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Rural women as agents of change: FAO preps for June ECOSOC review

The crucial role of women in food production worldwide and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals was the focus of a panel discussion held 22 April 2010 at UN Headquarters in New York

© FAO/A. Hafeez

22 April 2010, Rome – The meeting, entitled Who Feeds the World in 2010 and Beyond? - Rural women as Agents of Change and Champions of Global Food Security, was a preparatory meeting aimed at developing themes for the Annual Ministerial Review (AMR) of ECOSOC (United Nations Economic and Social Council), to be held 28 June-3 July 2010.

The meeting was jointly sponsored by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, FAO, IFAD, UNIFEM, WFP, and the World Bank, in collaboration with The Hunger Project and WOCAN (Women Organizing Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management).

The theme for the late-June ECOSOC ministerial review will be Implementing the internationally agreed goals and commitments in regard to gender equality and empowerment of women. As the principal coordinator of the UN development system and main forum for the discussion of economic and social issues, ECOSOC will then weigh in on the issue and send a strong message on the topic to the MDG Summit in September.

ECOSOC will also inform the Commission on the Status of Women’s discussion on rural women when the CSW takes up the topic in 2012.

Rural women key to world food security

Despite the fact that smallholder farming in most developing countries has a woman’s face, women farmers are too often invisible and under-supported when it comes to investments, policies, and programmes. This reality intimately affects the lives of rural women, men and children, and is standing in the way of world food security.

“There is a striking gender bias in favour of men when it comes to access to, and ownership of, land, agricultural technology, information, training, financial services and all related productive resources. This gender bias makes agriculture less productive than it could be, and undermines the world’s ability to reduce hunger and poverty, and to support economic development,” said Marcela Villarreal, Director of FAO’s Gender, Equity and Rural Employment Division, and moderator of the panel discussion.

“The recent food and economic crises were a harsh reminder that sustainable agriculture is crucial to food security and development. What we need to do now, in this series of meetings, is to ensure that rural women’s indispensable role in agriculture and development is fully recognized and inserted into the policy agenda and decision-making processes,” Villarreal said.
“MDG 1, to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty, simply cannot be achieved without the full participation of rural women,” said Villarreal.

While efforts to address gender inequalities are reflected in numerous resolutions of the General Assembly and other international agreements, such as the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and Article 14 of CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women), Villarreal stressed “there is a need for more robust action to support rural women’s role as agents of change and drivers of development.”


Speakers on the panel will include experts from Government and women leaders from farmers’ organisations and local municipalities: Florence Chenoweth, Minister of Agriculture of Liberia; Myrna Cunningham, Director, Center for Indigenous People's Autonomy and Development (CIPAD); Carmen Griffiths, Coordinator, GROOTS, Jamaica, and Carol Kramer-Leblanc, Director for Sustainable Development, Office of the Chief Economist, United States Department of Agriculture. ECOSOC President, Hamidon Ali, chaired the event.

Issues guiding the discussion:

1. What are good practices in gender-responsive rural development strategies that have empowered rural women as agents of change for economic and social development?

2. What further actions can be taken to address constraints to rural women’s empowerment? What has worked and what can be scaled up?

3. What role can various stakeholders play in ensuring targeted allocation of resources for gender equality and the empowerment of rural women?

4. How can data collection and analysis on women’s contributions to food security be improved to better inform policy-making, planning and monitoring of results?

5. What are successful strategies for enhancing rural women’s ability to influence decision making on the local, national, regional and global level?