Population People

Posted April 2000

Population and gender in rural societies from the perspective of FAO's Population Programme


Population and gender issues are intrinsically linked to environmental sustainability and food security. An understanding of these linkages is a key to planning for sustainable development. The purpose of this note is to clarify how a population and gender perspective may contribute to a better understanding of rural development and food security, and how this perspective is being integrated by FAO's Population Programme Service.

The FAO Population Programme's approach to gender and population

FAO's Population Programme Service is approaching gender and population issues in their interactions with agricultural production and organization, land access and land tenure, environment and environmental issues, forestry and fishery. This approach is in line with the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) Programme of Action and the World Food Summit (WFS) Plan of Action, both of which highlighted the importance of a holistic and interdisciplinary perspective on population and development issues.

There is an increasing awareness that in order to adequately address "gender problems" it is necessary to take into consideration the system of gender relations, in which inequalities are generated, developed and reproduced. Gender is culturally ascribed through a system of social, economic, political and historic relations and these relations shape gender, population and development interactions. In order to be able to fully grasp gender relations, we have to target this broader system, as illustrated in the figure below:

This system of influence on gender is as important as the gender relations themselves for interventions regarding population and development.

A selected example: the HIV/AIDS pandemic in rural communities

The AIDS pandemic is not only a health problem. Among development agencies the pandemic is increasingly regarded as an important, crosscutting developmental issue which requires a multisectoral and multidisciplinary perspective to understand it and to intervene effectively. FAO's primary work in the area of AIDS and agriculture has shown that the HIV/AIDS pandemic exacerbates existing obstacles to sustainable agricultural production and increases food insecurity, with different impact on each gender according to their role in the household and community. The sickness and death of working adults affect the total labour available in a farm household and its division between adults and children, as well as between men and women. According to the gender system, women, who are the traditional care givers, spend a considerable amount of time taking care of the AIDS patients and the supply of agricultural labour for specific tasks is significantly reduced.

In many patrilineal African communities, the cultural custom of lévirat dictates that if a woman becomes a widow, she has to remarry one of her husband's brothers. This custom allows the woman to continue having access to land and food security, otherwise she has to leave the lineage on the death of her husband. Land inheritance patterns are intrinsically related to the gender system. With the AIDS epidemic, this custom has become a risk multiplier, given that the husband might have died of AIDS. Addressing the inequalities in the access to land by men and women (and not only the lévirat custom) will have a positive effect on limiting the spread of AIDS.

An appropriate response to HIV/AIDS should thus take into consideration the gender system and the specific development context in which this system is generated, which, at least partially, determines the extent and nature of the impact of the pandemic. In order to reduce the vulnerability of rural populations, and the effects of the pandemic on food security, sustainable development and rural development policies and programmes need to take into account socio-cultural and economic factors such as land tenure patterns, inheritance practices, access to, as well as use and management of, productive and non-productive resources.


Selected publications on gender and population from FAO's Population Programme Service

Gender and development: Why do we still have problems in population programmes after all these years? by Marcela Villarreal and Jacques du Guerny, February 2000.*

Report of the TSS thematic workshop on Male Involvement in sexual and reproductive health programmes and services, Rome, Italy, 9-13 November 1998, by Françoise Ghorayeb, Marcela Villarreal and Malika Ladjali.*

Male involvement in reproductive health: incorporating gender throughout the life cycle, UNFPA Technical Support Services System, Occasional Paper Series No. 1, FAO, WHO, UNESCO, ILO, June 1998.*

Gender and sustainability: re-assessing linkages and issues, by George Martine and Marcela Villarreal. June 1997 (also published in Working Paper Series, no.97.11, Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies, Harvard School of Public Health).

The feminization of poverty: facts, hypotheses, and the art of advocacy, by Alain Marcoux. June 1997 (also published in Population Development Review, Vol. 24, no.1, March 1998, under the title of "The Feminization of Poverty: Claims, Facts, and Data Needs").*

Rural women, population and development in Lusophone African countries, an annotated bibliography of selected literature in Portuguese language 1991-1996.*

Modules on gender, population & rural development with a focus on land tenure & farming systems, November 1995 (also in French).*

Women, population and environment in agricultural rural development - policy challenges and responses, by Zoran Roca. July 1994.*

Integration of gender, environmental, population education and sustainable development themes into agricultural education and extension programmes, by Erich G. Baier, October 1994.*

*Available on the Internet at the following address: http//www.undp.org/popin/fao/faohome.htm
A limited number of print publications are also available.

For further information contact:

Population Programme Service (SDWP)
Sustainable Development Department (SD)
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations
Phone: +39 06 570 54852
Fax: +39 06 570 5549
E-mail: SDWP-Chief@fao.org

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