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The Role of Information

I. Relationship between Food Security and Information

II. Strategy for Action: goals, context, stakeholders, principles

III. Goal 1: Generate useful information about rural women for decision-making purposes

IV. Goal 2: Publicize rural women's contribution to food security

V. Goal 3: Strengthen communication channels between rural populations and decision-makers

VI. Implementation of the Strategy for Action

This Strategy for Action is being submitted for consideration and debate to the participants at the High-Level Consultation on Rural Women and Information. The opinions expressed will help FAO and its Members to achieve their aims of food security and sustainable development. Participants may make recommendations to FAO, should they consider this necessary.



1. For the last two decades, the issues of sustainable development and recognition of the part played by women in economic development have been attracting the growing interest of civil society, international organizations and governments. Furthermore, the end of this century has seen the birth of the information and communications era. The diversity of information and the speed at which it circulates have influenced the mechanisms of social control and regulation. Nevertheless, population groups who have no access to the flow of information are usually ignored in decision-making processes.

2. All the most recent international conferences, including the World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995 and the World Food Summit held in Rome in 1996, have examined these issues and analysed the relationship between sustainable development, food security, gender equality and information. It has been acknowledged that:

3. Indeed, communities engaged in subsistence farming often have little access to resources, be they productive (land, water, credit, extension services, training, etc), social (health, education, etc), political (management and decision-making) or economic (employment, wages, etc). In many countries, the rural population is the main food producer, yet it receives least recognition in the decision-making process and is the most deprived section of the population with the highest exposure to food insecurity1. Women farmers are still the worst affected by these constraints although, in the developing countries, they produce over half of the food crops2. Recent studies conducted in some countries showed that unequal access to the factors of production was impeding a rise in agricultural production3.

4. The above-mentioned conferences also discussed methods of policy planning and assessment. It was emphasized that better information about human resources, their situation, roles and responsibilities was crucial when it came to formulating policies. It was noted that policy was frequently formulated on the basis of the misconception that everyone's needs and interests were similar. Situation assessment and analysis of production systems, defining action priorities and resource allocation, therefore disregarded the differences in and complementarity of the tasks undertaken by men and women.

5. Several international fora have likewise examined the role of the media in disseminating information about women. It was noted that the image of women put across by the media was usually confined to their traditional reproductive role and was sometimes even negative, especially in commercial or advertising messages. Technological progress in the sphere of information could, however, offer a means of furthering the advancement of women.

6. In conclusion, policy-makers do not have enough information about the economic contribution of men and women and their respective social roles to be able to appreciate the scope and impact they have. Given that information is a decision-maker's tool, it is a matter of urgency that governments should have at their disposal appropriate data and should be able to collect, analyse and check the validity of the information in order to determine economic and social priorities and decide on investments and action to be taken.


7. Goals. Given that information about the relationship between the roles and responsibilities of men and women is essential if the status of rural women is to be improved, the aim of the Strategy for Action is to supply decision-makers and planners with guidance as to how to obtain more detailed information about the economic and social contribution made by men and women farmers to agricultural production and rural development. This information must assist decision-making with a view to directing resources to the people who play a role in food security.

8. Context. This Strategy falls within the framework of follow-up to the World Food Summit and amplifies one of the areas of the Plan of Action for Women in Development, which was approved in 19954, namely that which relates to the availability, accuracy and use of quantitative and qualitative data and information about rural women. It also consolidates the other lines of action in the Plan: development and use of methodologies; enhancement of rural women's skills; and support for the formulation of gender-sensitive policies.

9. Stakeholders. The stakeholders concerned by the Strategy for Action include a wide spectrum of institutions ranging from civil society organizations to development agencies, as well as individuals and private enterprise. Each of the parties may be involved in the production, or the dissemination or the use of information, or sometimes in more than one function. Nevertheless, in the policy formulation process, regardless of whether it is decentralized, main stakeholders can be identified for each function:

10. Principles: The Strategy for Action is governed by the following principles:


11. More detailed, gender-specific information, that is to say data on men and on women, must be gathered in order to reduce disparities and extend women's participation in the development process. This presupposes greater availability of gender-disaggregated statistics and indicators showing the value and nature of the work done by men and women and changes (trends and prospects) in terms of access to and control over resources.

12. Analysis is required in order to clearly demonstrate the relationship between increased agricultural productivity and equal access to production resources. It will be possible to embark on this work only if decision-makers and stakeholders are really convinced of the usefulness of having information on rural women and if working methods are thoroughly reviewed. A higher return on the investments made in the improvement of agricultural production depends on this.

13. The first step is the consolidation of the skills and knowledge of both decision-makers and producers of information regarding the importance of taking into account women and their crucial contribution to the rural and agricultural economy, and the way in which this is recorded. Training in the use of participatory methods is also required.

14. Furthermore, in order to optimize its value, gender-specific information must be generated within the official information production systems, such as agricultural censuses and surveys. Needs must be analysed along with the response capability of current methods and tools employed for collecting, processing and analysing information. This exercise is necessary in order to review information production processes and introduce innovations so as to assess the work performed by men and women and evaluate their contribution.

15. For this review, the combination of interdisciplinary skills in the economic and social fields will help identify requirements more clearly and, at the same time, employ complimentary methods of research, analysis and dissemination of information.

16. For the dissemination of information, from the very outset, producers (statisticians, researchers, development specialists, etc) and users (planners, development agents, etc) must meet so as to identify needs, shortcomings and the mode of presenting and disseminating findings.

17. The following action will have to be taken:

Immediate measures:

More long-term measures:


18. Advances in information technology have facilitated the large-scale transmission of information. Nevertheless, the media do not give sufficient prominence to the true contribution made by women to the economy and society. Information about women is often sporadic, its content is frequently fragmentary and the message, which is poorly targeted in terms of its audience, is often rather superficial.

19. Nevertheless, when major occasions, particular dates or outstanding events occur, the media have focused on the societal issues raised by the status of women. Thus, they have contributed frequently to alert the general public to, and made policy-makers aware of the fact that the world must recognize that women are fully-fledged economic and social actors.

20. Furthermore, although the amount of information about rural women has grown in recent years, little of it has trickled through to the general public, or is poorly disseminated, partly because it has to compete with numerous other information in circulation, which forces the media to choose what information to pass on. Only items that can be exploited and that carry a clear rousing message pass through such screening.

21. The media are influential in forging public opinion and steering political decisions. Social pressure fuelled by the spread of information is a force which decision-makers can no longer ignore. The media constitute a powerful potential vehicle for making the general public aware of the crucial contributions made by rural women to agricultural and the economy, highlighting constraints and orienting social and economic measures. Many societies still have to stamp out certain forms of discrimination so as to secure fair access to resources, guarantee the equal distribution of the benefits of development and ensure equal representation in decision-making bodies.

22. The following action will have to be taken:

Immediate measures:

More long-term measures:


23. Information is not only a tool for decision-makers, it is also a resource for rural women and populations and policy-makers, as shared access to information is a prerequisite for informed decision-making. Interactive communication between decision-makers and the rural population makes it possible to establish a dialogue, exchange points of view and reach a consensus. It facilitates the formulation of policies that are acceptable and closer in line with the interests of all concerned.

24. Rural women, for example, possess traditional and modern knowledge enabling them to conserve the resource base and to be innovative. Their strategies can be very useful in designing development mechanisms and hence to planners and policy-makers, especially in a context of dwindling resources.

25. The two-way flow of this information can be eased by civil society organizations whose field of action and working methods foster dialogue between rural populations and policy-makers. Moreover, since the language and modes of communication used by decision-makers and the population are not necessarily mutually comprehensible and accessible, civil society organizations can often act as mediators and presenters of information.

26. The following action will have to be taken:

Immediate measures:

More long-term measures:


27. The review and discussion of the Strategy for Action by the High-Level Consultation on Rural Women and Information constitute the first step towards its implementation. This, in the expectation that it will elicit heightened awareness among policy-makers of the importance of gender equality with respect to food security and their support for dealing with information needs in a manner which seeks to take into account women in the development process.

28. Implementation falls within the framework of follow-up to the World Food Summit. In the year 2000, the conclusions of the High-Level Consultation on Rural Women and Information and the first results obtained from the implementation of this Strategy for Action will be analysed and considered for the purposes of the mid-term evaluation of the Platform of Action of the World Conference on Women («Beijing + 5»). In 2001, the year in which the FAO Plan of Action for Women in Development will be completed, the progress achieved in the execution of the measures mapped out in this Strategy for Action will be of great significance for the formulation of the next plan of action.

29. Implementation of the Strategy for Action depends on the priorities of FAO Members. Many countries have already launched activities to improve information about rural women. The continuation of these activities and their strengthening is of fundamental importance. FAO, in collaboration with its Members and at their request, will provide advice, opinions and guidance, diffuse methodological guidelines and supply technical assistance to develop strategies, methods and tools for the production of gender-disaggregated information. It will thus perform its appointed normative functions in the knowledge that its role is not to produce, but rather to collect, process and disseminate information on rural women.

30. In support of this normative function and provided that it has sufficient funds, the FAO will aim to:



1 FAO, 1998, Rural women and food security: current situation and perspectives. Rome.

2 FAO, 1995, A fairer future for rural women. Rome.

3 World Bank, 1999, Gender, growth and poverty reduction. 1998 Report on poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. For example in Burkina Faso, production could be boosted by 10 to 20 per cent if, within each household, resources were shared between the men's plots and those of the women; in Kenya, the harvests from women's plots could go up by more than 20 per cent if men and women had identical inputs.

4 FAO, 1995, FAO Plan of Action Women in Development. Conference, C 95/14-Sup.1-Rev.1. Rome.

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