Rural women: crucial partners in the fight against hunger and poverty
Message from Rome to Johannesburg
World Food Summit: Five Years Later
Rome, 12 June 2002
- There is a broad consensus that rural women, the majority of whom are farmers and waged agricultural workers, are crucial partners in the fight against hunger and poverty. This is reflected in a large number of international commitments and agreementsi. In 1997, almost 70 per cent of economically-active women in low-income food-deficit countries (LIFDCs) were employed in the agricultural sector. Although data is limited, about one-fifth of farms are headed by womenii. However, rural women continue to be grossly under-represented in decision-making processes and are often "missed targets" in the design, implementation and monitoring of agricultural and rural development policies and programmes. This poses severe constraints to the effectiveness, equality and sustainability of development response strategies.
- Political will and the necessary resources need to be mobilized to recognize rural women's rights, knowledge, contribution and role so that women will equitably participate in and share the benefits of development. To enhance the status of rural women and promote gender equality in agriculture and rural development actions are needed in two key areas: 1) the equal access to and control of natural and productive resources; and 2) the empowerment and full participation of rural women as agents for change in policy making at all levels and throughout development activities. Action in these two areas will also strengthen the link between gender, agriculture and food security, as well as the environment and sustainable development agenda.
- It is widely recognized that hunger and poverty in rural areas, where 70 percent of the poor live, are related to the access to, control, and sharing of benefits from natural resourcesiii. Equitable access for women to such resources has therefore been a key demand from major stakeholder groups during the preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) to be held in Johannesburg from 26 August to 4 September 2002. The FAO Gender and Development Plan of Action (2002-2007), endorsed unanimously by the FAO Conference in November 2001, aims to promote gender equality in access to and control of resources, broadly defined as food (safe and nutritionally balanced), natural resources, agricultural support services, technologies, decision-making and employment opportunities. The devastating impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in many rural communities has added further urgency to meet these objectives. We commit ourselves to removing persisting gender inequalities and inequities and to forge key actions for effective and sustainable solutions to hunger and rural poverty. Such actions should include, but not be limited to, the provision of technologies, including information- and labour-saving technologies, to reduce rural women's drudgery and free up time for their increased representation and participation in relevant decision-making bodies and in entrepreneurial and income-earning activitiesiv. A better representation of women in national farmers' unions should be ensured, in parallel with support for their right to organize themselves to secure fair wages and to speak up for their own interests.
- Article 14 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), adopted in 1979 by the UN General Assembly, provides for equal benefit-sharing of rural women and men and underlines that the equal participation of women and men is crucial to the sustainable development of rural areasv. Most FAO Member Nations have signed this Convention and have thus made a legally binding commitment to take appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in agriculture and ensure that they have equal access to agricultural productive resources, including land and credit. Also, the empowerment of rural women is a necessary catalyst to ensure their broad-based participation in rural development programmes. To achieve the commitments made under CEDAW Article 14, we commit ourselves to develop legislative frameworks, policies and strategies that shape an enabling environment for the empowerment and advancement of rural women, including through training and access to production-related services. We invite Governments who have signed and/or ratified the CEDAW convention to take concrete actions to realize the provisions of the CEDAW for rural women and girls, in particular Article 14.
- Gender equality and the removal of gender-based discrimination are both valid development objectives in themselves, as well as necessary means to reach the UN Millennium Development Goalsvi on reducing poverty and hunger by half by the year 2015. The Millennium Goals have also brought renewed attention to the importance of measuring progress made in reaching the development goals. Our contribution will be the reinforced commitment to assess progress made in gender equality with regards to access to and control of natural resources, and participation in rural development strategies and policy formulation. To monitor progress in these areas there is need to establish baselines and develop gender-sensitive indicators. For instance, only about half of agricultural censuses conducted worldwide from 1989 to 1999 specified head of agricultural holding by sex. We call on all stakeholders to work together to increase this number substantially by 2015. We further reiterate the commitments made at the 1999 High-Level Consultation on Rural Women and Informationvii, involving the setting up of databases for monitoring purposes on the status of rural women and men and on their respective contributions, paid and unpaid, to agricultural production and rural development; and the creation and reinforcement of information networks and communication channels amongst rural women and between rural women and government planning institutions. These networks can allow for the collection, documentation and dissemination of good examples and practices in gender-sensitive and sustainable agricultural and rural development, which can serve as models for other undertakings.
- It is essential to integrate clear gender perspectives in all partnership dialogues. To apply a gender perspective and to strive for gender equality will imply change and transformation of processes and perceptions, included in decision-making, in political agenda setting and in the allocation of resources. This will require the broad-based participation of all stakeholders to be successfully implemented. For example, rural indigenous women as well as men, are the reservoirs of knowledge about their local ecosystems and their views should be included in any development interventions. Local institutions (formal and informal) that women have created to manage resources for livelihoods should be recognised and supported in development actions that enhance food production, biodiversity and quality. We commit ourselves to forge action-oriented and broad-based partnerships at national-level, as well as between North and South and South and South. We call on Governmental and Non-Governmental stakeholders and Civil Society, including rural youth, women and men themselves, media and other actors to mobilize the political will and resources needed to reach the common goal of sustainable rural development and food security to the benefit of all people.
Rome, 12 June 2002
iThe Plan builds on relevant recommendations of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights, the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development, the 1995 World Summit for Social Development, the 1996 Conference on Human Settlements; the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women held in 1995, Article 14 on rural women of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); the 2000 Beijing +5 Review; the 1996 Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action; the 1999 FAO High-Level Consultation on Rural Women and Information.
iiFor example, women headed an estimated 42.9 percent of rural households in Namibia in 1991 and 24.6 percent in Cambodia in 1996. [Data from Namibia are based on the 1991 census and quoted in Women, Agriculture and Rural Development Rome: FAO 1995, Table 13. Data from Cambodia quoted in Men and Women in the ESCAP Region Bangkok: UN Publications, Table 8. Data on women economically active in the agricultural sector is quoted from Filling the data gap, FAO: 1999. Data on female headship of households is quoted from the Gender and Land fact sheet, FAO: 2002.
iiiThe most recent UN Resolution to this regard is 56/129 the resolution on Improvement of the situation of women in rural areas (A/RES/56/129).
ivFinal Report of the FAO High-Level Consultation on Rural Women and Information. FAO: 1999. www.fao.org/docrep/x3803e/x3803e03.htm.
vUN General Assembly (1979). Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/cedaw.htm
viUN, PI/1380 (2001). 'Road Map' Of Millennium Summit Goals Sets Out Blueprint, Timetable For Future Implementation. Secretary-General's Report Signposts Road Ahead, 19 September 2001.
viiFinal Report of the FAO High-Level Consultation on Rural Women and Information. FAO: 1999. www.fao.org/docrep/x3803e/x3803e03.htm.