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Statement by IFAD at the Forty-sixth Session of the Commission on the Status of Women

Mr. Chairperson,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my pleasure to address this Commission on behalf of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). This session focuses on a critical dimension of global efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): the need to remove the persistent, and in many cases widening, gender inequalities that undermine global human and economic development. But the magnitude of the effects of these inequalities - and their implications for development planning and financing - have yet to be fully recognised by governments and the donor community.

Of the 1.2 billion people living on less than a dollar a day, 75% live in rural areas and make their livings predominantly through agriculture. Rural women constitute the majority of the rural poor. Across the developing world, poor rural women play an essential role in crop production and livestock care, particularly in some of the poorest and marginal areas where many men migrate to cities in search of employment. Rural women engage in multiple economic activities that are critical to the survival of poor households. They are also responsible for providing the food, water and fuel needs of their families.

The quality of care that mothers give to children influences the social and economic well-being of the entire family. Child malnutrition - still so pervasive in many developing countries - not only increases exposure to disease, but also has far-reaching effects on the capacity of the future generation to lead healthy and productive lives. The major contributing factor to improved child nutrition is women's socio-economic status, particularly her educational level. The burden of disease, HIV/AIDS but also malaria and illnesses caused by lack of potable water and poor sanitation, weighs disproportionately on women as the primary care givers, and affects their ability to ensure food security and earn an income. In many countries, HIV/AIDS has changed and is changing the face of poverty and is reversing positive gains in social development. The HIV/AIDS crisis is largely fuelled by inequitable gender relations.

Despite the essential economic, food security and care-giving roles that women perform, they have significantly less access to financial, physical and social assets, less opportunities to improve their knowledge and skills. They also have less influence and choice in the decisions (both private and public) that have a bearing on their lives and those of their children. These enduring inequalities affect women's ability to perform their critical roles most effectively and to the benefit not only of the household but also of society as a whole.

In 25 years of experience in financing projects to combat rural poverty and hunger, IFAD has found again and again that, when presented with opportunities, poor rural women can become powerful agents of change in their communities. We have seen that targeting resources to women is an excellent investment. We have also seen that if gender differences are not taken into account in all aspects of programme design and implementation, programmes can fail to achieve their objectives. They can also cause women to loose control over resources and technologies. Women's workload may increase, without benefits to themselves. A recent review of over 200 IFAD projects identified successes, lessons learned and challenges in addressing gender issues and empowering poor rural women. Successes have been notable in microfinance for women, as well as in social empowerment through education, training and strengthening women's organisational capacity. Results have been greatest when activities aiming to improve women's agency and economic status have been complemented by investments in water supply, health and functional literacy. When women's rights to land and common property resources have been secured, achievements have become more sustainable.

Mr. Chairperson,

Reducing gender inequalities and increasing the capabilities of poor rural women is therefore not only a matter of social justice and human rights; it is a fundamental necessity if any significant progress is to be made towards the achievement of the Millennium Development goals. It is time to recognise that if poverty is to be reduced substantially, the volume and direction of development assistance need to change. This means that the current trends in ODA whereby finance to rural and agricultural development has declined by nearly half over the past 15 years must be reversed. It means that development plans and approaches should better reflect the different priorities of poor rural women and men. They should also create conditions wherein globalisation can become an opportunity for advancement and not a risk of further marginalisation for poor rural women. It means parallel investments in both economic and social development. Only when basic needs - health, education, essential infrastructure – are addressed will the poor, and women in particular, be able to take advantage of opportunities for economic advancement. It also means more coordinated efforts at all levels - governments, the donor community, and civil society organisations - to ensure that valuable resources are not wasted in the effort to meet the tremendous challenge posed by the Millennium Goals.

Thank you.

New York, 4 March 2002

Statement delivered by Ms. Annina Lubbock, Technical Advisor for Gender and Household Food Security, The International Fund for Agricultural Development