issues respectively:
6. A number of documents were prepared on issues associated with gender-specific information and sex-disaggregated data, and communication between policy-makers and rural populations. Besides the Strategy for Action, these included:
Videos, audio materials and fact sheets explaining the contribution of rural women to agriculture and food security were also produced. An Internet stand was available for participants to visit the "Gender and Food Security" site and the Web page especially set up for the Consultation.
7. The following major points relate to the statements made by the delegates during the general debate:
8. As regards the Strategy for Action, the delegates provided guidance on how to focus more closely on issues related to the production, dissemination and utilization of information on rural women to enhance gender equality and food security. They stressed in particular:
9. Improved information and data facilitate the formulation and implementation of agricultural and rural development policies which take gender specificities into account and thus promote social justice and equal respect of human rights. These policies should be oriented towards:
10. The findings of the High-Level Consultation will be considered and examined to contribute to the mid-term review of the implementation of the Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing + 5). This review takes place in the year 2000. They will also serve to formulate the follow-up to the present FAO Plan of Action for Women in Development which expires in 2001.
11. The next stages in the follow-up to the Strategy for Action will be: