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Opening Remarks to the Joint Programme on Rural Women’s Economic Empowerment

Today, we are here to review the progress made since our launch of the Joint Programme on Rural Women’s Economic Empowerment (RWEE).  Importantly, we are here together to finalize the plans for the way-forward.  Empowering rural women is a must, if we are to seriously tackle the problems of food insecurity and undernutrition.

We recognize that our inability to attack the underlying causes of undernutrition without identifying, targeting and appropriately addressing the structural impediments preventing rural women from achieving their potential.  This work must begin with policies that will improve women’s access to tools that will increase their agricultural productivity as well as policies that will improve women’s access to education.  In other words, all of our policies relating to the eradication of hunger and chronic malnutrition cannot be gender blind -- they must be gender sensitive because if we leave women out we will not achieve the objectives.

In performing this work, we must always remember that women are multidimensional.  We know that most rural smallholder farmers are women.  Most rural care-givers are women.  Women play every role in society yet we know that rural women are those who are most denied access to the resources, expertise and education.  It is only through providing the requisite access to resources, expertise and education that we can even begin the work of empowering women.

The empowerment of rural women is not optional.  Data derived from FAO as well as World Bank studies recognize that investing in women is the best investment in communities' development and the family’s food security.  It is our duty, as leading agencies working on agriculture, food security and nutrition, to work together and to support their empowerment and opportunity for the agricultural resilience of these women.

To achieve this, last year FAO, IFAD and WFP launched this Joint-Programme on Rural Women’s Economic Empowerment, together with UN Women.  In doing this, we agreed to spearhead a five-year, comprehensive UN-system response. Through the programme, we have set out to achieve four major outcomes to empower women.  First, we will support the increased productivity of women smallholder farmers by increasing their control over their outputs and by providing them with access to extension services, learning and critical services.  Second, we will support the development of women’s led enterprises, throughout food systems, to allow for sustainable livelihoods.  Third, we will enhance women’s participation and leadership in rural institutions, raising awareness on women’s rights.  Finally, we will support governments with policy-making to advance rural women’s rights.

We have made some concrete progress, and the first steps have been taken.  National inception workshops have been held in Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Nepal, Niger and Rwanda.  As a result, joint country programmes of work have been prepared with implementation plans.  We have agreed to establish a Multi-Partner Trust Fund (MPTF), which will be administered by UNDP.  Host governments are fully engaged and keen to see rapid implementation of these efforts; and some agencies have been able to fund small-scale activities from their existing budgets.

More needs to be done for this programme.  If we are to work together to scale up, to develop new approaches and to address the inequalities faced by rural women, we must mobilize resources.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are united in the conviction that realizing the potential of rural women is key to their economic empowerment and autonomy.  Women lie at the center of food security.  We cannot achieve Zero Hunger without the active role of women.