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November 2002

Rural women: crucial partners in the fight against hunger and poverty

Side Event Report

World Food Summit: five years later
10-13 June 2002

Part 1 of 2

Table of contents


Opening Statement by Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda

Welcoming remarks:

David Harcharik, Deputy Director-General of FAO

Margareta Winberg, Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Sweden

Narend Singh, Provincial Minister, Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs, South Africa


FAO and Rural Women: Partners in the fight against hunger and poverty, Sissel Ekaas, Director, Gender and Population Division, FAO

Linking Gender, Food Security and the Environment, Rosalina Tuyuc Velásquez, CONAVIGUA, Guatemala

Creating the Future: building on the present, Vandana Shiva, Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, India

Open dialogue

Wrap up and summary


1: Programme side event
2: Message from Rome to Johannesburg
3: Report to the WFS: fyl Plenary
4: List of official delegations and NGOs


The World Food Summit (WFS): five years later took place in Rome 10 to 13 June 2002 to follow up, reaffirm and reinforce the commitments made at the WFS in November 1996, at which governments pledged their political will and their collective common and national commitment to achieving food security for all and to an ongoing effort to eradicate hunger in all countries, with an immediate view to reducing the number of undernourished people to half their level no later than 2015.

The half-day side event on Rural women: crucial partners in the fight against hunger and poverty took place 12 June 2002. The event served to enhance the visibility, recognition and support for the important role and contributions of rural women, and in particular women farmers, in achieving the targets of the World Food Summit of 1996. The purpose was to mobilize increased political will and resources for removing persisting gender inequalities, with a specific focus on the access to, control over, and sharing of the benefits from natural resources and related services. The side event was organized by FAO's Gender and Population Division with the financial contribution of the Government of Sweden. It was co-chaired by Ms Margareta Winberg, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Sweden and Mr Narend Singh, Provincial Minister, Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs, South Africa.

The side event gathered approximately 450 delegates from Governments, NGOs and other institutions. There were six formal presentations from the podium, including the opening address by H.E. Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda (Programme in Annex 1). Two specially invited speakers, Ms Rosalina Tuyuc, Guatemala and Dr Vandana Shiva, India each made a presentation to the forum to stimulate the rich open dialogue with the audience that followed. Twenty-eight participants, including several Ministers and NGO representatives, contributed with short interventions from the floor during the open dialogue. A short Message from Rome to Johannesburg in support of rural women, drafted by the Secretariat and circulated to all participants received general support, while many speakers made concrete suggestions of how to strengthen it further before transmitting it to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg (Rio+10). (The final version of this Message is included as Annex 2). An oral summary report of the discussions was made to the WFS:fyl plenary by Mr Narend Singh (Annex 3).

The main message from the audience was that, in order to enhance the status of rural women and promote gender equality in agriculture and rural development, rural women will need equal access to and control of natural and productive resources and rural women should be empowered to fully participate as agents for change in policy-making at all levels and throughout development activities. It was noted that failing to listen to rural women will slow down and constrain the effectiveness, equality and sustainability of development response strategies, because rural women are the experts and the owners of their local ecosystems and the related biodiversity.

The meeting manifested a strong political will to recognize rural women's participation on an equal footing with men. This needs to be coupled with financial and other resources so that rural women can fully participate in, and share the benefits of, rural and agricultural development.


The Co-chair, Margareta Winberg, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Sweden, briefly opened the meeting by welcoming all and introducing herself, and the participants on the podium:

Opening Statement by His Excellency Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda1

"I am personally convinced that the fight against hunger and poverty needs the full participation of all, men and women alike, enjoying the same rights and provided with the same opportunities".

"In the framework of the activities of the World Food Summit, I am particularly proud to carry out the task of drawing the attention of the international community to an essential aspect of the anti-hunger and anti-poverty programmes we are currently discussing, that is, to address the particular issues of rural women.

Let me thank the Director General of the Food and Agricultural Organisation for this excellent initiative and at the same time pay tribute to the active contributors to food security. It is a pleasure and honour for me to open this side event on "Rural Women: Crucial partners in the fight against hunger and poverty".

On Monday in my address to the plenary, I was particularly pleased to report on the substantial progress made in my country to increase food production and ensure food availability. These achievements have been made in six years, thanks to the well-focused objectives aiming at intensifying agriculture by the use of productive inputs such as fertilisers, high-yield seeds and technology, with the active participation of the rural population, notably the women.

There is now consensus that women's role in the sustainable development of rural areas is crucial and that they, therefore, need and deserve all the resources and means to enable them to participate fully in that process. Traditionally a woman's value in rural Rwandan society was related to her status as wife, mother, and provider of the family; in other words, to her household and procreative functions. But we know that our rural women can do a lot more than that; and we in Rwanda have not spared any effort to address the needs of our rural women and to engage them in the reconstruction of our country, the reconciliation of our people and the development process.

The situation in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide is that women represent 54% of the whole population, and most of them live in the rural areas. 35% of all the households are headed by women. These women have had to take on new roles and responsibilities out of sheer necessity, and they have had to develop new skills. Because women constitute the majority of the adult working population in Rwanda, they are central to economic development and reconstruction.

It is important to note that over 90% of Rwandans live in rural areas, and that agriculture contributes over 40% of the Rwandan economy. It is also noteworthy that the bulk of the country's total agricultural output is attributed to women. Generally speaking, women now shoulder a greater burden of economic activity in Rwanda. Consequently, rural women are the main agents of reconstruction in Rwanda today. There is, therefore, no doubt that they are the crucial partners in the fight against hunger and poverty, now and in the foreseeable future. This is why any consideration of Rwanda's future must take into consideration the special needs of the rural women and their contribution to fighting hunger and poverty.

The Government of Rwanda has made significant strides in promoting equal rights and opportunities for women in the last six years. Several efforts have been deployed to ensure gender equality and empowerment of women so that they participate in the development process.

These include:

All these measures are intended to advance the situation of women in general and that of rural women in particular. Rural women need to continually be empowered and enabled to participate in policy-making and in decision- making at all levels of society. Although women in Rwanda face peculiar difficulties, the situation in other developing countries is not substantially different. Generally speaking, the rural women bear the brunt of underdevelopment. They are engaged in agricultural production that is not part of the market economy.

In the present day and age, we must recognise the fact that women should have the:

These are policy issues that any Government which values the development of its people should, and must implement. In short, rural women must be nothing less than equal partners in the fight against poverty.

Another major issue that we must all address, as a matter of urgency, is the change in attitude.

A sensitisation campaign to all stakeholders: Government, private sector, civil society, women and men, is necessary. However, to be successful, it should be the duty and obligation of Government to provide leadership in this change of attitude.

In opening this side event, I have felt compelled to share with you the above reflections as the leader of a country where women have played a key and invaluable role in the rehabilitation process. You can count on me as a supporter and advocate of the cause of rural women. I am personally convinced that the fight against hunger and poverty needs the full participation of all, men and women alike, enjoying the same rights and provided with the same opportunities. To me those are the prerequisites of an equitable and sustainable socio-economic development.

Rural women are not only crucial partners in the fight against hunger and poverty but they are the major partners in the overall development process, especially if we are serious about reducing the poverty level by half by 2015."

Comment from Winberg:
"It is important that you are here. This is also a message saying that leaders must in a better way highlight the crucial role of women. And you are a very good model."

Welcoming remarks

David Harcharik, Deputy Director-General of FAO2

"It is time to move beyond considering gender equality as a women's issue - it is time to think about humanity, justice and development. This being so, it is both ethically and economically imperative that women participate fully in development and receive an equal share of the opportunities, resources and benefits associated with it".

"Hunger and poverty are enemies of human dignity; and women are the primary victims of hunger and poverty. Yet women are also crucial partners in finding sustainable solutions to these twin scourges. Without women, the target we all set in 1996 to halve the number of hungry in the world by 2015 will not only remain elusive; it will become impossible to attain.

It is time to move beyond considering gender equality as a women's issue - it is time to think about humanity, justice and development. This being so, it is both ethically and economically imperative that women participate fully in development and receive an equal share of the opportunities, resources and benefits associated with it. This morning's session has been organized by FAO, with the generous support of the Government of Sweden, to promote true partnership with rural women farmers and entrepreneurs to achieve food security and sustainable development for all.

According to an old Chinese proverb, "women hold up half the sky". In the battle against hunger and poverty, women, and especially rural women, most certainly hold up the heavier half. While many of you, especially those from industrialised countries, may still picture a man on a tractor when you think of a farmer, in most low-income food-deficit countries, where agriculture is less mechanized, the majority of food producers are women, and they are not sitting on tractors. In Sub-Saharan Africa, women produce up to 80 percent of basic foodstuffs, both for household consumption and for sale. It is estimated that 78 percent of India's economically active women are involved in agriculture, 35 percent as cultivators and 43 percent as labourers. They are tirelessly fighting the battle for household food security on increasingly marginal land, and with meagre resources. Often, their time, energy, and simple hand tools are their only assets.

During the past decades, gender gaps in political and economic life have been reduced at a pace unprecedented in history in most parts of the world. However, progress for women and girls living in rural areas in the poorer countries has been slow and poor. In a rural context, hunger and poverty are usually consequences of limited access to, and control of, natural resources and related services. For example, women own only about one percent of all land, while accounting for the lion's share of small-scale food production. Studies carried out by FAO in the early 1990s concluded that only about 5 percent of services provided by agricultural extension workers reached women farmers, although they constituted the majority of food producers in many developing countries. In addition, the studies revealed that the majority of those living in absolute poverty were women.

To strengthen our partnership with rural women, one of the vital challenges will be to support their continued empowerment. This is viewed as a necessary catalyst to ensure that they can fulfil their potential and participate on an equal footing with men in the formulation and implementation of agriculture and rural development policies and programmes.

Several instruments for bringing about this change are already available. In 1979, the international community reached a milestone with the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), which contains important legally-binding provisions in support of women in agriculture. I note that most FAO member countries have adhered to this Convention, and I take this opportunity to invite these countries to ensure that the provisions of the Convention are implemented fully.

The 1996 World Food Summit Declaration and Plan of Action also include important commitments for the advancement of rural women, and for gender equality and equity in the agricultural and rural development sector. FAO has expressed these commitments in its Gender and Development Plan of Action (2002-2007), which was unanimously endorsed by the FAO Conference, in November last year. One of the key objectives and priority areas for action in the Plan is to eliminate persisting gender inequalities in access to natural resources. This has also been a key demand of the major stakeholder groups involved in the preparations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), which will take place in Johannesburg in August this year.

Food for all is an ambitious goal, but it is not an impossible dream. The targets set in 1996 can still be met. What we need now is political will and resources to implement fully the commitments already undertaken.

Effective implementation also requires broad-based partnerships with diverse stakeholders, united by the common objective of improving food security for all. FAO's partnership portfolio is continuously expanding. I should like to thank all of you who, in your various capacities, have distinguished yourselves through your commitment, dedication and energy in the work for, and with, rural women. Your presence here today is appreciated and will certainly enrich the discussions and further strengthen partnerships in support of women farmers.

Where there is a will, there is a way. We are certain that the mobilization of political will, coupled with the needed human and financial resources will show that the battle against hunger can be won and human dignity restored in all corners of this globe.

This time, the road leads from Rome. Johannesburg will be another stop on the way. In the end, rural women and girls, but also men and boys, will enjoy the benefits of food security and sustainable development. Thank you all for being here. I wish you an energizing and fruitful meeting."

Margareta Winberg, Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Sweden3

"Gender equality is a prerequisite for the eradication of poverty and hunger and for promoting growth and a sustainable development for all".

"On behalf of the Swedish government, who is co-arranging this side event together with FAO, let me wish you a warm welcome to this seminar.

Women are the poorest of the poor. All over the world women pay a high price for the gender inequalities that can be found in all countries and cultures. This is a paradox, because if women were to have equal rights to men and if they were not discriminated against, women would be able to help themselves, their families and their communities to move out of poverty. I think many here today are familiar with the saying that "educate a man and you help him, educate a woman and you help a family". Gender equality is thus both a goal in itself - and a means to combat poverty, strengthen democracy and increase implementation of human rights.

The purpose of today's seminar is to highlight the vital roles that rural women play in agriculture, rural development and the fight against hunger and poverty - roles that much too often have been neglected. Men often prepare the soil but women sow, weed, harvest, preserve, store, cook and feed. In most developing countries women produce between 60 and 80 per cent of the food according to the report of the Secretary-General of the United Nations 6/2002/9.

We also need to acknowledge that in many countries, women are the ones to eat least and last in families. They are thus subject to hunger more than men to an extent that we still need to assess.

Furthermore, difficulties that influence the lives of poor people usually have worse effects on women than on men. HIV/AIDS clearly illustrates this. Because women often lack sexual rights, they have little possibility, both for economic and cultural reasons, to say no to unwanted or unsafe sex. It is also the burden of the woman to care for those who are sick - and for her when she is ill. A study from Tanzania shows that the time women spend in agriculture is reduced by sixty percent when their husbands fall ill. With fewer members of the family fit to participate in agriculture, only what is needed for day-to-day survival is cultivated. This may lead to increased poverty, less varied cultivation and deterioration in soil quality as well as in nutritional value of the food. Already poor families have to use all available resources, be it time, money or other assets such as livestock, to supply and pay for treatment, care and - eventually funeral costs.

Action against gender-based discrimination will enhance poverty eradication. Poverty reduction, establishing food security and promoting gender equality must be seen as one coherent undertaking. This has, so far, not been the case. Let us send a clear message from this seminar and this summit to all other decision makers, to the delegates of the Johannesburg summit later this summer and to the international community that gender equality is a prerequisite for the eradication of poverty and hunger and for promoting growth and a sustainable development for all, particularly in three crucial areas: to increase women's access to participation in decision making, to ensure access to resources on equal terms with men, including land rights and to provide women with adequate health, including reproductive and sexual rights. Thank you".

Narend Singh, Provincial Minister, Department of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs, South Africa4

"South Africa also wants to make sure that women constitute at least one third of the beneficiaries of the land reform"

"It is important to remind ourselves of the objective of this event, which is to gain visibility, recognition and support for the role and contributions of rural women in achieving the targets of the World Food Summit of 1996. The purpose is to mobilize increased political will and resources for removing persisting gender inequalities, with a specific focus on the access to, control over, and sharing of the benefits from natural resources and related services. It is hoped that the event will produce a strong message in support of rural women, from FAO and its constituency gathered in Rome, which will be transmitted to the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg 26 August to 4 September.

In South Africa we have taken many actions to strengthen the role of rural women, in political as well as in productive areas. For South Africa it has been important not only to pay lip service with regard to gender equality. South Africa has a strong focus on women's human rights, and has a gender commission, a gender budget and a quota system indicating that one-third of the political representatives must be women. Women hold six of the Ministerial offices in the South African Government, like the Ministers of foreign affairs, housing, mining, and also the Minister of intelligence is a woman.

South Africa can show similar statistics as in Rwanda. During the Apartheid era, men migrated from the rural areas to work at the industries situated in urban areas, and women were staying behind in their homestead where they were responsible for taking care of the children, providing food on the table, and carrying out other necessary chores that usually required both parents. Women are also considered to be the main agents in the reconstruction of South Africa in the post-Apartheid era, as they are in Rwanda.

Women should move beyond the subsistence level, and women's transition into the cash economy should be facilitated. There are many progressive programmes being implemented in South Africa, targeting women in their roles as entrepreneurs of agribusinesses. Awareness is created through programmes like for example "Female farmer of the year", where female farmers are participating in different categories, like subsistence farming, middle income farmers, and farmers producing cash crops. To build institutional capacity at farmer union level is crucial. Women are being encouraged to play an integral and important role in these institutions, so that they can influence them more directly. South Africa also wants to make sure that women constitute at least one third of the beneficiaries of the land reform.

The Government is aiming at more than food security. The Government is actively involved in integrated development, which includes education, health and environmental concerns."

Comment from Winberg: "I am glad to hear about what you are doing in South Africa. All leaders coming to Johannesburg should be able to see what you are doing and learn from you."

FAO and Rural Women: Partners in the fight against hunger and poverty, Sissel Ekaas, Director, Gender and Population Division, FAO5

"The fact that women are farmers and the principal food producers in most low income countries with a food deficit continues to be ignored by policy makers, legislators and investors. The result is an immense waste of human potential and resources".

"It is with great pleasure that I in my capacity as Director of the Gender and Population Division here in FAO join the Deputy Director General in welcoming you to this side event on the theme Rural women: partners in the fight against hunger and poverty.

The Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action adopted at the World Food Summit in 1996 recognized the important role that rural women, as producers and consumers, play in assuring food security and reflected this to some extent in all its seven commitments. For example, Commitments 1 and 2 underline the importance of equality of access for all to productive resources such as land, inputs, improved seeds and plants, appropriate technologies and farm credit. The fact that both women and men are farmers, as well as users and preservers of natural resources was recognized already back in 1979; when the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

While all the provisions of the Convention should apply equally to all women, whether they live in rural or urban areas, Article 14 on Rural Women is of specific interest to us. This Article stresses the importance of ensuring equal access to resources including land and credit, for both rural women and men, as well as their equal participation in, and sharing in the benefits of, sustainable development.

Numerous international conventions have been developed to protect the planet's natural resources. Some more recent conventions are:

The recently adopted international conventions developed to protect the planet's natural resources do acknowledge the value of local knowledge and participation of communities. However, the specific knowledge, contribution and role of rural men and women respectively to sustainable management of natural resources is inadequately understood and recognized.

So, why are we then today focusing specifically on women as farmers? Because, despite CEDAW and the Rome Declaration and Plan of Action, the fact that women are farmers and the principal food producers in most low income countries with a food deficit continues to be ignored by policy makers, legislators and investors. The result is an immense waste of human potential and resources. For example, in Latin America women produce some 40% of staple foods and between 60-80% in Asia and Africa. (IPGRI, Gene flow 2001) Women also provide a significant part of agricultural labour for other crops in the developing world. Nevertheless, rural women still do not enjoy equal access with men to natural resources. Additional efforts have to be made to remove persisting gender inequalities and obstacles to men's and women's equal and active participation in agriculture and sustainable management of natural resources.

Let me briefly explain some of the actions FAO has undertaken to support its member countries in this area, with a view to increasing food security for all and in emphasizing especially the importance of understanding the gender division of labour and responsibilities in a given socio-cultural context and therefore the different needs and interests of women and men farmers.

In November 2001, during the last FAO Conference, the Gender and Development Plan of Action (2002-2007) was endorsed. The plan emphasizes that a transformed partnership, based on the principle of equality between women and men, is an essential condition for people-centered, gender-sensitive and sustainable agricultural and rural development.

The Gender and Development Plan of Action is the framework for FAO to promote gender equality and integrate a gender perspective in all major activity areas of FAO. In pursuit of FAO's mandate to help build a food-secure world, the Plan specifically aims at promoting gender equality in access to productive resources such as: natural resources, agricultural support services, decision-making, technologies and employment opportunities.

The Plan is organization-wide and is implemented by 24 technical divisions of FAO. Each division has reviewed its own Medium-Term Plan for 2002-2007, selected gender sensitive indicators, designated one or more gender focal points and made commitments to promote gender equality in their activities in four priority areas. The four priority areas are: food and nutrition; agricultural support systems; agricultural and rural development policy and planning; and natural resources.

All of these are equally important, but given our focus here today, let us pick natural resources as one of the four priority areas and have a closer look at land, water and agro-biodiversity resources. Land and water resources form the basis of all farming systems. Their preservation and sustainable use is crucial to food production. Privatization, population pressure and the dissolution of customary land tenure systems have reduced the amount and quality of land available to rural communities. Women's ability to use scarce land and water resources sustainably is undermined by these processes. Also, women's inferior or insecure rights to inherit land and property are becoming an acute issue in rural communities heavily affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

In many countries women have home gardens where they keep a multitude of different plant varieties. A recent study found about 230 different plant species in 60 home gardens in an Asian village, with each garden containing between 15 and 60 species. (IPGRI Gene Flow 2001) Women as well as men are custodians of local knowledge, and often responsible for seed management. However, this local knowledge is sometimes neglected and, as a result, local plant varieties of crucial value for present and future food supply are lost at an alarming rate.

How does FAO address these challenges?

The objective of this side event today is to:

Let us work together to formulate a strong and clear message from today's meeting which we can send to the Summit in Johannesburg and to important events beyond Johannesburg, to support all stakeholders in their efforts to strengthen the status of rural women and farmers and promote gender equality in agriculture and rural development to the benefit of all people".

Comment from Winberg: "Thank you and we appreciate what FAO is doing in terms of gender equality, and this is much thanks to you."

Linking Gender, Food Security and the Environment, Rosalina Tuyuc Velásquez, CONAVIGUA, Guatemala6

"In order to guarantee the achievement of food security, it is necessary to combat the current disparities, since there are a lot of people who get sick or die because they eat a lot, and on the other hand there are millions who die because they do not have enough food".

Rosalina Tuyuc Velásquez is the founder and coordinator of the National Coordinator of Widows in Guatemala (CONAVIGUA) - a grassroots organization founded to help the thousands of women, and their families, who lost their husbands during the 36-year civil war. Through CONAVIGUA human rights issues have been brought to the forefront of political debate in Guatemala, and the voices of Guatemala's women and indigenous majority have been put in the country's political agenda. Ms Tuyuc has committed herself tirelessly to the search for justice and in defence of women and indigenous peoples' rights. Ms Tuyuc has been an active spokesperson on several issues crucial to women's rights, especially those for women threatened with violence and human rights abuses, such as the discrimination of indigenous women and their lack of justice. Other important goals in her struggle have been the fight against impunity and militarization. Moreover, Ms Tuyuc has held posts in women associations and trade unions. She has also contributed to create crucial spaces for women organizations and civil society in decision-making processes, also as one of the first Guatemalan women to sit in Congress. During her practise as a Congress Deputy, she also served as Third Vice-president in the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala. She has also been a key personality in the accomplishment of the Guatemalan Peace Agreements. Ms Tuyuc has been awarded several prizes for her fight in favour of women and indigenous people, and has won both national and international awards in Spain, Japan, France and USA.

A fraternal greeting to all of you. I would like to thank you for inviting me to share our thoughts on GENDER, FOOD SECURITY AND THE ENVIRONMENT.

I represent an indigenous Organization of Mayan women and survivor women from the genocide that occurred in Guatemala. Our husbands, fathers and relatives were kidnapped, tortured, missing and abandoned in clandestine cemeteries. We are women who have suffered discrimination, poverty and, in many cases, even extreme poverty. In my country's history there has not been a government interested in investing in women in general, nor in rural women, in particular. We were also considered women unable to contribute to development because we had no access to formal education.

We rural women are the crucial force for human development, despite the fact that public policies have not guaranteed us subsistence, nutrition, health, and just salaries. Our permanent contribution to our household, culture, society, and country has never been valued, nor even recognized.

In Guatemala more than 50% of the population is female, and we struggle to eliminate the huge differences between men and women. Our contribution has been continuous and is characterized by concrete proposals and demands to use and to have access to land and tenure security. We have also demanded access to economic resources to support projects for women in order to achieve food security for us, our sons and our daughters.


We need to understand gender as equal rights for men and women, which means eliminating "machismo", exclusion and imposition, and conceding more spaces of control, management and leadership.

Many people associate gender only with women. Nevertheless we understand that it is also talking about shared responsibilities, work and projects with a consideration of both men and women. If we understand gender in this way, we could share a new future vision with equal opportunities and rights.

Gender means that women have to claim their rights that have been denied to them historically both in legal and practical terms. And here we are discussing how to promote the implementation of the agreements related to the elimination of the inequalities in the use of, access to and control over natural resources.

Nowadays, we are asking for more opportunities to formulate, develop and manage programs that benefit women, and this means that men have to concede more spaces to women. A lot of men think that women are not prepared; nevertheless, we can say that in practice women have demonstrated capacity, honesty, transparency, efficiency and effectiveness in implementing different activities.

I know that there have been some changes in gender issues and that the concept is creating awareness and changing minds, but we need to move further to achieve equality. For many men, it is still hard to understand that gender does not mean women, and that gender is not only a woman's issue. In this regard it is important to highlight the permanent work of thousands of women all over the world and their effort in formulating concrete proposals to eliminate current disparities. Our governments have signed important agreements and conventions. If there were political will to implement them, the development and benefits to women would also be a step towards combating the problems we face in different parts of the world.

If we want to talk about gender, we need to start promoting policies that benefit women, and this does not mean that women just have to be mentioned in programs and projects. To include effectively women in those programs and projects, it is necessary that women fully participate and benefit from development activities. We do not want women suffering hunger; we do not want malnourished women; we want to be builders, and we want to transform our lives with gender equality and equity. Women will continue to promote and pursue a better future.

Poverty, exclusion and hunger are a shame for governments that have never thought of the welfare of their societies. But this new millennium cannot go by without the participation and leadership of women. We are women who have even risked our lives, and we are convinced that the development policies are not going to change without our participation, our work, our dedication.

Women and men need to help each other and be more organized to change inequalities between rich and poor people. Struggling against gender inequality is fundamental to achieve sustainable development, since not only men but also women have made important contributions to the development of our countries.

Food security

This issue is about satisfying hunger. It is widely recognized that food insecurity affects particularly women and children. In addition, women face social exclusion and mistrust. In Guatemala, as in many other Latin American countries, the percentage of female-headed households is increasing as a result of armed conflicts, abandonment and single motherhood. We have a lot of widows as a consequence of violence. Those women live without any support from governments, institutions or donor agencies.

Rural women are therefore often illiterate, malnourished; they do not have a decent house, nor access to resources and receive inadequate salaries for their work. In some communities a number of public and private institutions have implemented projects for women; nevertheless, in some cases, women were not able to repay loans to banks and other credit institutions and so have lost all their personal belongings. They are desperate because they do not have any collateral for repayment of loans.

Women in rural areas, with their hands, produce vegetables and fruits. They are involved in all areas of crop production from seed selection to planting, harvest, storage, processing and marketing. Nonetheless, they face limitations in accessing markets and obtaining just prices for their products and services. Women are responsible for providing food for their families and they also have to guarantee their wellbeing. Moreover, some women farmers face risks in some work places because they are in contact with insecticides and other hazardous products which threaten their health.

Many of you know that Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in Latin America and most of its inhabitants live in extreme poverty. A lot of women, boys and girls die of hunger and malnutrition. This situation affects especially people who live in rural areas and indigenous groups.

But this is not just in Guatemala where boys, girls and women die of hunger. This happens in many Latin American countries where external debt impoverishes poor people and where some governments exacerbate even more the situation by plundering national resources.

Food insecurity, hunger and malnutrition affect the more vulnerable groups, particularly indigenous peoples and women. The situation of indigenous peoples is particularly serious where starvation is widespread. This situation could change if governments and donors were willing to support and invest in women's projects in order to guarantee adequate food supply.

The environment

I have to say that the contribution of rural women to the preservation of the environment stems from our culture, our respect for the earth, for our mother nature. In the history of indigenous peoples, this special consideration for the natural environment has been the cornerstone of the equilibrium among men, women, God and nature. Based on that, thousands of women produce, provide and prepare food for their families based on the relationship and respect for the environment.

Rural women and indigenous groups develop their activities in a sustainable way, although often they have been accused of the depletion of natural resources. They do not know that we have a deep respect for the environment and this means respect for our Mother Nature, for the air, water, sun, moon, rivers, animals and plants.

Women plant and cultivate according to the moon cycle. With our hands we produce and guarantee food for our households and communities, although this effort is not sufficient to achieve food security. Our lands do not produce enough to meet our needs; but better lands are not cultivated, since they are in the hands of people who do not work on them. Our lands are exhausted or even overexploited, but we are aware of our responsibilities in the preservation of our environment.

Unfortunately, technology, globalization and neo-liberal programmes are depleting our scarce resources. We have seen that in the name of development, our environment, our communities and our cultures have been polluted and destroyed.

We are not against development; we are only requesting that development programs guarantee harmony with the environment and respect for our cultures. If these issues are at the root of development policies, then our communities will overcome poverty and underdevelopment, and our environment will provide all the resources necessary to sustain human life.

The harmonious relationship between human beings and the environment depends on ourselves.

Finally, I would like to tell you that I wish there were agreements signed by governments, institutions and civil societies to consider and recognize the contribution of women and indigenous people to food security. I would also like to share with you the following reflections:

  1. It is necessary to guarantee food for women who feed babies because they generate life, and this is food security.

  2. It is right to ask rich countries to avoid producing food for animals, because I believe it is worthy to give that food to poor men, women and children who die of hunger.

  3. It is important to request an agreement to preserve our earth, because it is our mother, our life and a guarantee for producing safe food. We do not have to see the land just as a means of trade and wealth for a few people. We should recognize the equal rights of men and women to access the land, water and our other resources.

  4. It is necessary to respect the right to produce according to our traditions and cultures. But it is also important to recognize that we face problems on how to use and conserve natural resources. If you want to produce food, you need land and money, and poor people do not have money and land. Since we do not have money and land, we cannot produce food nor generate income. If we do not generate income, we do not eat. The result is a vicious circle of hunger and poverty.

  5. In this new millennium it is urgent to call for the right to self determination of peoples, in order to define the best way to use and conserve natural resources to achieve food security and sovereignty.

  6. In order to guarantee the achievement of food security, it is necessary to combat the current disparities, since there are a lot of people who get sick or die because they eat a lot, and on the other hand there are millions who die because they do not have enough food.

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