FAO Programme ::: Gender equity

FAO's new strategic framework will mainstream gender equity in all of its programmes for agriculture and rural development

Social and economic inequalities between men and women undermine food security and hold back economic growth and advances in agriculture. That is why FAO's new strategic framework identifies gender equity as one of the Organization's key objectives for the next 10 years. Gender equity will be essential to implementing the decisions of the World Summit on Food Security, held in Rome in November 2009.

Strategic objective K - "Gender equity in access to resources, goods, services and decision-making in rural areas" - has been formulated in response to evidence that gender inequality exacerbates food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty. FAO says strategies for agriculture and rural development do not always benefit rural populations, particularly women, but sometimes even amplify existing disparities.

That trend is likely to worsen in the face of today's unprecedented challenges, including climate change, international migration, transboundary infectious diseases and the global economic downturn. Unless gender is addressed comprehensively, the global community will not achieve the targets set by the 1996 World Food Summit, and the UN Millennium Development Goals.

FAO's "comparative advantage"

As the United Nations lead agency for agriculture and rural development, FAO has a clear comparative advantage in addressing rural gender issues. For decades, FAO has championed the contribution of women to food production and food security, and spearheaded efforts to remove the barriers that limit their opportunities, and the full enjoyment of their rights.

Between 1989 and 2001, two six-year FAO plans of action for "Women in development" focused on improving rural women's access to resources, training and other services. In 2003, a new plan for "Gender and development" defined the different roles and unequal power relations between women and men as a central category of analysis, applying it not just to "women's projects" but to the Organization's wider programme of work, and linking it to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

The three key instruments for implementing the 2003-2007 plan - which are now at the core of Strategic Objective K - were capacity development, raising awareness, and gender-sensitive indicators and statistics. FAO led efforts to promote gender mainstreaming in agriculture through socio-economic and gender analysis training courses for an estimated  4 000 development specialists in more than 100 countries. FAO also trained national policy analysts in the collection and use of sex-disaggregated data, and developed gender-sensitive indicators in technical fields ranging from animal health and water management to nutrition, fisheries and rural employment.

Through capacity building and access to more reliable data, FAO has promoted gender-sensitive policy and planning in 30 countries. Botswana and Namibia have adopted national action plans for food security, which seek to eliminate inequalities in women's access to productive resources. FAO's technical assistance contributed to mainstreaming gender in Chile's agricultural policy and helped to increase the use of gender statistics by policymakers in China.

In FAO, a Gender, Equity and Rural Employment Division (ESW) was created in 2007, within the Economic and Social Development Department, with corporate responsibility for gender equality. A training programme has enhanced both staff commitment to gender mainstreaming and the skills needed to carry it out. A network of senior-level focal points in the Organization's technical units has been created to mainstream gender in all FAO's technical programmes. For example, gender perspectives are now seen as central to FAO's strategy for disaster risk management, and have been incorporated prominently in its emergency relief and rehabilitation operations.

Critical gaps remain

Thanks to FAO's work on gender, many countries have embraced development policies and programmes that are more gender and socially inclusive. But critical gaps remain: cultural biases and lack of political will have led to uneven adoption and implementation of internationally agreed policies and conventions on gender equality and women's empowerment.

Data needed to understand gender differences in access to productive resources remain scarce, and the capacity of many developing countries to integrate gender issues in development programmes is still weak. Even where progress has been made, the capacity to implement policies and evaluate impact is often inadequate. FAO's gender strategy seeks to close those gaps and raise the level of gender equality in rural areas.

FAO's targets 2008-2013

To mainstream gender equity in its programmes for agriculture and rural development, FAO has set itself the following targets to 2013:

UN policies and joint programmes
Support gender mainstreaming in agriculture and rural development within the "One UN" initiative; identify needs, gaps and entry points for FAO technical support, and contribute to common approaches to gender within the United Nations system.

Policies for agriculture and rural development
Assist governments in integrating gender into development policies and programmes through the analysis of disparities that affect people's access to resources and of issues that threaten gender equity and rural livelihoods.

Capacity building
Expand support to training in gender mainstreaming (using tools pioneered by FAO's Socio-Economic and Gender Analysis programme), and to the collection, analysis and dissemination of sex-disaggregated data and statistics used in policy-making.

FAO skills, resources and technical programmes
Upgrade the gender analysis skills of FAO staff, allocate specific budgets to meet gender targets, and support the Organization-wide network of gender focal points to promote gender mainstreaming in all FAO's technical programmes.

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