Inicio > Género > Perspectivas > Insight ES

Increasing the visibility of rural women and their contribution to food security

At a time when governments are designing strategies and making crucial decisions to restore long-term, inclusive economic growth, it is essential to raise the profile of rural women and to sensitize both governments and the wider public on the contributions they make to hunger eradication and the well-being of their communities.

© FAO/F. Naeem

Marcela Villarreal, Director of FAO’s Gender, Equity and Rural Employment Division, talks about some of FAO’s recent efforts to promote action-oriented dialogue on rural women’s empowerment.

Marcela Villarreal, Director of FAO’s Gender, Equity and Rural Employment Division

What were some of the key issues you raised at the international conference on “Gender, Family and Peasant Farming”, which took place at the University of Toulouse II – Le Mirail and was designed to facilitate dialogue between academic, development and teaching worlds?1

The rationale behind this conference was to investigate the links between family farming, community development and the environment by using a gender lens. More specifically, we were asked to propose innovative methods to address inequalities in various areas of focus, such as agricultural and environmental policies, or the management of natural resources. In this context, I looked at the importance of promoting gender equality within agricultural sector interventions and policies.

We know from FAO’s latest State of Food and Agriculture report that governments, donors and development practitioners must be aware of the different impacts that policies can have on men and women – even when no explicit discrimination is intended. In many countries, women do not have the same rights as men - to buy, sell or inherit land, to open a savings account or borrow money, to sign a contract or sell their produce.

So, while some policies are designed to help rural women achieve their full potential as producers and decision-makers, many more fall short of this task, and only acknowledge their reproductive roles as mothers and caregivers. To help move past this hurdle, I am proposing a framework that can help to determine the level of  gender-sensitivity of agricultural policies. This tool, which will be published in the proceedings of the conference, should be particularly useful to policy-makers in adjusting national, regional or local policies, so that they respond better to gender equality goals and avoid detrimental impacts on women and men.

At the OECD Forum 2012, the overarching theme was to find sustainable solutions to the economic and social challenges facing people around the world today. What key issues did you raise during the panel discussion on Feeding the world, sustaining the planet? 2

An interesting element of this panel discussion was the attention given to food loss and food waste. We know that, although enough food is being produced today to feed the global population, 925 million people still go to bed hungry every day. Feeding the world in 2050, when world population is expected to reach 9.1 billion people, will require us to make much better use of the food we produce, but it will also call for significant  increases in overall food production – a target that must be achieved in environmentally sound and equitable ways.

We know that one way of feeding the world sustainably from here to 2050, is by addressing gender inequalities in the agricultural sector. Our studies show that if women had the same access as men to key productive resources we could significantly increase agricultural production. This, in turn, could have a major impact on the reduction of world hunger.

So what we must really focus on today, is revitalizing the agricultural sector, but also engaging people – youth, women and civil society groups – to ensure that producers and consumers throughout the food chain, including those who are vulnerable and food insecure, are effectively organized and represented in the policy process.

During the P2P Study Tour on Women in Agriculture organized by the EU Commission and the Caritas Congress on Global Hunger and Sustainable Food Security you also discussed the important role that rural women play in agriculture. These themes are directly related to FAO’s work and mandate, so what do you hope participants took away from your interventions?3

For many years the agricultural sector was neglected and, over time, this has contributed to increasingly high and volatile food prices, as well as scarce livelihood opportunities for rural people in the agricultural sector. But following the food price crisis, and the agriculture-focused World Development Report in 2008, international attention has finally turned a little more towards agriculture and rural areas. In this context of renewed interest, we need to intensify our efforts to highlight rural women’s issues. One of the best investments we can make is in building the human capital of women and girls – education, information and extension services are essential building blocks for agricultural productivity and economic growth.

Last February, the 56th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) focused its priority theme on the empowerment of rural women and their role in poverty and hunger eradication. This has created a great political opening and - I hope - an opportunity for governments to truly recognize that rural women’s participation is needed to shape responses to development challenges.