WomenWatch - Information and Resources on Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): Comparative Advantage

Primary Mandate/Concentration in Relation to Rural Women

FAO is one of the three Rome-based agencies (FAO, IFAD, WFP) working to fight hunger and promote sustainable agriculture and rural development. FAO's comparative advantage is in providing policy advice, analysis, and technical assistance to member governments through its globally unique pool of experts in agriculture, livestock, fisheries, forestry, natural resource management and food security.

Gender equality is central to FAO's mandate to achieve food security for all by raising levels of nutrition, improving agricultural productivity and natural resource management, and improving the lives of rural populations. FAO can accomplish its goals only if it simultaneously works toward gender equality and supports the empowerment of rural women as agricultural producers.

Since its creation in 1945, FAO has championed the contribution of rural women to food production and food security, and spearheaded efforts to expand their opportunities. FAO's approach to analysing and supporting women's participation in agriculture has evolved from an initial focus on women as caregivers in nutrition and household economics, to its current understanding of women as rights holders and active agents working toward achieving food security and promoting sustainable agriculture.

As of 8 June 2011, FAO has 191 member states, two associate members and one member organization (the European Union). FAO is also a member of the United Nations Development Group. The membership consists primarily of national ministries of agriculture, forestry, fisheries, land and water, or other ministries working in the rural sector. In addition, FAO has offices in 128 member countries, as well as five regional offices (for Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Europe and Central Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Near East).

Areas of Unique Expertise/Strength

FAO has a unique expertise in the following technical areas, with a special focus on developing countries and food insecure populations:

  • To fulfill its mandate, FAO promotes gender equality in policy and programme support related to food systems, crop production, animal production, nutrition and consumer protection, land and water, climate and energy, rural infrastructure, fisheries and aquaculture, forestry, rural employment, rural institutions, agricultural economics, agricultural statistics, agricultural trade and markets and emergency operations and rehabilitation.
  • Gender equality in access to land: to effectively integrate gender considerations in land tenure policies and programmes, FAO has developed a gender and land rights database (78 countries, information on economic, social, political and cultural issues related to gender differentials in access to land) and has promoted gender equitable land policies, reform and administration in many countries.
  • Gender equitable employment and income generating opportunities: FAO promotes and mainstreams decent employment in agricultural and rural policies, programmes and enterprises, working towards eliminating gender discrimination in the labour force. Key areas of intervention include: facilitating an enabling environment for gender-equitable creation of rural jobs; eliminating the worst forms of child labour in agriculture; providing rural girls and boys with the livelihood skills they need.
  • Gender and rural institutions: FAO supports government efforts to enhance the participation, entrepreneurship, and leadership of women in rural producers' organizations. By providing alternative models for engagement between government, producer organizations and other stakeholders, and supporting innovations in rural institutions, FAO strengthens the influence rural women and men have over policies, programmes and markets that affect their lives.
  • Gender and climate change: FAO mainstreams gender issues into climate change projects and policies in the agriculture and food security sectors through research, awareness raising and capacity development. FAO works in partnership with other UN agencies to ensure that policies and approaches to address climate change do not exacerbate existing social inequalities.
  • Gender and indigenous peoples: In 2010 FAO adopted a corporate Policy on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, based on extensive consultations with a range of partners (indigenous representatives, the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, UN agencies, and many individual experts and activists). The purpose of the Policy is to guide FAO's work on indigenous people's issues, with particular emphasis on promoting gender-equitable socio-economic empowerment of indigenous women and men.
  • Gender Disaggregated Statistics in Agriculture: FAO has a long history of supporting the generation, analysis, and use of sex-disaggregated data in agriculture, with particular emphasis on agricultural censuses, rural household surveys, and other data sources on agriculture and food security. FAO also works with a broad range of partners to develop indicators that appropriately capture gender differentials in rural poverty, access to and control of productive resources and economic opportunities, as well as nutrition and food security outcomes. To overcome the continuing under-utilization of sex-disaggregated data in policy formulation processes, FAO provides a range of capacity development services to improve the skills of national statisticians, researchers, planners and policy makers to collect, tabulate, analyze, and use sex-disaggregated agricultural data.

Approach to the Empowerment of Rural Women

FAO approaches gender equality in a holistic and comprehensive way, in order to assist countries to design and implement gender-equitable agricultural policies and programmes, as well as develop gender-sensitive agricultural-sector responses to new challenges (such as changing rural demographic structures, climate change, food price volatility, and the recent economic and food crises).

Through technical and policy assistance, FAO aims to close gender gaps in agricultural productivity, food and nutrition security, rural livelihoods, natural resource management, and relevant dimensions of sustainable rural development.

FAO's work in advancing women's and men's equal voice, agency and access to resources and opportunities focuses on achieving the following targets, which are articulated in its 2012 Gender Policy:

  1. Women participate equally with men as decision-makers in shaping laws, policies and programs related to food and nutrition security, rural development and sustainable agriculture including livestock, forestry and fisheries and in rural institutions.
  2. The proportion of women and girls who suffer from hunger is reduced by 50%
  3. Women and men have equal access to and control over land and other productive resources including income
  4. Women and men have equal access to goods and services for agricultural development (in livestock, fisheries, forestry and natural resource management) including markets
  5. Percentage of agricultural aid committed to women/gender-equality related projects is increased to 30% of total agricultural aid
  6. Women's work burden is reduced by 20% through improved technologies and services.

FAO takes two distinct but complementary approaches to achieving these targets. First, FAO works to make sure that gender mainstreaming is applied in all its work. This means systematically examining and addressing women's and men's interests, opportunities and challenges as part of the development of policies, technologies, normative standards, programmes and projects in order to ensure that rural women and men benefit equally and gender inequality is reduced. Second, in situations where the gender gap is so large that women cannot access opportunities that are available, FAO advocates interventions specifically targeted at rural women to level the playing field. FAO pursues both approaches to make progress toward its gender equality goals and objectives.

Key Tools/Activities Supporting the Empowerment of Rural Women

The following is a small selection of key tools and activities intended to demonstrate the breadth and variety of FAO's work in empowering rural women. Please see the FAO Gender website for more resources and information on FAO's work at www.fao.org/gender/en/.

  1. The FAO Gender Policy: This serves as a framework to guide FAO's work on gender equality and in support of women's roles in agriculture. It outlines an accountability system to ensure policy oversight and achievement of results, and sets out mechanisms for coordination and implementation of the policy. An integral part of the policy will be the FAO Gender Policy Accountability Framework that will specify accountability roles and responsibilities of FAO governing bodies, senior management, departmental management, and staff.
  2. Men and women in agriculture: closing the gap: The new site offers a topical approach to closing the gender gap in access to agricultural resources, inputs and services, with key facts and policy recommendations broken down by theme, allowing visitors to quickly access the specific information they need.
  3. The Socio-economic and Gender Analysis (SEAGA): an approach elaborated by FAO in partnership with ILO, the World Bank and UNDP since 1993 to develop the capacity of policy makers, development specialists and humanitarian workers to integrate socio-economic and gender analysis in development initiatives and rehabilitation interventions. SEAGA is incorporated into training programmes and provides field workers, development planners and policy makers with practical tools, including handbooks and gender analysis guides for specific sectors. SEAGA handbooks are designed for three levels of capacity development: the field level (to give workers the tools to elicit the participation of men and women from local communities in the development process), the intermediate level (designed for development planners in the public and private sectors to help them identify the links between policies and grassroot priorities and to assess their institution's organisational mechanism from a gender perspective) and the macro level (designed for policy and decision-makers working at the international and national levels to facilitate gender mainstreaming in programmes and policies and provide a conceptual framework, methods and tools that support participatory development planning)
  4. The Agri-Gender Database: enables users to determine what gender-sensitive agricultural data they need and how to collect, analyze and use such data in decision making.
  5. The Gender and Land Rights Database: contains information from 78 countries on legislative, economic, social, political and cultural aspects of gender differences in access to land. The database offers information on the following six categories: national legal frame; international treaties and conventions; customary law; land tenure and related institutions; civil society organizations; and selected land-related statistics.
  6. Exposure and Exchange methodology: under the EU funded All Agricultural Commodities Program, FAO has engaged with women leaders of producer organizations in West Africa (Mali, Burkina Faso, and Cameroun) in order to build their technical and managerial capacities and strengthen women's role in the value chain. The methodology foresees an intensive learning process through exposure and training carried out by the Self- Employed Women's Association of India, an internationally recognized development model of excellence.
  7. Genderinag.org: a community of practice bringing together specialists in many fields to promote systematic integration of gender concerns in the World Bank's rural activities. It is the only organizational entity linking gender, rural and agricultural development together with the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Genderinag.org is built as a knowledge nexus for practitioners to share analytical and advisory services on a wide range of gender-related topics. In collaboration with colleagues in the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), this e-platform is a "one-stop shop" for agriculture specialists, practitioners and the academic community to exchange creative ideas and improve upon lessons learned in efforts to reducing poverty through sustainable rural development.
  8. The Gender in Agriculture Sourcebook: The Sourcebook provides an up-to-date understanding of gender issues with a rich compilation of compelling evidence of good practices and lessons learned to guide practitioners in integrating gender dimensions into agricultural projects and programs. Serving as a tool for guiding and showcasing key principles in integrating gender into projects, this Sourcebook aims to inspire the imagination of practitioners to apply lessons learned, experiences, and innovations to the design and investment in the agriculture sector. The Sourcebook is a joint product of the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, and International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and a contribution of over 100 writers and reviewers.

Inter-agency Partnerships

Beyond its collaboration with producer organizations and other civil society groups, FAO collaborates with a number of UN agencies. Key partnerships include:

  • FAO coordinates its gender work closely with the other Rome based agencies (RBAs), IFAD and WFP, meeting at least on a monthly basis to ensure policy coherence and develop synergies to maximize impacts. In 2011, the RBAs co-chaired the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Rural Women to support preparation for the CSW session on this subject in 2012.
  • FAO is coordinating an inter-agency group composed of the 3 RBAs in the context of the International Year of Cooperatives (IYC). The collaboration foresees the production of joint communication and policy materials on cooperatives, highlighting in particular the role played by cooperatives in socio-economic development, sustainable employment generation, poverty alleviation, and ultimately, improved food security. Some of the materials to be produced in the context of the IYC will focus on women's cooperatives and the role of women in producer organizations. The IYC also foresees a wider inter-agency collaboration with all COPAC members (UNDESA and ILO).
  • IFAD – on gender and land rights; producer organizations, cooperatives and institutional innovations; awareness and capacity building on socio-economic and gender issues; communication for rural development; education and training for rural people.
  • ILO – on rural employment and decent work, child labour prevention in agriculture, rural-urban linkages, cooperatives.
  • UN-DESA – on promoting economic and social development, including addressing rural population ageing, promoting cooperatives, etc.
  • UNFPA – on rural impacts of HIV/AIDS, rural population dynamics, migrant remittances.
  • UN Women – on economic empowerment of rural women, raising awareness on rural gender issues at major UN fora.
  • WFP – on gender mainstreaming in humanitarian action, gender sensitive policies in post-emergency situations, education for rural people, support to orphans and vulnerable children.
  • WHO – on nutrition care and support for people living with HIV and AIDS, gender mainstreaming in humanitarian settings; and sexual and gender-based violence among populations of humanitarian concern.