UN Women and the three Rome-based United Nations agencies working on food and agriculture today launched a joint programme to empower poor rural women through economic integration and food security initiatives.
The programme, Accelerating Progress Toward the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women, is a five-year initiative of the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and the World Food Programme (WFP). It will be implemented initially in Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Nepal, Niger and Rwanda.
"When women are empowered and can claim their rights and access to land, leadership, opportunities and choices, economies grow, food security is enhanced and prospects are improved for current and future generations," said Michelle Bachelet, Under-Secretary-General and UN Women Executive Director.
Women are central to the development of rural areas and to national economies. They make up 43 per cent of the agricultural work force worldwide, and as much as 70 per cent in some countries. Often working longer hours than men, rural women are also the caregivers who look after children, the elderly, and the sick. In addition, many rural women are small business entrepreneurs and investors who dedicate most of their earnings to the well-being of their families and societies.
But despite some progress, most rural women and girls are still struggling. They typically face more obstacles than men in gaining access to public services, social protection, decent employment opportunities, and markets and other institutions.
If women had the same access to resources as men, they could increase farm yields. When women are empowered - economically and socially - they become leaders and agents of change for economic growth, social progress and sustainable development.
To address these issues, the joint programme will focus on four goals: improving food and nutrition security, increasing incomes, enhancing leadership and participation in rural institutions, and creating a more responsive policy environment at national and international levels.
Together, UN Women, FAO, IFAD and WFP will generate synergies that capitalize on each agency's mandate to advance gender equality.
Gender equality and rural women's empowerment are central to FAO's mandate to achieve food security for all. FAO works with governments and other partners to raise levels of nutrition, better the lives of rural populations, and improve agricultural productivity while contributing to the growth of the world economy. With FAO's support to national governments, several countries have adopted national food and agricultural policies and action plans that fully integrate women's and men's needs.
FAO works with national statistical offices in the collection, analysis and use of gender disaggregated data to give more visibility to rural women's economic and agricultural contributions. As a leader of several global food and nutrition initiatives, such as the Committee on World Food Security, the Alliance Against Hunger and Malnutrition and the Improved Global Governance for Hunger Reduction, FAO works to ensure that gender equality and women's empowerment are prominently featured in international debates and actions.
Gender equality and women's empowerment have been at the core of IFAD's efforts to reduce rural poverty and improve food and nutrition security since its founding in 1978. Through its loans and grants portfolio, IFAD works with smallholder farmers, many of whom are women. Results reported in 2011 showed that 19 million poor rural women participated in IFAD-supported programmes and projects. Women made up 60 percent of all people trained in business and entrepreneurship, and in community management topics, and accounted for more than 50 percent of users of rural financial services.
IFAD's loan programme regularly works on a bi-lateral basis with initiatives of the other agencies, such as FAO's Farmer Field Schools, WFP's Purchase for Progress and Food for Work programmes, and UN Women's leadership and capacity-building efforts.
In 2011, WFP provided assistance to 83 million women and children. WFP puts women at the centre of its efforts to fight hunger and malnutrition emphasising the importance of nutrition in the critical, first 1,000 days of life from the moment of conception. Purchase for Progress (P4P) helps smallholder farmers, particularly women, become competitive players in the marketplace by producing food for sale and for use in WFP programmes. Projects such as cereal banks and village granaries, where women play an important role, help whole communities manage their resources and get through times when food is scarce.
WFP works in partnership to build capacity with national governments, non-governmental organisations, private sector companies, small-scale farmers and all members of the community to empower rural woman. For experience has shown that in the hands of women, food is most likely to reach the mouths of children in need.
UN Women is the UN organization dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women. A global champion for women and girls, UN Women was established to accelerate progress on meeting their needs worldwide. It stands behind women's equal participation in all aspects of life, focusing on five priority areas: increasing women's leadership and participation; ending violence against women; engaging women in all aspects of peace and security processes; enhancing women's economic empowerment; and making gender equality central to national development planning and budgeting. UN Women also coordinates and promotes the UN system's work in advancing gender equality.
The project launch with President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (New York, 27 September, 1 p.m.)