United Nations


General Assembly
Economic and Social Council

Distr. GENERAL  

28 June 1995


Fiftieth session  Substantive session of 1995
Item 109 of the preliminary list*  Item 5 (e) of the
ADVANCEMENT OF WOMEN    provisional agenda**

Improvement of the situation of women in rural areas

Report of the Secretary-General

1.   In its  resolution 48/109  of 20  December 1993,  the General  Assembly
requested the  Secretary General to  prepare a report on  the improvement of
the  situation of  women  in rural  areas  and  to  submit it,  through  the
Economic and  Social  Council, to  the  Assembly  at its  fiftieth  session.
Reports on  the  subject  have  been  submitted  to  the  Assembly  in  1985
(A/40/239 and Add.1), 1989 (A/44/516) and 1993 (A/48/187-E/1993/76).

2.   The issue  of rural women  has been on  the international  agenda for a
long time.  It has been addressed in  various conferences and agreements, as
reflected in the final  documents of the three World Conferences on Women in
1975,  1980 and  1985, the  World Conference  on Agrarian  Reform  and Rural
Development, in  1979, the World  Summit for Children,  in 1990, the  United
Nations  Conference  on Environment  and  Development,  in 1992,  the  World
Conference on Human  Rights and  the International Conference on  Population
and Development,  in 1994, and the  World Summit for  Social Development, in
1995.  It was considered  at the Summit on the Economic Advancement of Rural
Women, organized in 1992 under the auspices


  *  A/50/50/Rev.1.

    **  E/1995/100.
95-19334 (E)   120795/...
 of  the International  Fund for  Agricultural  Development (IFAD).   Issues
related  to rural  women  can be  found  throughout the  critical  areas  of
concern in the draft Platform  for Action to be adopted at the Fourth  World
Conference  on Women.  Considerable  information has  thus  been  collected,
analysed  and presented  over the  past two  decades about  the situation of
women in rural areas.

3.  The  report requested by the General  Assembly will seek to update  that
information, taking into account a number  of new and emerging  perspectives
on the issue.   Because much of the information  on which the  analysis will
be based  is only  recently becoming  available, the  present report  to the
Economic and Social Council is an interim one, setting out the approach  and
method of  analysis being employed.   The full  report will  be submitted to
the  General Assembly, taking  into account the views  that may be expressed
by the Council.

4.  Over the past decade, there has been no radical change  in the situation
of rural  women and the types of actions necessary to improve it.  In policy
terms, there is a general consensus about what  should be done, as expressed
in the reports of international conferences  and the resolutions adopted  by
intergovernmental bodies and expert seminars and meetings.  These include:

  (a)  Access to land, capital/credit, technology;

  (b)Access to gainful employment;

  (c)Support for non-agricultural activities;

  (d)Access to markets;

  (e)At least a minimum level of social infrastructure;

  (f)Availability of basic health and family planning services;

  (g)  Access to education, including  adult education, aimed at eliminating

  (h)Access to water, electricity, energy resources;

  (i)    Social  support measures,  e.g., child-care  facilities  and social

  (j)Access to decision-making at all levels;

  (k)  Empowerment of women;

  (l)Community organization and training.

5.   These affirmations have  been made  in various  ways over  the past  20
years. There is considerable  evidence that, as is  the case with the global
economy  as  a  whole  and  with  developing  countries  in  general,  rural
societies are undergoing fundamental changes.

 6.   Demographic projections  now suggest  that some  time around the  year
2006, half of the world's  population will be living in urban areas and  the
proportion of women living in rural areas will  continue to decline globally
as it has in some regions already.

7.  The  importance of rural  women in the  next century will  rest more  on
their impact  on the economy and society  than on their numbers.  It will be
related to their  contribution to food security  and to economic  growth, as
well as to the maintenance of social cohesion.

8.  Taking into account previous analyses, the  report will seek to  examine
the trends that will  affect the status  of rural women in the  twenty-first
century.  The analysis will centre on  the changes in the world  in terms of
urbanization,  environmental   protection,  globalization   of  trade,   the
information  revolution  and  the  consequences  of  women  achieving  equal
rights.   It will outline the situation  of rural women on the  brink of the
next century and suggest policy  issues that will have to  be addressed.  In
so doing,  it will  compare the  situation of  women in countries  that have
experienced significant economic  growth with those  in countries  that have
had slower growth.

9.    Urbanization  is a  universal phenomenon.    Urban growth  occurs both
because of  natural growth in urban  populations and  because of rural-urban
migration.    In  the  early  stages,  migration  is  the  dominant  factor.
Migration is not gender  neutral.  It is the gender difference in  migration
that can determine the situation of rural women.

10.  With  the rural male exodus, women  remain alone to  raise children and
provide care  for the elderly.   When they  lack the right  to ownership  of
land or  livestock or when  they have  to depend on the  remittances of male
migrants, poverty  is  often a  consequence.    However, when  migration  is
predominantly female, the pattern is different.

11.   There is  growing evidence  that in low-growth  areas, it  is men  who
migrate, while  in high-growth  areas, women  migrate, particularly  younger
women.   This can  be seen in the  table, which shows the  ratio of women to
men in urban  and rural areas among the young adult cohorts. 1/   In regions
that  have experienced greater  and more  rapid economic  growth, it appears
that  post-school-age  women  migrate  at  a  greater rate  than  men.    In
countries  that have  had less  growth, it is  young men who  have been more
likely to migrate.

12.   The patterns  of rural-to-urban migration  observed in  each of  these
regions are  consistent with  regional trends  in economic development  with
respect to  trade orientation, the inflow  of foreign  direct investment and
the  type of employment  in export-processing  industries.   The creation of
export-processing  zones in  the context  of export-promotion  policies  has
undoubtedly  contributed to  fostering female migration from  rural to urban
areas  in  the first  and  second  generation  of  the newly  industrialized
economies of East and South-East Asia and Latin American and the Caribbean.

13.   Migration has  effects on the  rural economy generally  and on  gender
relations which need  to be examined.   On the one hand,  male migration can
undercut  agriculture when food  production is  affected by traditional sex-
based divisions  of labour and when  women lack access to credit, technology
and markets.   On  the other  hand, female  migration can erode  traditional
systems as  migrants take  on new  urban  values, institutions  such as  the
extended family become less effective because  of physical distance and kin-
based obligations become less important.  At the same time remittances  from
migrants can become a significant part of the rural economy.

Table 1.  Ratio of women to men in total, urban and rural
          population (1990 census round)                

(Number of women for each 100 men)

RegionAge groupTotal
109.7Latin America15-19
88.2Western Europe15-19
86.5Asia and Pacific15-19
96.9East Asia15-19
86.4South-East Asia15-19
98.2Eastern Europe15-19
  Source:  Women's  Indicators and Statistics Database (WISTAT), version  3,

14.  The interaction between sex-specific  migration and rural society  will
be examined as a major theme of the report.

15.    The  transformation  of  societies  towards  an  urban  base provides
opportunities  as well as  problems.   The strategic role of  rural areas in
the  production of  food  becomes more  important and  can  be a  source  of
growth, since  an increasing  share of production  will have to  be marketed
rather than  selfconsumed.   Moreover, the  increase in  cash income of  the
rural population  can  provide a  stimulus  for  the urban  economy  through
increases in  consumption of  basic goods.   Owing to  the fact  that, in  a
large  number  of  the  developing  countries,  women  predominate  in  food
production and  marketing, this  should provide  enhanced opportunities  for
rural women.
  16.   The  concept  of  food security  has been  evolving over  time, from
understanding food security as simply supply  and sufficiency at the  global
and national levels,  to focus on access to  food and the ability to acquire
it not only on the  global or national level but  also at the  household and
individual levels.   The   Food and  Agriculture Organization of  the United
Nations defines food security as ensuring that all  people at all times have
both physical and economic access to the basic food they need.

17.     The  concept   of  sustainable   food  security   also  implies  the
consideration of such issues as income  and land distribution, fertility and
population, as well as the environment.

18.  It is  recognized that rural  women are responsible for producing  more
than half  of the developing world's  food supply.   In Africa alone,  women
produce  an estimated  70 per  cent  of the  continent's food  and  purchase
nearly all the  food consumed  by their families.   In North Africa and  the
Middle  East, women's heavy  involvement in  the livestock  sector and their
labour  in  family  fields  results  in  significant  contributions  to food
supplies.   In Asia,  there  is  a tendency  for women  to work  with  their
husbands  in family fields  and/or provide  family food  supplies from their
incomes  earned in  wage labour  or  in  off-farm micro-enterprises.   Rural
women in Latin  America also harvest and process food crops, raise livestock
and participate in income-generating activities.   Poor households are  even
more  dependent  on  women's  involvement  in  the  production,  processing,
storage and purchasing of  food.  Women's capacities  to produce food and to
generate income to purchase food are critical for the survival of  families.
There is  growing  evidence that  women allocate  a greater  share of  their
incomes to food purchase  then do men.  Children in female-headed households
are often better nourished.

19.  Food security  is related to economic  growth, and growth in production
is closely linked to the role of rural women in the development process.

20.   This aspect of the  situation of rural  women will be the second major
theme of the report.


  1/   There are few global  indicators of rural/urban  migration.  However,
an estimate  of the  gender composition of  migration can be  seen from  the
ratio of  women to  men  in urban  and  rural  populations compared  to  the
national average. If there  are more men than  the national average in urban
areas, the migration has been primarily of males.   If there are more  women
than  the national average in  urban areas, migration  has been primarily of



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Date last posted: 18 December 1999 16:30:10
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