Introduction by Her Excellency Ms Margareta Winberg, Minister for Agriculture and for Equal Opportunities of Sweden
Ladies and gentlemen
It is with great pleasure that I come here today to fulfil my function as moderator for this distinguished panel, discussing the very important topic of "Gender Equality in Policies and Planning: Nature and scope". The focus of the seminar is appropriate since we all know that in spite of a significant increase in awareness concerning gender roles and the necessity to apply a gender perspective, much remains to be done to apply systematic work on gender as regards agriculture and food security. For me personally, it is a golden opportunity to combine my two ministerial roles, those of Minister for Agriculture and Minister for Equality.
The next step into the next millenium marks a step forward for the practical implementation of gender equality. To be able to that we have to find the tools for it. I would like to start this panel discussion by giving you a couple of Swedish examples.
Information is the basic tool. Information can go two ways: to and from, Often the tendency has been to try to inform women, the up-down approach. It is however, also obvious that information on women's needs and opinions is of the utmost importance for efficient rural development planning. Collecting gender-disaggregated data is an indispensable step towards making women visible as human beings and social actors - and in the case also farmers. In Sweden all official statistics must be disaggregated by sex unless there are special reasons for not doing so. This has helped us identify the differences between men and women - especially on the labour market.
However, it must be remembered that the existence of high quality information alone constitutes a necessary but not sufficient condition for gender equality and poverty reduction. The question of control is essential here; for who is the information collected, who will use it and for what? The goal must always be to empower women. Too often "participation", for poor women has meant that they have "participated" in project implementation as a cheap labour force, controlled by others and with little say as to the way goals are set or results measured.
Participation is a process of democratisation. As such, in order to succeed, it cannot be seen as an isolated phenomenon, but should be linked to other democratisation processes, both horizontally and vertically. The Swedish experience is that to succeed in empowering women in a sustainable way, it is necessary to work on many different levels, and in different contexts, and to create a "critical mass" in decision-making bodies as well, from top to bottom and vice-versa. That is a micro-macro perspective should be applied.
Networking is a key word here. Women isolated in a village, suffering under oppressive gender structures and conditioned to accept the situation, may not be able to do much to improve their basic conditions and status by joining a project. By facilitating networking among women, and combining this with information and training related to Human Rights and democracy, as well as literacy and other crucially important knowledge, local women will gain the knowledge they themselves need. Instead of outsiders gaining useful information about the women, the women will gain useful information about the outside enabling them to make demands on the surrounding society.
From this approach, our lesson has been:
From this platform, inspired by the works of organisations such as the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), supported by the United Kingdom's Department for International Development, our development organisation Sida is now looking into the possibilities of exploring the concept of Sustainable Livelihoods. The commitments made in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action have had considerable impact on policy-making processes - both in m own country, Sweden, and in many other places. This is mainly due to their focus on the empowerment of women, gender mainstreaming and the involvement of men. A mainstreaming strategy, which makes the gender perspective clearly visible, has proved to be an efficient tool for putting gender equality on the agenda.
Previously, efforts to place gender issues near the top of the political agenda have often failed due to the under-representation of women in political decision-making bodies and the fact that the male norm continues to prevail in society. Much of the work to promote equality has been organised in project form, been targeted at women, lain outside ordinary policy processes and has been financed by special funds for a limited time. It has been sidelined regarded as the business of women and has not really affected societal structures. A shift in strategy - from a sidelined approach to gender mainstreaming - is the challenge that lies before us.
However, I believe that this does not mean that a mainstreaming strategy will replace "traditional equality policy" and special measure to improve the situation for women or men. In my experience, gender impact analyses of policy proposals make the specific needs for women and men visible which results in new demands for specific measures and positive action. Positive action and gender mainstreaming do not just constitute a twin-track strategy, they are also closely related to each other.
Another misconception is that mainstreaming will make mainstreaming will make gender issues invisible, that gender issues will be mainstreamed out of existence, or that mainstreaming simply gives governments the excuse to do nothing. Real mainstreaming, where consideration for the needs and priorities of both women and men actually impact on policy-making, cannot make gender invisible. On the contrary, it would have the opposite effect. In Sweden, gender mainstreaming as a developed, politically accepted strategy has been in place since 1994.
The amount and structure of gender equality work in Sweden is quite thorough. We are now elaborating on methods to assess whether a proposal or decision will have a gender impact. A simple method consists of four questions:
Another analysis tool is the 3R method. The three R:s stand for:
A 3R analysis makes it possible to answer questions about how power is distributed between women and men, how gender influences the formation of structures and organisational solutions and how norms are set in terms of gender in the various activities.
In Sweden we find that we still have much to do: for example, private industry still has very few women in top positions.
We must also learn how to use new solutions and technology. One example: in Sweden the Farmer's Union have held regular meetings for many years, meetings that were attended by men who felt comfortable with the traditional structure and culture of the meetings. The women were quiet until the Internet became a part of their daily life. All of a sudden, through e-mail and chat groups, the women found a forum that suited their way of communication with each other about their own situation. It was informal and allowed for an equal sharing of views with no chairperson guiding the discussion and no need for restrictions on form when expressing your views. These Internet discussions provided the women with a chance to organise themselves so that they could attend the subsequent meetings in a more strategic way and make themselves heard.
From Swedish development cooperation we have learnt similar things about using new technology. Another experience comes from India, where Martha Stuart, founder of Village Video Network (VVN) trained the members of SEWA, an NGO concerned with women's rights, in the use of video camera. These women were often illiterate and earned their daily bread from selling vegetables on the street or other similar jobs. This is not a rural setting but the example is just as relevant in that area (urban agriculture is also a growing sector with its own concerns, as discussed by FAO's Committee on Agriculture last January). When local municipalities wanted to restrict street vendors from using the market place where they had traditionally earned their living, the women organised a meeting to discuss their problems and make a list of complaints.
This meeting was taped by video by SEWA. The municipal Commissioner was then invited to watch the tape. As he watched the agitated faces of the women, he was moved by their fear of the police, their sense of solidarity and their distrust of the municipality. Listening to them on video meant that he could be open without betraying his emotions, he could be himself and not the Municipal Commissioner. The women would never have spoken to him directly as they did on the tape, and he would not have been able to hear them in the same way. This tape proved to be the turning point in the negotiations between the vendors and the municipality, with the authorities drawn into the problem, real communication and constructive negotiations could begin.
Such creativity should be honored! It also goes to show how fundamental communication is. Let me end by emphasizing that the key to success is communication and participation combined with flexibility and openness to new thinking, which is why I look forward to getting this panel underway!