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FAO's new strategic objective: gender equity

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf: "Women’s empowerment and gender equality are fundamental to FAO’s vision of a world free of hunger and malnutrition"

FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf © FAO/A.Benedetti

23 November 2009, Rome – Mainstreaming gender equity has become a strategic objective of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. To achieve FAO's vision of a world free of hunger and malnutrition, its new strategic framework - approved today by the FAO biennial Conference - identifies a series of objectives that define impacts to be achieved in the coming decade.

For the first time, gender equity takes its place alongside such "traditional" key concerns as raising levels of nutrition and the sustainable intensification of crop production. The framework mainstreams gender equity in all of FAO's programmes for agriculture and rural development.

FAO's Director General, Jacques Diouf, said: "The spectre of hunger has returned to many developing countries. The number of undernourished people has risen above one billion, or one sixth of humanity. The international community faces other daunting challenges, including the global economic downturn, plummeting levels of trade and investment, growing scarcity of natural resources, and the impact of climate change.

"We cannot overcome those challenges while age-old, ingrained ideas of gender roles deny women's full participation in decision-making and social and economic development. By mainstreaming gender equity into all of its programmes for agriculture and rural development, FAO aims at strengthening the impact of its support to member countries, and achieving the goals of gender equality, the eradication of hunger and poverty, and food security for all."

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.

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.