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As the new millennium dawns, the issues of food security and equal access to economic and social benefits remain as topical as ever. The Strategic Framework for FAO 2000-2015 specifies that the number of chronically undernourished people in developing countries is now estimated to be 791 million for the 1995 to 1997 period .... Unless major efforts are made to improve food supplies and to overcome inequities, in 2015 the incidence of undernourishment may still be as high as 30 percent of the population.

One of the main underlying causes of food insecurity is poverty, which affects rural women in particular. One of FAO's strategic objectives is "contributing to the eradication of food insecurity and rural poverty", while guaranteeing "sustainable livelihoods and more equitable access to resources". Before policies that will achieve this objective can be designed, the necessary decisions must be supported by relevant and updated information. "It is therefore essential to maintain and improve the coverage, quantity, utility, timeliness and accessibility of the information collected and disseminated ...."

The information and communication technology revolution has greatly increased the possibilities for disseminating and sharing knowledge. But disadvantaged segments of society are excluded from information and communication flows, raising the question of how best to exploit technological developments in a way that prevents them from creating and further increasing inequalities. This is a particularly important issue for FAO at a time when rural populations, particularly subsistence farmers, are having to cope with difficulties that are caused by ongoing economic and social changes and that are considerably more serious for rural women.

The Strategy for Action is designed to support the formulation of agricultural and rural development policies and programmes that will address the challenges of food security and gender equality. The Strategy for Action was discussed and examined at the High-Level Consultation on Rural Women and Information organized by FAO in Rome on 4 to 6 October 1999. Since then its contents have been revised, with the aim of reflecting as faithfully as possible the wealth and diversity of the contributions made by the participants in the debate.

This Strategy for Action does not aim at addressing every aspect of the vast area of gender equality. Information is only one of the elements that are necessary in responses to the issues that arise from such complex and diverse fields as employment, political representation and law.

I am, however, convinced that it is essential to have comparative information on men and women, and statistics disaggregated by sex that highlight the specific problems of each, so that the appropriate action can be taken. I also support the implementation of two-way information flows: for decision-makers at all levels, to enable them to act with the support of all the facts; and for rural women (and the men with whom they work in an inseparable partnership), to give them a better understanding of their own development and the capacity to take responsibility for it. Last, I believe that disseminating information through the media is an avenue that must be explored and better exploited in order to lift the veil that distorts our view of the world, and to acknowledge the differences that demand tailored solutions.

I trust that the implementation of this Strategy for Action will help increase awareness of the importance of accurate, plural and multidimensional information, and enable all stakeholders to play a full part in designing and planning agricultural policies. This would mark a major step forward towards attaining food security and sustainable development, and would provide an objective foundation for future action.

Jacques Diouf

An initial version of this Strategy for Action was examined and discussed by delegations at the High-Level Consultation on Rural Women and Information held in Rome at FAO headquarters on 4 to 6 October 1999.
The opinions and ideas of participants have been analysed and, as far as possible, taken into account in this document.

It should be borne in mind that information is only one of the many components that are relevant to the challenges of achieving food security and gender equality. For this reason, the FAO Conference, at its 30th session in November 1999, recommended that this Strategy for Action be incorporated as an integral part of FAO's next Plan of Action (2001-2006) on gender, food security and sustainable development. This Plan of Action will be submitted for approval to the 31st session of the FAO Conference in November 2001.

High-Level Consultation on Rural Women and Information

Breaking the chains of underinformation is part of the struggle we must lead with determination, courage and faith to empower rural women. This is a struggle for equal rights, for human dignity and for freedom: in short, a struggle to promote a life of complete self-fulfilment, a life of happiness and harmony.

Elisabeth Diouf, former First Lady of Senegal and President of the International Steering Committee on the Economic Advancement of Rural Women (ISC)

We can [therefore] affirm that there will be no food security without rural women .... Gender-disaggregated information is essential if appropriate policy recommendations are to be made .... A gender-based differentiation of allocation of labour and resources must be taken into account if technologies are to be developed, targeted and transferred appropriately.

Jacques Diouf, Director-General, FAO

Ms E. Diouf and Mr J. Diouf during the opening session of the High-Level Consultation

- FAO/11872D-1

At the opening session, Ms L. Balbo addressing the plenary, and Ms A. King from UN

- FAO/11872B-29A

In many parts of the world today there is an increasing trend towards the "feminization of agriculture", and this takes place under extremely difficult conditions .... Behind this process, the international dimension is a key factor, both because of the growing interdependence of financial, economical and trading practices and of the fact that the main political decisions are made by a very limited number of countries.

Laura Balbo, Minister of Equal Opportunities, Italy

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.

Message from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, delivered by Ms Angela King, Assistant Secretary-General and Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women

Men and women farmers in a wheat field after the harvest in Myanmar


Rural women at a meeting with extension agents in a field in the Potosi area, Bolivia

- FAO/16134

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