Gender equality: An issue of democracy

Sweden’s Agriculture Minister highlighted the role of women in agriculture at a roundtable discussion on gender equality and access to productive resources organized at the 33rd session of the FAO Conference (19-26 November 2005) in Rome.

© FAO/M. Uz Zaman

22 November 2005, Rome - “Gender equality is essentially an issue of democracy,” said Ann-Christin Nykvist, Sweden’s Minister for Agriculture.

Highlighting the relationship between gender equality and the reduction of hunger and poverty, she added that access by women to land, credit, marketing facilities, appropriate technology and other factors of production is “vital to their prospects of overcoming poverty.”

The Swedish minister pointed out that if girls were given access to the same education as boys this could lead to “higher returns in terms of world food security.”

“Women are at the forefront of food production in all regions of the world,” FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said.

In sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean they produce at least 80 percent of food staples. In South- and Southeast Asia they are responsible for some 60 percent of agriculture and food production.

“But women are denied access to the essential tools necessary for their work, including factors of production such as land, credit, information, training and the power to take decisions,” he said.

Urging all concerned to place women’s access to land at the heart of national and international development policy, Dr Diouf stressed that programmes for social and economic development will not succeed unless women have equal access to factors of production, particularly land.

The other half

Marcela Villarreal, Director of FAO’s Gender and Population Division, explained that today’s economic development rests on the capacity to innovate, to generate knowledge and to adopt technological change.

“Not investing in one half of the population means a country is not benefiting from the contribution of that half of its human resources, which are essential for its development, its economic efficiency and its international competitiveness,” Ms Villarreal said.

She added that without allowing all their human resources access to productive resources, countries will not be able to reduce poverty and hunger.

The aim of the roundtable on gender was to raise awareness of the importance of gender equality in access to productive resources for the attainment of the first Millennium Development Goal.

In addition to agriculture ministers, gender and women’s affairs ministers and delegates from FAO member countries, the event brought together representatives from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), academia and several governmental and non governmental organizations.