Empowering Rural Women and Food Security

Date: Friday, September 23, 2011

Closing Remarks of Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women at the open dialogue on “Empowering Rural Women for Food and Nutrition Security on the occasion of the sixty sixth session of the United Nations general assembly, New York, 22 September 2011.

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On behalf of UN Women and the World Food Programme, I would like to thank our moderator, Christiane Amanpour, and the panelists and all of you for participating in this session on rural women and food security.

My many expert colleagues have given you a very full picture of the challenges countries face in terms of food security. They have also made a convincing case that the best way to address these challenges is to empower rural women.

We've heard that the problem is not one of too little food, but of poor distribution—not only of food products but of support for those who produce it and of the policies that control where it ends up.

The Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that giving women the same access as men to agricultural resources could increase their farm production by 20 to 30 percent, raising agricultural production in developing countries by up to 4 percent. It would also mean 100 to 150 million fewer people going hungry.

Food security is a household as well as a national imperative. Some women have sought to cope by skipping meals, usually more often than men, to feed their children, switching to cheaper and less nutritious food and selling off their assets.

For these and other reasons, it is important to make sure that women have equal access to opportunities, and land and credit and other resources.

Ensuring women's access to land and other resources requires changes in laws and institutions as well as constant and informed advocacy and training. For this, we need supportive public policies, engagement of community organizations, and innovative partnerships with the private sector.

The international community can play an important role in terms of financial support to rural development and the agricultural sector. Statistics provided by OECD-DAC show that of the $7.5 billion in funding allocated to agriculture and rural development in 2008-2009, only 3 per cent of the amount screened for gender focus was allocated to programmes in which gender equality was a principal aim and 32 per cent to those in which gender equality was a secondary aim.

So more needs to be done to prioritize women and gender equality in international funding for agricultural and rural development.

In closing, I would like to announce a new agreement of action between the World Food Programme and UN Women.

Through UN Women's strength and advocacy and WFP's operational presence and access to remote populations, we will work with countries to achieve food and nutrition security. Today we commit to support women-led associations and small-scale businesses to supply home grown school meals in low income and food insecure countries, including strengthening their capacities in business and management skills.

We will provide income generating opportunities to women through food and nutrition interventions, and support low income and food insecure countries to integrate gender into their food, agriculture and nutrition policies.

We pledge to increase female enrolment in primary and secondary schools in the poorest, most food-insecure regions of the world. To reduce the unpaid work burden on and improve the safety of women and girls in volatile situations in food insecure countries, we will improve women's access to fuel-efficient stoves. And to enhance women's control and management of local food security reserves, UN Women and WFP will support women to establish and manage community granaries in food insecure countries.

I thank you.