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

Event objective:

The purpose of this side event 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 could also be transmitted to the World Summit on Sustainable Development, to be held this year in Johannesburg from 26 August to 4 September.


There is a broad consensus that rural women, the majority of whom are farmers, are crucial partners in the fight against hunger and poverty. This is reflected in a large number of international commitments and agreements. There are several instruments available to enhance the status of rural women and promote gender equality in agriculture and rural development. For example, the FAO Gender and Development Plan of Action (2002-2007) aims to promote gender equality in access to and control of resources, broadly defined as food, natural resources, agricultural support services, decision-making, and employment opportunities.

Moreover, Article 14 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)gopher://, 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 areas. 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. To achieve commitments made in CEDAW, policies and strategies need to be developed to shape an enabling environment for the advancement of rural women, including training, access to production-related services and labour-saving technologies to free up time for their increased representation and participation in relevant decision-making bodies.

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 Goals on reducing hunger and poverty by half by the year 2015. It is widely recognized that the achievement of this goal in rural areas, where 70 percent of the poor live, is related to the access, control, and sharing of benefits from natural resources. 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).

The UN Millennium Development Goals have also brought renewed attention to the importance of measuring progress made in development. For this purpose there is need for gender-sensitive indicators. This was a key recommendation emerging also from the FAO 1999 High-Level Consultation on Rural Women and Information.

Despite all these commitments and recommendations, rural women are still under-represented in decision-making processes and are often "missed targets" in the design, implementation and monitoring of rural development policies and programmes. This poses severe constraints to the effectiveness, equality and sustainability of development response strategies and programmes.

Points for discussion:

To enhance the status of rural women and promote gender equality in agriculture and rural development the discussions will focus on two key areas: 1) the equal access to and control of natural and productive resources; and 2) the full participation of rural women in policy making at all levels and throughout development activities.

The implementation of actions in these areas, and the development and use of gender-sensitive indicators in monitoring and evaluation of progress made, will require broad-based North-South and South-South partnerships, and involve both Governmental and Non-Governmental stakeholders and Civil Society, including rural women and men themselves, media and other actors who work towards the common goal of assuring sustainable development and food security to the benefit of all people.

The half-day side event will be open to all officially accredited delegates of participating countries and observer organizations to the World Food Summit: five years later. The format of the event is a panel discussion followed by open dialogue with delegates in the audience.
The event will be chaired by H.E. Margareta Winberg, Minister for Agriculture, Food and Fisheries, Sweden, and co-chaired by H.E. Thoko Didiza, Minister for Agriculture and Land Affairs, South Africa. Two specially invited speakers (Rosalina Tuyuc Velázquez, Guatemala and Vandana Shiva, India) will share their views and stimulate the discussion.


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FAO, 2002