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Rural Women and Information

by Linda Reinhart*

The role of women in agriculture throughout the world is instrumental. Be it in Africa, Europe, Asia or America, the role women play in contributing to the world's food supply is immeasurable, therefore, women's equal participation in developing policy and implementation of policy is not only a demand for simple justice or democracy but it is a necessary condition for women's interest to be taken into account.

As I have travelled to numerous world conferences and worked with women farmers on voluntary assignments in three countries I have found that agriculture means one thing for a woman in Ukraine and something entirely different for a woman in Kansas. Some women in the world are part of large business ventures, while others are trying to maintain a consistent source of food for their families. But we all share the commonality of being farm women and devoting our lives to our families and food security.

My husband and I are farmers. We own 800 acres of land. We raise grain and have a small cow/calf operation. We are fortunate to have our oldest daughter and her husband living close and helping us on the farm. Like most farmers today, you need to have two incomes to even try to meet expenses. Our daughter is a school counselor. She often times comes home from teaching and gets on a horse to help work cattle. They have two daughters who are 16 and 13, who also help on the farm.

We have two other children, a boy and a girl. Our son is married and has a business of his own in the Kansas City. He has two children who are seven and four. We have a daughter who will soon be married to a farmer in the State of Iowa.

My husband has served 12 years in the Kansas Legislature as a member of the House of Representative

I share this personal background with you so you might see where I am coming from as I share my comments with you today.

How did I, as a farm woman in rural USA become involved in developing policy and rise to decision-making positions at the local, state, national and international level? It wasn't easy and it didn't happen over night.

I give credit to four organizations that have given me the opportunities to have a strong voice for rural women around the world: the American Farm Bureau Federation, the International Federation of Agricultural Producers, Associated Country Women of the World and The Citizens Network for Foreign Affairs.

Let me share with you how I see these organizations empowering women.

Farm Bureau is the largest farm organization in the United States with 4.8 million family members. It is a grassroots organization, it is member driven. Women are playing a major role in policy development. This trend has increased the last 25 years. When I first became woman chair of our local Farm Bureau and on the Board of Directors, the rest of the directors thought my main responsibility was to bake cookies and serve coffee at the monthly board meetings. I informed the directors, at that time they were all men that I wanted to get involved in policy development. We now have women serving in leadership positions such as county presidents, State Farm Bureau Directors, as Chair of the American Farm Bureau Women I serve on the American Farm Bureau Board of Directors.

How do rural women help gather information for policy? It starts by surfacing issues, which affect them on their farms, in their homes and communities. Policy resolutions are drafted. Voting delegates at both state and national meetings vote to approve or reject these resolutions. Women are very much apart of this process. Once approved at the national level, comprehensive strategies are employed to carry out the collective will of Farm Bureau members. Rural women actively participate in the implementation of priority issues. Women in Farm Bureau are addressing issues, taking action and solving problems. Women can be a strong resource if they are allowed to be a part of the process.

International Federation of Agricultural Producers, the recognized worldwide organization of farmers, it groups together 80 national farmers' organizations in 55 countries. The common denominator of this varied group is its attachment to the family farm unit.

IFAP has policy for recognition of the professional status of women farmers and their greater involvement in farmers' organizations. IFAP has a Standing Committee on Women in Agriculture, which I chair. A main objective of the IFAP Committee is to assist women farmers to become equal partners, and not to isolate them.

Networking is a powerful tool, which is an integral part of IFAP. Even though women farmers' situations differ greatly from country to country and even within the same country, common objectives can be found. We can learn much from one another at the global level, and this comes by educating and training one another. Technology has helped in exchange of information with women farmer's representatives all over the world.

World Rural Women's Day was launched at the fourth United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing, China in 1995. World Rural Women's Day is a project of cooperation between Women's World Summit Foundation and IFAP. FAO has welcomed the initiative and given practical support to the celebration. In recognition of the crucial role of women in food production and food security, October 15 every year was designated as World Rural Women's Day. We look forward to continued momentum for the 1999 celebration. The theme for this year is: "Give credit to rural women."

Associated Country Women of the World is the largest international organization for rural women and homemakers and currently has a membership of over six and a half million in more than 60 countries.

ACWW has always worked for equality of women. The aims and objectives are:

CNFA is a not-for profit; nonpartisan organization dedicated to stimulating economic growth and development in the world emerging economies. Through the work of CNFA women in many parts of the world are gaining a stronger voice in the policy process and they are directly involved in the decisions that affect their country, their economy and their future.

Through the CNFA volunteer assignments I have worked with women farmers in Ukraine, Russia and Zimbabwe. I helped rural women establish grassroots committees, work with leaders of private farmers associations and strive to expand women's leadership roles and offer specific women's projects through the Women's Farmers Association.

Through these programs it is rewarding to know that our work will help women farmers compete in the economic mainstream and make progress on the gender dimension of food security.

All of the organizations that I have talked about this morning participated at the 2nd International Conference on Women in Agriculture in Washington, D.C. U.S.A. summer of 1998, which was sponsored by President Clinton's Interagency Council on Women.

Delegates identified issues and concerns that challenge the economic security, the health and the quality of life of women in agriculture and their families. It is planned to hold The Third ICWA in Spain in 2002.

IFAP is looking forward to participating in the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, June 2000, to review progress in implementing the "UN Platform of Action" follow up after the 1995 Beijing Conference. The theme will be "Women 2000 - gender equality, development and peace for the 21st century."

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to participate on this panel.

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