United Nations


General Assembly
Economic and Social Council

Distr. GENERAL  

28 September 1995


Fiftieth session  Substantive session of 1995
Agenda item 107  Agenda item 5 (e)

Improvement of the situation of women in rural areas

Report of the Secretary-General


  Paragraphs  Page

  I.  INTRODUCTION ........................................  1 - 72


  A.  Changes in the global economy ...................  10 - 144

  B.  Urbanization ....................................  15 - 205

  C.  Food security ...................................  21 - 257


  A.  Labour availability and use .....................  29 - 318

  B.  Intra-household relations .......................  32 - 419

  C.  Land distribution and income ....................  42 - 4811

  D.  Protection and regeneration of the resource base  49 - 5412


  V.  CONCLUSIONS .........................................  66 - 6915

95-29235 (E)  171095/...
 /...  A/50/257/Rev.1

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  of the International  Fund for
Agricultural  Development (IFAD).   Issues  related  to  rural women  can be
found throughout the  critical areas of concern  in the Platform for  Action
adopted  at   the  Fourth   World  Conference  on  Women.   1/  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  seeks to  update that
information, taking into account a number  of new and emerging  perspectives
on the issue.   Over the past decade,  there has  been no radical change  in
the  issues relating to  rural women  and the types of  actions necessary to
address them.   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.

4.   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 beginning to undergo fundamental changes.

5.  Demographic projections  now suggest that 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.

6.   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.

7.  Taking into  account previous analyses, the report seeks to examine  the
trends  that will  affect the  status  of rural  women in  the  twenty-first
century. The  analysis centres on the changes  in the world  in terms of the
patterns of  growth in  the global economy,  urbanization and  environmental
degradation.  It then examines two issues that  are of growing, but somewhat
unrecognized  importance, for rural women:  food security  and the impact of
rural-urban migration.


8.   Rural women  the world  over are  an integral  and vital  force in  the
development processes  that are the key  to socio-economic  progress.  Rural
women  include  farmers,  as  well as  domestic  servants.   They  form  the
backbone of  the agricultural  labour force  across much  of the  developing
world and produce  an estimated  35 to  45 per  cent of  the gross  domestic
product and well over half  of the developing world's food.  Yet, more  than
half  a billion  rural  women  are poor  and  lack access  to resources  and
markets.   In fact, their number  is estimated to  have increased  by 50 per
cent  over the past  20 years and, at the  present time, they outnumber poor

9.  The situation of rural  women is beginning to be affected by the growing
interdependence  of  the  global   economy,  by  urbanization   and  by  the
increasing concern with food security.

 A.  Changes in the global economy

10.   As has been  shown in the  1994 World  Survey on the Role  of Women in
Development 2/ and  in the second review and appraisal of the implementation
of the  Nairobi  Forward-looking Strategies  for the  Advancement of  Women,
changes in  the  global economy  have  had  a noticeable  gender  dimension.
There  has been  recovery  in  some  parts  of  the  developing  world,  but
stagnation  in  others.   The  interdependence  of  national  economies  has
continued to  grow.  These  changes have particular effects  on rural women,
depending on where they live.

11.  In a  separate study, on the  effective mobilization and integration of
women  in  development (A/50/399),  it  is  noted  that  one consequence  of
economic  change   is  the   extensive  incorporation  of  women   into  the
economically  active  population, especially  in  the  sectors  showing  the
greatest growth.  These growth sectors are non-agricultural.

12.   Traditionally, the  role of  agriculture in  economic development  has
been  viewed as that  of establishing  a framework  for industrialization by
providing factor  inputs and low-priced food.  Disillusion in the 1980s with

industrialization-at-any-cost  development  strategies that  were  extremely
costly in terms of imports and  other scarce resources brought about renewed
interest  in  agriculture,  but  as  a   vehicle  for  economic  growth  and
productive employment.

13.   More  than three  quarters of  the population of  developing countries
depend  directly  on   agriculture  for  their  livelihood.     Agricultural
development is therefore the sine qua  non of national economic  development
if economic progress is  to reach the majority  of the population  without a
long wait for "trickledown"  effects.  Agriculture is also important in  the
sense that  its failure  to keep pace  with industrialization can  act as  a
constraint on sustainable  industrial growth  and the  development of  other
sectors, because it constitutes an important  source of effective demand for

14.   The neglect of agriculture, a by-product of decades of inward-oriented
industrialization  in  developing countries,  has  been  a  cause of  severe
internal  imbalances  and widespread  poverty, inequality  and unemployment.
Policies  of  overvalued  exchange  rates,  high  effective  protection  and
repressed financial  markets  have  had a  negative effect  on  agricultural
growth.   However, the  process of  redressing the  bias against agriculture
created by  such policies  has sometimes  led to  a worsening of  the gender
bias  in agricultural economic  activity, because  of the  absence of gender
awareness  in economic  adjustment policies.    Failure  to take  account of
gender barriers to the  intra- and inter-sectoral  reallocation of resources
in the design of adjustment policies so as to correct their adverse  effects
on gender balance in access to and command  of productive resources has  led
to a shift in relative income-earning  ability in agricultural production in
favour   of  men,   albeit  with   some  regional   variations.   Persistent
inadequacies  in  women's access  to  land,  credit, extension  services and
technology suggest  that men rather  than women  have been  able to  benefit
from incentives  under expanded commercial  agriculture.  Women  own-account
farmers, agricultural  labourers  and  subsistence  producers  have  largely
remained in lowproductivity and low-income activities.

 B.  Urbanization

15.   A  significant  factor  in the  future  of rural  development  is  the
accelerating  trend  towards  urbanization.    Whether  through  rural-urban
migration or the growth of smaller  towns to sizes that will  define them as
urban, according  to United  Nations projections,  the urbanization  process
will result in  62 per cent  of the population living in  urban areas within
30 years (see table 1).

Table 1.  Total world population and percentage of population
          residing in urban areas                           



(in thousands)

Total population
(in thousands)

Total population
(in thousands)
 urbanWorld total
3 697 141

5 716 426

8 294 341
61.07More developed regions
1 002 607

1 166 598

1 238 406
 83.98Less developed regions
2 694 535

4 549 828

7 055 935
 57.05Least developed countries
 302 737

575 407

1 162 279
  Source:  World Urbanization Prospects:   The 1994 Revision (United Nations
publication, Sales No. E.95.XIII.12), tables A.3 and A.5.

16.  At  the same time, even as its relative proportion  declines, the total
rural population in the  world is projected to  continue to grow  larger, at
least until  2025, when it begins  to decline slowly (see  table 2).   As is
the case today, most of the rural dwellers will be in developing  countries.
However, their number will  be dwarfed by the  5 billion urban  residents in
2025, 4 billion  of whom will be in  the less developed  regions.  This will
amount to  an increase  of 2.6 billion  people from 1995,  all of whom  will
have to be fed through increased agricultural productivity.

Table 2.  Rural population and average annual rate of change
          of rural population in the world, 1965-1970,     
          1985-1990 and 2020-2025                          

Rural population
(in thousands)

Rate of change


20202025World total
2 344 356
3 007 383
3 229 007

-0.37Less developed regions
2 018 685
2 705 976
3 030 649

-0.28More developed regions
  325 671
  301 407
  198 357

  Source:  World Urbanization Prospects:   The 1994 Revision (United Nations
publication, Sales No. E.95.XIII.12), table 18.
 17.    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 and  it
is  the  gender  difference  in  migration  that  can  strongly  affect  the
situation of rural women in a given country.

18.   There  is growing  evidence that  in low-growth  areas, it  is men who
migrate,  while  in high-growth  areas,  women  migrate  at  a higher  rate,
particularly younger  women.  This  can be seen in table  3, which shows the
ratio  of  women to  men in  urban  and  rural areas  among the  young adult
cohorts.  3/   In  regions that  have  experienced  greater  and more  rapid
economic growth, it appears that post-schoolage  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.

19.  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 America and the Caribbean.

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

(Number of women for each 100 men)


Age group
109.7Latin America
 88.2Western Europe
 86.5Asia and Pacific
 96.9East Asia
 86.4South-East Asia
 98.2Eastern Europe
  Source:  Women's Indicators and  Statistics Database (WISTAT),  version 3,

 /...  A/50/257/Rev.1

C.  Food security

21.    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 as urban populations increase
in size, and  food production can  be a source of economic  growth, since an
increasing share of  production will have  to be marketed rather  than self-
consumed. 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.

22.   All development  strategies include  concerns about food,  agriculture
and population.  These three factors  constitute the concept of  sustainable
food security.  The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United  Nations
(FAO) defines food security  to mean "that food  is available at  all times,
that  all persons  have  means  of access  to it,  that it  is nutritionally
adequate  in  terms  of  quantity,  quality  and  variety,  and that  it  is
acceptable within the given culture". 4/

23.  Trends in per  capita food production and food  supplies in the present
decade are similar  to a large extent  to the trends  in per  capita output,
which is  similar to  the situation  a decade  ago.  During  the past  three
decades, the  number of  countries that were  able to meet  their daily  per
capita requirements has increased from  fewer than 25 to more than 50.   The
rate of agricultural  production growth at the  global level has been  about
2.3 per cent between  1970 and 1990 and thus has exceeded population  growth
so that per capita supplies of food have  increased.  However, wide regional
disparities remained:  the situation  improved in East Asia  but worsened in
sub-Saharan Africa and there was no progress in Latin America. 5/

24.  The International Conference on Nutrition, held in December 1992,  drew
attention to the fact that  more than 780 million people, or 20 per cent  of
the population  in developing  countries, suffer  from chronic  malnutrition
and  each year  about 13 million  children below  the age  of five  die from
infectious diseases that can be attributed to hunger or malnutrition.

25.   Any approach to food  security needs to  take into account the role of
rural  women, their  status and  opportunities regarding  all these  issues.
Although  rural  women  are  at  the  end  of  the  distribution  chain  for
productive resources and social services, they are  at the beginning of  the
food production chain.  In developing  countries rural women are responsible
for  more than 55 per cent of the food grown; in  Africa they produce 70 per
cent of the  food.  Moreover, women comprise 67 per cent of the agricultural
labour force in developing countries. 6/


26.   One of the  major findings over  the past 20  years has  been that, in
most developing countries, women are the  predominant producers of food  for
domestic consumption.   They perform this function while facing considerable
constraints.  An  examination of  these  factors  can  provide  a basis  for

determining how best to overcome the  constraints and thereby help  increase
the effectiveness of women in addressing the issue of food security.

27.  In contrast  to more developed countries, where growth in  agricultural
production has  been based on application  of technology  and increased size
of  productive  units,  food  production  in  developing  countries  remains
centred on smaller holdings managed  by households that provide  the bulk of
the labour input required by the productive systems.

28.  There are  a number of  gender dimensions to food production,  relating
to  labour input, to  land use,  to access to capital  and technology and to
environmentally sound production practices.   These four factors  are linked
and,  if addressed,  can help  ensure  that  food production  increases with
accompanying benefits for rural households and for society as a whole.

A.  Labour availability and use

29.   Food  production in  developing  countries  is labour-intensive.   For
households,  ensuring that  there will  be  family  members available  to do
necessary  work is  an essential  economic  element.   Women and  men  alike
provide labour input, although  their tasks often differ.   There is a close
relationship  between  having  children  and  agricultural  production,  and
having large numbers of children is often perceived  by women and men  alike
as an  economic  necessity.    As one  analyst  noted,  there is  a  certain
paradox, with the  increase of women's  responsibilities and  duties, higher
demand  on their time and energy,  they are "less  likely to see the utility
for  themselves of  having fewer children, even  though population densities
in the  little land left for  subsistence families  are rapidly increasing".
7/  There are now seen to be a number of incentives for rural women to  have
larger numbers  of children, with the  consequent impact  on their abilities
to increase production.

30.   While there  is a  correlation between  the decline  of fertility  and
increases in  income, at least to  a certain level,  there is an  underlying
assumption that  higher income encourages people  to invest  in hired labour
or mechanization  and thereby  release children  and pay  more attention  to
their education.  However,  a number of studies indicate that men and  women
invest increased  incomes differently and  men were  not necessarily willing
to  hire labour  to  replace  that of  their spouses  and children.   Others
indicate  that rural  women may  perceive the  need  to have  many children,
especially sons, as  long-term risk insurance,  as widows are  able to  keep
their property largely through sons' productive activity and status.

31.  The strong  motivation of rural women  in developing countries  to have
more children is also  related to infant mortality.  To reduce fertility, it
is  necessary to  ensure the  survival  of  children through  improvement of
maternal and child nutrition, availability of  health care and clean  water.
This, in  turn, is  related to  increases in  income.   Increases in  income
involve  improved nutrition  and application  of labour-saving technologies,
although that depends on  whether the increases in  income are passed  on as
greater  food  entitlements  for   the  family,  particularly  to  the  more
nutritionally  vulnerable  members,  and  as  investment  in  higher  labour
productivity, again in particular to the most work-stressed members.

B.  Intra-household relations

32.   To a  larger extent  than in  urban areas,  the rural  household is  a
production  unit  as well  as one  whose  primary economic  function is  the
management of consumption.   Women,  men and children  in the household  are
expected to  contribute  to household  income,  by  working the  household's
land, by working as salaried labour and by  other means.  The  effectiveness
of the household as an economic unit depends in  large measure on the intra-
household  relations between  women  and men.    As Waring  noted  in  1988:
"Family resources  and decisions  impinge not  only on  rates of  fertility,

mortality, and  migration,  but also  on  transfer  of activities  from  the
unpaid, largely unmeasured household sector to  the market sector, which  is
a fundamental determinant of the rate of growth  of gross national product".

33.   Most households  have  a  division of  labour based  on gender.    The
precise division of tasks varies  by country and culture,  although a common
feature  is  that women  are  given  primary  responsibility  for the  tasks
associated with preparing  food, providing fuel and water, raising  children
and taking  care of  the elderly  and the sick.   They  frequently have  the
responsibility for  subsistence production of food,  as well  as for certain
tasks in commercial production.

34.    While  the economics  of  subsistence  agriculture  has  begun  to be
studied,  the  gender  dimensions of  household production  are  less known.
There is evidence from  micro-studies that an examination of intra-household
gender  differences  in  food  production  would  show  that  women  make  a
significant contribution  to the household economy  and, by aggregation,  to
national food security.   However, the extent  of this contribution  has not
yet been generally measured.

35.   A  variety of  studies, including  national reports  prepared for  the
Fourth World Conference  on Women, have shown the considerable  contribution
of women  farmers to  food production.   For  example, in  the Lao  People's
Democratic Republic,  as a  result of  women's rice  farming, national  rice
production  was said  to have doubled between  1976 and 1985.   In Viet Nam,
female peasants contributed  significantly to changes in the rural  economic
structure and  increased rate of production  growth.   Food production there
went up  from 18.4 million tons  in 1986 to 21.5  million in  1989, 1990 and
1991,  converting Viet Nam  from a  food importer  to a  food exporter.   In
China,  the output  value produced  by women  was estimated  to  account for
between 50 and 60 per cent of the gross agricultural output value.

 36.   The migration  of men in order  to find seasonal work,  especially in
Latin America  and  Asia,  and  the  displacement  of  pastoral  households,
especially in Africa, in practice, both  increase women's role in  livestock
production and their workload.   This role is  not recognized at the policy-
making level or in  legal terms.  As a result, the provision of services and
external inputs, both technical and financial,  bypasses women in all  three
continents and  has not kept  up with  women's increasing role  in livestock
production.     Government  policies  continue  to  encourage  male-oriented
activities,  namely, beef  production, large  commercial dairy  centres  and
large-scale cattle trade.   To reach women,  focus should be on  small-scale
activities,  e.g., milk-based  products,  small ruminants  and  other  small

37.  An additional  gender factor is that women's systematic lack of  access
to cash can create  biases in the  perception of  who is producing what  and
earning what within the household. 9/  Women are often not able to  exercise
rights of ownership  and use  of resources, including  their labour, to  the
same degree as men.   Often, women are not  recognized as holders  of rights
on their  own account,  but rather  are considered,  to a lesser  or greater
degree, dependants of men.  In rural areas,  women who work in the field, in
family productive  units and  in  a work-paid  system,  paid  by job  or  by
production, are generally seen as helpers of their husbands.

38.  The growing number of  female-headed households in developing countries
represents a challenge for improving household  food security.  In  general,
female-headed households tend  to be poorer, own  less land, and often  lack
access to credit and technology.   However, according to studies  undertaken
in Kenya and  Malawi, household food security  and the nutritional status of
individual members can be significantly better in female-headed  households,
as  women tend to spend a  greater proportion of  their income on food.  One
of the study's  conclusions was that,  although there is  a strong  argument
that income is  a major determinant of household  food security, it is  also
true that the level of income  controlled by women has a  positive impact on

household  caloric intake, an  impact that  is over and above  the effect of
income.  This finding suggests that  gender may influence the composition of
diets within households, as was indicated in the  Malawi case by the  higher
proportion  of food budgets allocated to alcoholic  beverages by male-headed
households and the higher proportion of  calories directed to young children
by the  poorer  de  facto female-headed  households.   In  other terms,  the
female gender of the  head compensates for  the difference in income at  low
levels of  income.   Clearly, it is  not the female-headedness  per se  that
leads to this pattern of behaviour, but the intersection  between income and
gender of the head. 10/

39.  In  its study on the state of world rural poverty,  IFAD concluded that
since the  food  security of  households  is  usually dependent  on  women's
earnings,  low-paying jobs and  lack of  regular employment  for women often
mean inadequate food security and poor family nutrition.  Support for  rural
women should  focus on  generating off-farm  and on-farm  regular employment
and on improving  wage incomes.  Improving technical skills of women through
better  education and training  also improves  their access  to better jobs.

 40.  When intra-household relations are asymmetric, in terms of ability  to
contribute to  or benefit from  economic activity, the household  may not be
able to manage  its resources efficiently, particularly when women's  skills
are not  used effectively.  This  is often attributable  to cultural factors
which,  for example, can preclude women from decision-making  on land use or
from marketing activities.

41.     Intra-household   relations  are  crucial  for   policy  design  and
implementation,  and further  examination of  this factor,  particularly  in
terms of women's role as the main producers of food, will be necessary.

C.  Land distribution and income

42.   Of all of the factors  that determine food  production, access to land
is the  most important.   Women's lesser access  to land has  been a  common
factor in most societies  and still constitutes one of the main obstacles to
their  full participation  in  rural development.   The  existing practices,
including  of inheritance,  favour male  ownership of  land.  Even  in those
countries  where  women  are  legally  entitled   to  own  land,  de   facto
implementation of this  right is rare. Indeed, the  issue of access to  land
was  a major concern reflected  in the Beijing Declaration  and Platform for

43.   Of particular importance  to rural women  is the  development of legal
measures  and administrative  regulations to improve their  secure access to
land. This may involve  designating women as individual  or joint owners  of
plots distributed in agrarian reforms,  giving them separate  tenancy rights
in  settlement  schemes, improving  their rights  to claim  a fair  share of
family resources upon  divorce, abandonment or  widowhood, and so forth.   A
second  area of concern  is the review  of civil  codes that  treat women as
legal minors,  requiring, for  example,  their husband's  signature to  open
bank  accounts or  to obtain  credit.   Equally important  for  rural women,
especially in Asia and Latin America,  is new labour legislation  supporting
their equitable  access to  rural labour  markets, mandating  equal pay  for
equal  work,  and  improving  working  conditions,  while  enforcing   legal
standards.   A  fourth  priority  is  to  improve  rural women's  access  to
informal sector markets  by eliminating discriminatory licensing and  price-
control measures.

44.  When they  are automatically designated  as heads of household men  can
control  most  household  economic  resources  and  are  normally   indirect
recipients of  project resources targeted at  households.  These  principles
hold  even when men are not the primary source  of household income and when
women manage  important household  resources and  conduct various  household
enterprises on  a relatively autonomous basis.   In most societies, there is

still male  control of  land, major  livestock resources,  a large share  of
subsistence  output and  the  bulk  of  household  income.   Women  are,  in
general, dependent  on men  for final  decisions with  respect to  virtually
everything that  affects their lives, and  are therefore  more vulnerable to

45.   Rural women's  customary  land  rights have  also been  threatened  by
agrarian  reform programmes which  have tended  to redistribute  land titles
primarily to men.  Although all the land  reform legislation of Asia brought
the  land  to  the  beneficiary  "household"  or  "family",  it  allowed the
allocation of  land within the household to be governed by prevailing custom
and law, which decreed the man to be the "head of  the household".  Land was
allotted  to the "tenant" or "tiller",  who was always presumed to be a man.
Thus, although the  agrarian reform legislation during the period  1945-1985
did  not  specifically   or  explicitly  discriminate  against  women,   the
application  of the law  in the context of  existing customs and inheritance
laws often resulted in their losing their right to land.

46.    A  review  of  Latin  American  agrarian  reform shows  that  in  all
countries, except  Cuba and Nicaragua, only one member of  the household can
officially be  designated as  a beneficiary.   Even though  female heads  of
households  may, in principle, apply for land,  administrative practices and
additional  criteria  defining  potential  beneficiaries  have   essentially
excluded women.  More recently, a  review of 165 national  reports submitted
to the United Nations  Secretariat in 1994 during  the preparations for  the
Fourth World Conference  on Women gave a clear  picture of the situation  in
that  area.  The existing male  preference in ownership  of land is found in
all regions of the world.

47.  Often there are no legal provisions for women to  keep the land in case
of  death of  the husband,  separation or  divorce.   The  difficulties that
rural  women encounter  in obtaining  access to  land are  even greater  for
female-headed households,  whose number is  growing.  When women  do not own
land they often cannot qualify for  agricultural services, in particular for
credit and extension services, where ownership is a requirement.

48.   Market incentives  can work  in developing  countries but only  if due
consideration  is  given to  the  social and  legal  framework.   Where  the
distribution of  land ownership and  opportunities is  highly skewed towards
men, market mechanisms tend to bring  more benefits to them, at least in the
short run.

D.  Protection and regeneration of the resource base

49.  There is  a pronounced and obvious connection between food security and
environmental  degradation.   The  drive  towards  food  security  sometimes
overtaxes the  environment, and environmental  degradation often limits  the
capacity to produce enough  food.  Various studies have shown that there has
been increasing reduction of arable land through soil degradation,  erosion,
deforestation and  desertification.   This factor, if unchecked,  can affect
future abilities to maintain food security.

50.  An important link between women and the environment is in  terms of the
above factor.  In most developing  countries, food production is  undertaken
mainly by  women,  and therefore,  issues  related  to food  security,  land
rights and  environmentally sustainable  land-use practices  are central  to
their lives. Gender imbalances in access  to resources impact negatively  on
women's ability  to play  vital custodial roles  in sustainable  environment
practices.     There  is  some   evidence  that  the  labour-intensive  food
production  practices of women  can be  environmentally sound  and could, if
used more  extensively,  both  increase  food  production  and  protect  the
resource base.  Similarly, it seems likely  that women would be particularly
receptive to  new technologies and techniques  that would  be beneficial for
maintaining land quality.

51.  The link  between rural women and  environmental protection can be seen
in terms of forestry.  The  depletion of forestry resources,  in particular,
has had a  significant negative impact on women.   Apart from their value as
a productive resource, trees  protect the quality of  the soil and water and
most  tropical farming systems  are unsustainable  without trees  as part of
the  system.   Forests provide  food, fodder  and fibre products  which fall
within  women's  responsibility.    Small-scale  enterprises  dependent   on
forestry   products  are  among   the  major   employers  of   rural  women,
particularly the landless and resource poor.

52.   Little attention  has been given  to the asset-creating  activities in
which women  engage, such as through  trade involving  natural resources and
their  products, or to the ways  in which the use of such resources involves
them  in  the  wider  social  and  political  life   of  their  families  or

53.    For example,  one  analysis  has  suggested  that community  forestry
projects have frequently assumed women  to be interested only in species for
fuelwood, in contrast with men's interest in,  for example, trees to produce
building materials  to sell for cash.   While women  often do have  pressing
fuel needs, their own responses to  narrowly focused fuelwood projects  have
in many  instances revealed the broader  scope of their interests and needs.
Policies designed  from  a  narrow  view of  women's  roles "risk  not  only
ignoring large  parts of  their spectrum  of interests  and activities,  but
also  entrenching  women  in   narrowly  defined  domestic  roles  and  thus
reinforcing, rather than rectifying, gender inequalities". 12/

54.  The  relationship between women and  the environment also includes such
issues  as their rights  of access,  control and  participation in decision-
making over natural  resources.  The  lack of  women's rights  in that  area
might  demotivate women  to  invest in  sound  environmental  management and
enforce the degradation of the natural resource base.


55.  Gender differences in rural-urban  migration has not been well-studied.
In part  this is because female  migration has been  neglected as  part of a
general  neglect of  women in  social sciences  research.  It  also reflects
inadequacies in existing data on  women's migration, and on women's role and
socio-economic status in general. 13/

56.   Lack  of economic  opportunities  in rural  areas, whether  caused  by
population  pressure on finite  land resources  or lack  of non-agricultural
development, often leaves younger people little alternative to migration  in
order to obtain employment.  A  study prepared by the International Training
and  Research Institute for  the Advancement  of Women  (INSTRAW) noted that
the number of female migrants is increasing world  wide.  Though more  women
migrate for family reasons, including to  accompany other family members, to
get married or to join the spouse, than for economic reasons, a  significant
proportion of  women migrate for  economic reasons, including for education,
which  is usually intended  to assist them  in seeking  better employment in
the future. 14/

57.  In Asia,  for example, in  India, Bangladesh and Thailand, men  migrate
mostly during  the  slack season,  because  of  underemployment or  loss  of
employment  owing  to the  mechanization  of  agriculture,  for  educational
purposes,  or for psychosocial  reasons such  as prestige.   During  the dry
season, available non-farm employment opportunities are mainly jobs  related
to infrastructure,  such as construction and  maintenance, and  they also go
to men.

58.    There is  growing  evidence  that  women  also  migrate for  economic
reasons, and not only to join spouses.  In Africa,  factors such as level of
education, age, marital  status and ethnicity  are associated with migration
to the  cities. According  to studies  in eight  countries -Burundi,  Ghana,

Kenya, Mali,  Nigeria, Senegal,  Togo and  Uganda -  it was found  that both
married and  unmarried women  had strong  motivation to  migrate.   In every
country, except  Mali, non-marital reasons for  migration appear  to be more
common in rural-urban migration.   In Kenya, small plot holdings in  densely
populated  districts proved unproductive  to sustain  women on  the farms in
rural  areas.    Since  1969,  the   process  of  ruralurban  migration  has
progressively shifted  from a high dominance  of unmarried  male migrants to
one in which  women, both unmarried and married,  as well as children,  have
become an important component of migration.

59.   In Asia,  women basically  fall into two categories:   some are forced
out  of independent  rural production  for  the  market into  casual labour,
while  others, generally  younger  women,  are  no  longer  able to  make  a
sufficient  contribution   to  the   rural  household  economy.     In   the
Philippines,  for example,  7 out  of  10 females  employed in  the  service
sector in urban  areas are  migrants and more than  half of these are  young
and single. 15/  The expansion of the  service sector mainly in urban  areas
of  Thailand was the main  factor attracting female  migrants from the rural
areas.   Those  migrants were  relatively  less  educated, and  migrated  to
Bangkok on  a short-term basis  to earn  supplementary income.   The  female
migrants  with higher  levels  of education  had  demonstrated  considerable
independence and moved for  economic reasons.  In the Republic of Korea, the
rate of  female migration has slightly  exceeded the male  rate in the  past
few decades, with the largest differences  occurring between the ages  of 15
and  29.  Migration  rates  were  associated  positively  with   educational
attainment, and the  educational selectivity of  migration was  stronger for
females than for males. 16/

60.   Major reasons for the  out-migration of rural  women in Latin  America
are  lack of access  to land  and mechanization  of agricultural production,
while, at the  same time, there are vast  job opportunities for them in  the
cities, especially in  textiles, food processing and other  labour-intensive
industries,  as well  as in  the informal  sector  of  the economy,  such as
domestic services or street vending. 17/

 61.   Male  migration to  urban areas  tends  to  conserve the  traditional
kinship relations  and patriarchal  and seniority  values, thus  reinforcing
gender  asymmetries  in  intra-household   distribution  and  management  of
productive resources.  In general, no  significant difference has been found
in the  number of  children of  couples who  live together  and of  those in
which  the males are  temporary migrants.   Though  the husband's departures
and returns, if  he is a seasonal migrant,  may change the timing of births,
this does not seem  to increase or decrease child-bearing.  Migration  might
help modify knowledge, attitudes and practice  towards contraception, but it
might  also   promote  higher  fertility   to  compensate  for   separation.
Migration has  also been one  of the causes  of the  spread of  the acquired
immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and venereal diseases.

62.    While  male migration  may  not  change traditional  roles  in  rural
society, it may be that female migration will have a longer-term impact  not
only on  the migrants themselves, but  also on the  women who  remain in the
rural areas.  The  relative economic independence that accompanies migration
provides  an  alternative model  to  that  traditionally  ascribed to  rural

63.  The  migration of women  to urban  areas may  serve to emancipate  them
from the patriarchal control of the  family, particularly when women  manage
to find  a job  and become  relatively economically  independent.   However,
there is also evidence that  women tend to send their  income back to  their
families and  thus  remain financially  dependent and  under their  control.
Over  the  short  run,  this  can  provide a  source  of  capital  for rural
development,  although  it  also  appears  that  rural-urban  migration   is
typically one-way.

64.  Education and  the mass media intensify the process of urbanization  in
terms  of   cultural  modernization,   which   undermines  the   traditional

commitments to kin. The  relocation of economic activity  from the family to
the market and increases in mobility  and migration reduce parental leverage
and, to a certain extent, destabilize the traditional division of labour.

65.   The  interrelations  between  rural-urban migration,  seen  in  gender
terms, as well as the  rural economy and society, merit  further study.  The
fact that these flows  of people are tending to blur the distinction between
rural and  urban areas can be  an important factor  in designing both  urban
and rural development policies.


66.   The  evident  importance  of women  as  food producers  in  a  rapidly
urbanizing  world   suggests  that  strong   priority  should  be  given  to
implementing those  actions found  in the  Beijing Declaration  and Platform
for Action designed  to provide rural women  with equal access to productive
resources.   In paragraph  58  (n),  for example,  the following  action  is
called for:

"Formulate and implement policies and programmes  that enhance the access of
women  agricultural and  fisheries producers  (including subsistence farmers
and  producers,  especially   in  rural  areas)  to  financial,   technical,
extension  and marketing services;  provide access  to and  control of land,
appropriate  infrastructure and  technology  in order  to  increase  women's
incomes and promote household food security,  especially in rural areas and,
where  appropriate,  encourage  the development  of  producer-owned, market-
based cooperatives." 18/

67.   Linkages between urbanization/industrialization and agricultural/rural
development are in many  ways reflected in the  changing status and roles of
rural women.   Rural  women are an  important link between  rural and  urban
areas:   they maintain  food security  and the general  well-being of  their
households.   A  gender approach  to  socio-economic  issues deserves  to be
addressed by,  and incorporated  in, regional  development policies,  plans,
programmes  and projects.   Investment in  rural women  can make development
programmes  more productive.   Since  women  produce  a large  proportion of
food,  it  makes sense  to improve  their  status and  access to  productive
resources, capital, markets  and information.  Efforts should be made at all
levels towards  fostering rural  and  urban  development.   In view  of  the
preparations for the forthcoming World Food Summit,  to be held in  November
1996, the role of women in food production  and food security should receive
greater prominence in the elaboration of the documents for that meeting.

68.  The evident  importance of gender  issues in rural-urban migration  and
the close links between  women's status in  urban areas and in rural  areas,
suggest that  gender  aspects of  the  rural-urban  continuum should  be  an
important  factor  to be  considered  in  the  preparations  for the  United
Nations Conference on Human Settlements (Habitat II).

69.    The  limited  amount  of   information  available  on  the   economic
contribution of rural women  within the household,  including in subsistence
agriculture,  suggests  the  need  for  greater  efforts  to  document  this
phenomenon, including by implementing the action  called for in chapter  IV,
section H, of the Platform for Action, as follows:

"Improving  data collection  on  the  unremunerated  work which  is  already
included in  the United  Nations System  of National  Accounts,  such as  in
agriculture, particularly subsistence  agriculture, and other types of  non-
market production activities." 19/


  1/   See Report  of the Fourth  World Conference on  Women, Beijing,  4-15
September 1995 (A/CONF.177/20), chap.I.

  2/   Women in a Changing Global Economy:  1994 World Survey on the Role of
Women in Development (United Nations publication, Sales No. E.95.IV.1).

  3/  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

  4/  FAO Committee  on World Food Security,  Twentieth Session, Rome, 25-28
April 1995 (CFS:  95/4).

  5/  Agriculture:  Towards 2010 (Rome, FAO, 1993).

  6/  Women in a Changing Global Economy ..., p. 35.

  7/  Jodi L. Jacobson, Gender Bias:   Roadblock to Sustainable Development,
World Watch Paper No. 110 (September 1992).

  8/   Marilyn Waring,  If Women  Counted:   A New  Feminist Economics  (New
York, Harper and Row, 1988).

  9/   A. K.  Sen, "Gender  and cooperative  conflicts", in I.  Tinker, ed.,
Persistent Inequalities:  Women and World  in Development (New York,  Oxford
University Press, 1992), pp. 123-149.

  10/    E. Kennedy  and  P.  Peters,  "Household  food  security and  child
nutrition:   The interaction of income and gender of  household head", World
Development, vol. 20, No. 8, p. 1084.

  11/  The State of World Rural Poverty (Rome, IFAD, 1992), p. 293.

  12/     Melissa  Leach,   "Gender  and   the  environment:     traps   and
opportunities", Development in Practice, vol. 1,  No. 2 (February 1992),  p.

  13/  Internal Migration of Women  in Developing Countries (United  Nations
publication, Sales No. E.94.XIII.3).

  14/   The Migration of  Women:  Methodological  Issues in the  Measurement
and  Analysis  of  Internal  and  International  Migration  (Santo  Domingo,
INSTRAW, 1994), p. 48.

  15/  "Special problems  of female heads of  households in agriculture  and
rural  development in Asia  and the  Pacific" (Bangkok,  Economic and Social
Commission for Asia and the Pacific, 1985) (E/ESCAP/AD.6/8).

  16/   Migration and Urbanization:   Interrelationship with  Socio-economic
Development and Evolving Policy  Issues, Population Studies  Series, No. 114
(1992) (ST/ESCAP/1133).

  17/  M. d.  L. A. Crummett, "The  women's movement", Ceres-The FAO Review,
No. 137 (1992).
    18/  See Report of the Fourth World  Conference on Women, Beijing,  4-15
September 1995 (A/CONF.177/20), chap. I.

  19/  Ibid.



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