At the World Food Summit in Rome this week, experts emphasized the critical role of women in mitigating world hunger. In most developing countries, women produce 80 percent of basic foodstuffsÑincluding those for consumption as well as sale. For example, women in Africa perform 80 percent of the farm work and women in agriculture represent nearly 80 percent of economically active women in India. “Without women, the target we set in 1996 to halve world hunger by 2015 will not only remain elusive, it will become absolutely impossible to attain,” said Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations Director General Jacques Diouf, whose group organized the summit.
According to Vandana Shiva, a member of India’s Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology, “There is a blindness in the world’s approach to tackling hunger and it is a blindness that ignores the third world’s knowledge, ignores indigenous knowledge and ignores the knowledge of women.” Though women are essential to food production in the developing world, they continue to face discrimination and prohibitive gender inequalities. For example, women own only 1 percent of all land in developing countries.
FAO Director of Gender and Population Division Sissel Ekaas told Summit attendees that the organization last winter approved a new gender and development plan of action for the next five years. The plan calls for gender equality in access to food, resources, agricultural services, employment, and agricultural policymaking. Swedish Agriculture Minister Margareta Winberg was among several speakers who urged countries to utilize CEDAW, the UN’s international treaty for women’s rights, in improving conditions and access for women in rural areas. “The leaders of the world are starting to see the crucial role women can play if they are allowed to do it,” she said. “But there’s a long way to go. A very long way to go.”