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Road to Beijing +15: Implementation of women's empowerment agenda key to food security

FAO urges focus on rural women’s empowerment and gender equality to meet the commitments made in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action

© FAO/G. Napolitano

10 March 2010, Rome – Improved conditions and opportunities for rural women and gender equality are crucial to international efforts to reduce hunger and extreme poverty, and to boost social and economic development.

This is one of the messages which FAO plans to put before the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), which is presiding over a key review of the main international framework for gender equality and women’s empowerment efforts.

The series of discussions will look at implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, fifteen years after its adoption at the Fourth World Conference on Women. The Platform for Action builds on strategies developed at previous UN conferences on women, as well as the framework established by the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

The Beijing agenda covers 12 critical areas relating to women, including poverty, health, violence and inequalities between women and men in their access to a wide range of social and economic opportunities. Most areas directly or indirectly relate to FAO's work as the UN's lead agency dedicated to fighting hunger through agriculture and rural development. 

“Over the past fifteen years there have been tremendous improvements in social and economic conditions for women around the world. But most rural women in developing countries still face glaring social and economic inequalities which keep them from having greater access to, and control over, the basic means necessary to produce food or earn enough income,” said Marcela Villarreal, Director, FAO Gender, Equity and Rural Employment Division, as she prepared to participate in the CSW meeting. 

“The challenges faced by rural women have a direct bearing on the fact that more people than ever – one in six worldwide - are experiencing food insecurity," Villarreal added. 

"Female-headed households in rural areas of developing countries have been especially hard hit by the recent food and economic crises, but even male-headed households which are food insecure stand to benefit if women are allowed greater access to, and control over, land, as well as access to tools, training, new technologies, financial services, transportation and markets," Villarreal said. 

Sharing successes, challenges

UN entities, Member States and non-governmental organizations at the CSW meeting are sharing stories of successes and challenges in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment, with an eye to overcoming remaining obstacles to implementation of the Beijing agenda. They also plan to address new challenges, including those related to the Millennium Development Goals. 

FAO has long recognized the importance of promoting the full, equal participation of both women and men in efforts to improve food security, reduce poverty and fuel social and economic development. The Organization supports member countries in the development and strengthening of national mechanisms for gender equality and women’s empowerment on many fronts.

Statistics, research key

One of the key challenges to promoting gender equality is gathering accurate information about women’s conditions, responsibilities and needs. FAO recently debuted a new Gender and Land Rights Database, which supports rural development efforts by offering up-to-date information on how men and women in 78 countries differ in their legal rights and access to land. The Organization also provides other tools for gathering and analyzing sex-disaggregated data.

FAO has also commissioned face-to-face consultations with rural women from 23 countries who have developed coping strategies to deal with food insecurity. At the CSW, FAO and its partners in the research will share ideas on how national policies and programmes can better support rural women by working to eliminate gender inequalities and discriminatory practices.

Greater participation of women needed

At the World Summit on Food Security in November, the final Summit Declaration echoed these concerns by calling for measures to ensure full physical, social and economic access by women and children to sufficient, safe and nutritious food.

The Declaration also called for special emphasis on building capacity and providing access to technologies, inputs, capital goods, credit and markets for smallholder farmers in developing countries, with a special emphasis on women and indigenous farmers.

In November 2009, during the 35th session of the FAO Committee on World Food Security (CFS), members agreed to major reforms stressing inclusion of civil society organizations that represent women and others who often struggle to have their voices heard in major international discussions of food security.