Ladies and Gentlemen,
I send my best wishes to all who have gathered for this important High Level Consultation. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and its Director-General, Mr. Jacques Diouf, merit our gratitude for their sustained commitment to the issue of gender equality, especially as it relates to rural women.
Rural women play a critical role in agricultural production and in the rural economies of developing countries. As farmers and entrepreneurs in the informal rural sector, or as unpaid family workers on farms or in small enterprises, their contribution is essential for the subsistence of their households.
Despite these contributions, rural women are among the most disadvantaged sections of the population. Women farmers can labour up to twice as long per week as their male counterparts. Yet, for all of their hard labour, most of their efforts are not visible and therefore not recognized or reported in official statistics and economic development plans. In effect, rural women are forgotten when policies that affect them are made.
There is overwhelming evidence that development plans can succeed only if they address the needs and priorities of both women and men. Though current policies pay lip-service to the inclusion of women, they often allow programme and project planning and implementation to proceed without taking account of gender issues.
Rural women and men have different roles in society and, consequently, different concerns, needs and constraints. When economic change occurs, men and women are affected differently. Thus, it is important to consider gender perspective in agricultural and economic development policy and planning. If they are better informed about the contribution rural women make to food security and agricultural production, decision-makers will be better able to tackle poverty, promote gender equality and generate broad-based economic growth.
However, unless means are devised to reach out to the many women who are active in the rural economy, many of the failures of the traditional growth model of development will be repeated, and the ranks of the absolute poor, among whom women constitute the majority, will be further swollen. Neglecting the energy and ingenuity of the women whose unpaid work subsidizes all forms of society's wealth is not only short-sighted but also self-defeating. It only reinforces structures that perpetuate poverty and gender inequalities, denying women opportunities to contribute to national efforts to ensure sustainable agriculture.
I have faith that the international community can work together to find ways of better informing decision makers, media and the public at large on the essential role of rural women in agricultural development and in ensuring food security.
In that spirit, please accept my best wishes for a successful consultation.