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Contributions for Focusing on Rural Women in a Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Framework


Dear contributors,

Our e-consultation has now concluded and I would like to thank you for your insights on the theme of empowerment of rural women.

The quality, as much as the quantity, of your comments was of a high order. The diversity of inputs from many countries across the globe was particularly pleasing.

This consultation is particularly useful as comments could stimulate debate among decision-makers currently designing a post-2015 development framework. The consultation was linked to a side-event organised by FAO, IFAD and WFP at the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals in February 2014.

As the deadline for contributions was approaching, the OWG co-chairs released a report identifying 19 focal areas for possible inclusion among the SDGs that will be proposed to the United Nations General Assembly in September 2014. Among them were Gender equality and women’s empowerment (focus area 5); and promoting equality (focus area 12).

In the coming weeks, the results of this e-consultation will feature in an article on FAO’s new webpages devoted to the post-2015 process,

In the meantime, we will retain your comments for others to read and look forward to your engagement on future themes.

Many thanks,

FAO’s post-2015 team   

Peter Steele Independent Consultant Agricultural Engineer, Italy
Peter Steele


Equality in Gender

This has been an interesting debate; unique even given the extent of the many issues involved that impact - you'll know this - upon more than 50% of the world's people. I'm referring to 'women in society' and considering my contribution as focus upon the continuing debate - difficult as it is - for equality between the genders. This is more than 'rural women', 'food security' and 'proper nutrition' notwithstanding the importance of these sectors for the wellbeing of the half of humanity who depend upon the work, tenacity and dedication of those tens of millions of small-scale farmers - the majority women - who produce sufficient to feed them.

Many of the contributions have already focused directly or built their messages upon the foundations that women agriculturalists have in traditional and, increasingly, commercial society. And this is not simply a function of biology - important as this is - given the nurturing role that comes from caring, feeding and growing the families that form around them, but because of the track record of women in agriculture. They typically out-perform their menfolk and achieve this on the basis of fewer resources, less education, discrimination based upon out-moded traditions, violence and limited political voice (or none at all).

Girls and women escape the traditions that limit their capabilities by gaining an education and/or shifting to the towns; preferably both, but then they are typically lost to agriculture. And neither are captivity and traditions simple a feature of the developing and/or industrializing countries for there is bigotry, bias and discrimination of this kind everywhere. You only have to look at political leadership in Italy and/or recently in Australia to follow the challenges of being a top female decision-maker.

Suffice to note then - and this sounds a cliche reading back over it - that partnerships represent the best options into the next period; as we have within families, communities and society-at-large. But, the reality is one, however, that will see little change in many rural communities whilst out-moded, labour-intensive, poverty-based food production systems continue to dominate. And, importantly, that does not mean bringing in the larger-scale food production systems that are beginning to dominate everywhere at the expense of small-scale. Large-scale, typically, leads to landless people. 

Key questions

  1. If you had made an intervention at the side event on rural women at the 8th session of the Open Working Group in New York, what would have been its key message?

Everything that can be said has already been said earlier; there are few new messages that can be promoted. Pictures tell the same messages differently, however, and catch the eye. Try the attached images from roadside posters in Zambia. Then show women training as blacksmiths, driving tractors and running food processing plants (which I have available, but cannot find quickly). 

2. Rural women are often described as critical agents of change in discussions on sustainable development goals. To what extent would the achievement of food and nutrition security for rural women help accelerate sustainable development?

Pessimistically - no difference. Optmistically - minor incremental changes (but nothing like the changes that would come from educating girls, providing them with resilient livelihoods and making them financially independent of their menfolk).

3. Of the many facts or stats recorded on rural women, which one do you consider to be the most revealing?

Recorded for women everwhere, but more typical of those with the misfortune to be born into societies in selected African and/or middle eastern countries - Somalia (98%), Egypt (91%), Mali (89%), Ethiopia (74%), Guinea (96%), Eritrea (89%) and others. And the percentages shown? Girls and women subject to female genital mutilation. The ultimate in power subjugation - disfigure half your population or more on the basis of deep-rooted and inhuman fears of equality.

Souce book

If you don't already know about it - here's the world's best source of gender/agricultural information in a single text: 'Gender in Agriculture: Sourcebook'. It covers all the contributions already made in the debate - and some. You can access an e-copy at: Check out module #1 'Gender and Food Security'. See if you can't get a hard copy from your local FAO, World Bank or IFAD office; much easier to read and share.

Salutations everyone.

Peter Steele

Agricultural Engineer

Rome, Italy.

26 February 2014

Ms. Tessa Vorbohle HelpAge International, United Kingdom

It is good to see the increased interest in the marginalisation of women smallholders and the need for better support and land reform. A closer look at this topic shows that we need to take into account the ageing of farming population and the specific forms of discrimination that older female farmers face.

HelpAge’s recent analysis of agricultural censuses in low- and middle-income countries shows that farmers in these regions are ageing. Older women represent a growing share of the farm population. In Uganda in 2009 for example, women over 55 years represented 7.5 per cent of the female farmer population. This proportion has been increasing in the past ten years.

Older women farmers represent an important part of the agricultural workforce. In Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America the proportion of economically active women over 60 who derive their livelihood from agriculture is higher than that for younger women. Data from the most recent labour force surveys, show that in sub-Saharan Africa, 58.7% of older women are employed in agriculture, while only 43.4% of the 40-59 years old and 38.3% of the 15-39 years old derive their main livelihood from agriculture . Older women are thus more dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods relative to other age groups .

At the same time, their access to land and other property is threatened by discriminatory inheritance rights and practices that leave them with little or nothing when their spouses die. Programmes and policies supporting female smallholders need to take these age -related vulnerabilities into account and actively seek their redress.

A detailed report of the above findings will be published online on HelpAge’s website shortly.

Prof. Tamara Quiroz Guzmàn Facultad de Ciencias Agriolas y Forestales-UACH, Mexico

Con relación al 1er. Cuestionamiento- Propuesta para Evento Paralelo -Foro de casos exitosos donde las Mujeres Rurales son agentes de cambio en sus comunidades. Foro de Metodologías, Modelos y Técnicas para la formación como agententes de cambio a Mujeres Rurales. 2-Con relación al 2do. Cuestionamiento- La seguridad alimentaria y nutricional - Estimo esencial que las Mujeres Rurales tengan garantizado su alimentación y nutrición al igual que sus demás consanguineos, dificil es que una Mujer contribuya al desarrollo sostenible de su comunidad si aspectos de primera necesidad no estan cubiertos. 3-Con relación al 3er. cuestionamiento-Las limitaciones en su defensa de sus derechos humanos...aun una tarea pendiente.


Women in rural areas in developing countries produce about 60% of household food. Therefore, our projects should be addressing them in order to enhance sustainability. But equally we should be working with their knowledge of traditional crops specific to that region, and, of course, women are traditionally the seed savers, have knowledge of greens (usually considered weeds by Western agronomists and agribusinesses).

Women already know about the biodiversity of their gardens and farms, and they know the nutritional and medicinal properties of those greens (aka weeds) that grow between the staple crops and harvest them for consumption.

Women know about the consequences of de-forestation. It was rural women in Ghana who first alerted Wangari Maathai about the knock-on effects of de-forestation on their ability to keep their families together, this initiated the Green Belt movement.

Of course, women in third-world countries have many responsibilities with few rewards or respect for their efforts. Education is an important factor, even learning to swim. When countries are flooded as a result of hurricanes, 5 times more women drown because they haven't learned to swim. So, educated women on a variety of pragmatic levels is important.

The Barefoot College in India should be an example of training women and emancipating them from their second class status. The College, which operates under the slogan 'train a grandmother and change the world' has shown the way forward and the advantages of training even illiterate women in basic solar technology. For example, assembling solar lamps and cookers. These women then go back to their villages and train other women. Mostly, according to Bunker Roy, founder and spokesperson for the project, the self-estime and respect for women rises incrementally as they take on roles as educator and improve local conditions.

The most effective method of small-scale farming is permaculture. It is effective because it mimics a natural eco-system with all elements being multi-functional and mutually supportive exactly in the way a natural forest (the most natural and effective eco-system) would be. These eco-system farming principles can be adapted to any climate or locality, focusing mainly on crops that are natural to that region and climate, but equally focus on maintaining the hydrological cycle, improving the soil micro-organisms and humus content, keeping rainwater in the soil, maintaining biodiversity and, therefore, on combatting desertification and regenerating land that has already been seriously degraded by drought, loss of top soil, and depletion of soil micro-organisms due to monoculture production and use of chemicals.

Bill Mollison, the founder of the permaculture movement has already set up several permaculture projects in African and at least one in India. The idea is to teach the principles to locals who understand local resources and will adapt the principles to regenerate the land. The individuals trained then go on to train others. In some cases schools have set up permaculture courses so that children can go home and teach their parents. This is spreading rapdily, but is so far run without funding and mostly through donations and volunteers.

It seems evident that permaculture could be directed to women in rural areas in developing countries, asking them what is wrong and what they think they need before training them in permaculture principles. We should have a programme of funding for these projects, which should remain small in scale in order to focus on women and their needs and on local conditions.

Some projects already exist run by groups of local women in Malawi, for example, and teaching permaculture in places where girls do get some basic education would greatly enhance the ability of women to maintain sustainable, small-scale agriculture and gain more respect. A sustainable, small-scale agricultural plot keeps families together, because when women can feed their families and earn money taking produce to markets in local town, the sons are less likely to be sent to cities to try to earn money to send home.

In countries where HIV has had a major impact on the shape of families, often girls are left to fend for siblings. Training programmes in permaculture would greatly improve the lot of these children providing them with nutritious food and establish a tradition for future generations.

The principles of permaculture can be adapted to any climate, so it is a powerful tool in adapting agriculture in the tropics (as elsewhere) to climate change and the ability of native species to survive changing weather conditions.

If we train ten women, working closely with them to relate permaculture to their local situation, they will train ten others. From one 'garden' that demonstrates how degraded land can be transformed into a fertile garden producing a healthy diversity of food that has a high nutritional value, without abusing and depleting local ressources, more gardens spring up in the surrounding areas. For example, by training seven local permaculturists in Malawi, 34 permaculture gardens have emerged.

So, to sum up permaculture can work with women to emancipate them and provide higher yields of more diverse crops with a higher nutritional value.

Anna Antwi GD Resource Center (development NGO), Ghana

Focusing on Rural Women in a Sustainable Development

1.If you could make an intervention at the side event on rural women at the 8th session of the Open Working Group in New York, what would be its key message?

  • Improving livelihood security of women – ie enhancing women’s economic empowerment (farm and non-farm income generating activities), and providing capacity development for women’s socio-economic empowerment to be engaged in decision making processes of their spaces (either at household or community levels)
  • Providing Agricultural extension and advisory services: to target women and help to increase production, store, process and prepare nutritious foods for the family, and to enhance their wellbeing ie improve food and nutrition security
  • Providing rural infrastructure and service to women – to ease women’s household and community burden (pipe borne water/ water points for women to readily fetch water, health centers with health workers, schools with teachers, good roads and market access, industries to help process foods to ensure long shelf lives

2. Rural women are often described as critical agents of change in discussions on sustainable development goals. To what extent would the achievement of food and nutrition security for rural women help accelerate sustainable development? 

Rural women are basically into production and feeding of the household in addition to their other unpaid jobs. Increasing knowledge in food production, feeding, nutritional status improvement (including good hygienic environment and good water sources all of which contribute to nutrition) will enhance the women’s capacity to deliver. It will free more time for women to engage in other activities like being involved in political leadership positions, more time for leisure and therefore quality time for the family (the unit of society)

3. Of the many facts or stats recorded on rural women, which one do you consider to be the most revealing?

Women producing to feed the family yet they are most under-nourished. Women doing most of farm work yet under-paid, and unrecognized. Women doing so much for society yet with little education and wealth.

Women should have access to secured land and agricultural extension and advisory services to enable them deliver. Special efforts should be made to recognize and appreciate women’s efforts.

In this year of family farming more has to be done to highlight and appreciate the Rural Women’s efforts to feed the World.

Dr. Anna Antwi, Development Consultant, Ghana

Gomathy Venkateswar , India
FSN Forum

Hello, Moderator, Reader-Participants,

I lived for 5 years in Nepal as Head of a residential school located in total rural surroundings, where the community worked all year around in raising food crops from the terraced fields around. It was only women who were seen working in
the fields through the changes of the season. Only at Harvest time would the men appear, perhaps because the load of work was heavier and they did bring some mechanized tools to implement the work, as rice or wheat that had ripened on the stalk had to be cut within a short span of a few days.
Back breaking work, and the payment to these women for the year long work in these patriarchal and feudal societies was just a bag of the cereal they grew and harvested. They knew no better, Tradition carried on in these regions, and with the political uphreaval that has taken place in the past 15 years when Monarchy has been overthrown and a democratic Republic has been set up as the New Nation of Nepal, whether these Rural women farmers can expect a Better Deal in the new government set up?

Mrs Gomathy Venkateswar

Gomathy Venkateswar , India
FSN Forum

As to day is the last date for contribution to the online sessions, I would also emphasize that wherever Women are working in Rural Farming Practices, The Produce from these areas MUST AT ALL LEVELS COME UNDER THE FAIR TRADE PRACTICES BOARD.
Consumers too must become aware that to improve the status of Women across the Rural World, Governments must institute Fair Trade Markets, and Consumers must be educated to buy wherethese products come from with the Sweat and labour of Women's Work, and they must benefit directly from Fair Trade markets.

Raissa Muhutdinova Global Civil Initiatives, Inc., Kyrgyzstan
FSN Forum

Dear Madam/Sir,

In response to the on-going discussion on the role of rural women in sustainable development goals, I would like to add a few insights from Kyrgyzstan.

Despite the fact that rural women in Kyrgyzstan experience numerous hardships affecting their well-being, such as housekeeping pressures, difficulty of educating, feeding and clothing children or inadequate housing, they nevertheless have great potential to assume leading roles in projects that create jobs for women, raise rural earnings and ensure food security. It is because of the fact that rural Kyrgyz women have proper education; they are more experienced and skillful in their home management, more prudent and thrifty in their spending, more practical in identification of opportunities for work, survival and income generation. To be empowered for these roles, the rural women need prompt and effective actions to ensure financial, material and institutional support for their business endeavors; access to subsidies and easy loans, extensive micro-lending and programs that teach basic business skills. With more targeted and carefully selected attention from the government and international organizations, including UN, working on development programs, the rural Kyrgyz women might be empowered enough to become real agents of change and not only lift themselves out of poverty, but contribute greatly to the overall economic development of the country.

Raissa Muhutdinova,
Global Civil Initiatives, Inc.
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

Ms. Miren Larrea Foro Rural Mundial -FRM-, Spain

Estimadas amigas y amigos del FSN, me gustaría compartir con ustedes unas informaciones recopiladas de documentos de la FAO, del Consejo de Derechos Humanos y del Relator Especial para el Dereacho a la Alimentación.

El discurso sobre la importancia de la mujer y concretamente de la mujer agricultora en el desarrollo sostenible está muy avanzado. Me pregunto porqué la práctica queda tan lejos de la teoría.

Las mujeres agricultoras responden a la doble jornada laboral de cada día (en el hogar y en el campo) con el lastre de las múltiples discriminaciones a las que deben hacer frente, entre ellos el hambre. A pesar de ello, son responsables de la producción de al menos la mitad de los cultivos alimentarios. Ellas son la clave para enfrentar eficazmente el hambre y la pobreza en el mundo.

Por ello es crucial identificar y dignificar su rol como agentes prioritarios para el cambio de rumbo de las políticas y acciones a favor de un desarrollo sostenible e integrador del sistema alimentario mundial.

Según De Schutter, la discriminación de la mujer agricultora afecta directamente el derecho de las mujeres y las niñas a la alimentación pero también incide en el derecho a la alimentación del resto de la población de tres maneras.

En primer lugar, la discriminación que sufren las mujeres embarazadas y las mujeres en edad de procrear tiene consecuencias intergeneracionales. La subnutrición materno infantil menoscaba la capacidad de aprendizaje de los niños, de modo que condiciona su proyección profesional en la edad adulta. La desventaja de haber tenido una alimentación deficiente en el vientre materno o la primera infancia se transmite además de una generación a la siguiente: los hijos de las mujeres mal alimentadas en la primera infancia suelen tener bajo peso al nacer

En segundo lugar, las mujeres, al desempeñar el papel que la sociedad les asigna y al no tener sino un escaso poder de negociación en el hogar, se ven en una situación en que no pueden decidir a qué prioridades destinar el presupuesto familiar. Ahora bien, los hombres no son suficientemente conscientes de la importancia de cuidar a los niños y en particular de satisfacer sus necesidades en materia de nutrición. Algunas investigaciones revelan que las posibilidades de supervivencia de un niño se incrementan en un 20% cuando el control del presupuesto familiar está en manos de la madre.

En tercer lugar, la discriminación contra las mujeres en el ámbito de la producción de alimentos no solo atenta contra sus derechos, sino que tiene consecuencias que afectan a toda la sociedad, porque causa considerables pérdidas de productividad. El acceso a recursos productivos como la tierra, los insumos, la tecnología y los servicios es un factor determinante para explicar las diferencias de rendimiento de las explotaciones agrícolas según que estén en manos de hombres o de mujeres; también hay que tener en cuenta la mayor capacidad que tienen los hombres de hacer trabajar a sus familiares (no remunerados) o a otros miembros de la comunidad. Los datos indican que en los países en que las mujeres no tienen derecho de propiedad sobre la tierra o no tienen acceso al crédito el porcentaje de niños mal nutridos es un 60% y un 85% mayor, respectivamente.

Además, según un informe reciente, el 79% de los estudios existentes sobre la utilización de fertilizantes, variedades de semillas, herramientas y plaguicidas llegan a la conclusión de que los hombres tienen mayor acceso a esos insumos. De un estudio realizado en Burkina Faso se desprendió que, en un mismo hogar, la productividad de las parcelas de las mujeres era un 30% más baja que la de los hombres, porque en estas se utilizaban más mano de obra y más fertilizantes. Ahora bien, también se ha constado que en igualdad de condiciones respecto del acceso a insumos, la productividad de hombres y mujeres es prácticamente igual.

Tal como recoge un reciente informe de la FAO, si las mujeres tuvieran el mismo acceso a los recursos productivos que los hombres, el número de personas hambrientas en el mundo se reduciría entre un 12% y un 17%.


La emancipación de la mujer debería protagonizar toda estrategia de desarrollo rural y agrario sostenible. La obligación de los Estados de eliminar todas las disposiciones discriminatorias de la legislación y luchar contra la discriminación que se origina en las normas sociales y culturales es una obligación ineludible que debe cumplirse sin demora.

Los Estados deben: a) hacer las inversiones necesarias para aligerar la carga de trabajo doméstico que soportan actualmente las mujeres; b) reconocer la necesidad de tener en cuenta las restricciones específicas de tiempo y movilidad que tienen las mujeres a consecuencia de su papel en la economía "asistencial", y al mismo tiempo redistribuir las funciones de los géneros según un enfoque transformador del empleo y la protección social; c) incorporar una perspectiva de género en todas las leyes, políticas y programas creando, cuando proceda, incentivos que recompensen a aquellas administraciones públicas que fijen y alcancen objetivos en la materia; d) adoptar estrategias multisectoriales y plurianuales tendentes a lograr la plena igualdad para las mujeres, bajo la supervisión de un órgano independiente que haga el seguimiento de los avances, sobre la base de datos desglosados por género en todas las esferas relacionadas con el logro de la seguridad alimentaria.

La participación de las mujeres en la formulación, la ejecución y la evaluación de todas esas políticas podría transformar profundamente nuestro concepto mismo del papel de la agricultura familiar. La participación es la única garantía de que las mujeres tengan verdaderas posibilidades de elegir.

El fortalecimiento de las cooperativas de mujeres o el fomento de las actividades agrícolas de grupos de mujeres también son importantes por el mismo motivo. Las mujeres no solo deben poder superar los obstáculos que les impiden ser igual de productivas que los hombres, sino que también deben tener la posibilidad de redefinir las prioridades del sistema de agricultura a pequeña escala, del que se están convirtiendo en protagonistas.

“La equidad de género es más que un objetivo en sí mismo. Es una precondición para responder al reto de la pobreza, promover el desarrollo sostenible y edificar una gobernanza adecuada”. Kofi Annan

Fuentes: FAO, Consejo de DDHH y Documentos del Relator Especial para el Derecho a la Alimentación.

¿A qué estamos esperando?

Miren Larrea