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Representatives of UN member states meet to consider funding the joint
programme on rural women's economic empowerment. ©IFAD
ROME – Representatives of some 30 United Nations member states gathered last week in Rome to hear an appeal for US$35 million in support for a five-year interagency programme designed to accelerate the economic empowerment of rural women.

The joint programme was launched last year by the three Rome-based UN agencies – the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), IFAD and the World Food Programme (WFP) – as well as UN Women. It is an effort to harness synergies among the four partner agencies, taking advantage of their respective strengths to generate sustainable improvements in the lives and livelihoods of rural women and girls, both on and off the farm.

Held at WFP headquarters on 3 October, the Rome meeting represented an important step forward. For the first time, a large group of potential donors met with the four agencies to consider funding an initial set of pilot projects that the joint programme is establishing in collaboration with rural women in Ethiopia, Guatemala, Kyrgyzstan, Liberia, Nepal, Niger and Rwanda.

A prerequisite for progress
“We are here to finalize the plans for our way forward,” WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin said as the meeting started. She added that removing structural impediments to the economic empowerment of rural women is a prerequisite for global progress on household food security, nutrition and other major development objectives.

Members of a rural women's credit cooperative in Ethiopia,
one of the  UN joint programme's target countries.
©IFAD/Timothy Ledwith
Cousin pointed out that the joint programme has already held consultations with rural women and national governments in the target countries. In addition, she said, the four partner agencies have agreed to use a joint funding mechanism under the Multi-Partner Trust Fund administered by the UN Development Programme. Cousin emphasized, however, that contributions from donor nations are still needed to fully implement the effort. “We can’t do it without you,” she said.

Associate Vice President for Programmes Kevin Cleaver spoke for IFAD’s top leadership at the meeting. He called women’s economic empowerment “one of the most important things we can do to achieve our mandate, which is rural poverty reduction, in IFAD’s case.” Cleaver also moderated the two-hour session.

Next, in a message delivered by video, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka stressed that the joint programme’s pilot projects would provide opportunities for innovations that could be brought to scale in the target countries and beyond.

FAO Senior Gender Officer Susan Kaaria followed with an update on the programme’s progress to date. Kaaria noted that workplans and budgets are being crafted on the basis of the consultations in the target countries. While the entry points for these plans vary according to each country’s specific needs, she said, they all have “strong potential to add value” to existing initiatives on rural women’s economic empowerment.

Kaaria went on to explain that all country-level operations supported by the joint programme would align with its overall goals for rural women, including improved food and nutrition security; increased income to sustain their livelihoods; enhanced leadership and participation in rural institutions; and a more gender-responsive policy environment.

Drivers of economic development
Two of the ambassadors at the meeting – H.E. Evelyn Anita Stokes-Hayford and H.E. Jostein Leiro, respectively Ghana’s and Norway’s Ambassadors and Permanent Representatives to FAO, IFAD and WFP – offered statements embracing these goals.

A smallholder farmer irrigates her land in Guatemala,
another of the joint programme's target countries.
©IFAD/Santiago Albert Pons
Ambassador Stokes-Hayford highlighted the vital role played by women and girls in ensuring the food and nutrition security of rural households throughout the developing world. But to maximize their potential and improve their lives, Ambassador Stokes-Hayford said, rural women need equitable access to land and productive resources. “We must all put in the effort required,” she told the other member states.

Ambassador Leiro said his country had taken an active interest in the joint programme because women’s empowerment is at the core of its international development policy. He recalled that in Norway’s own history, well before the North Sea oil boom, the economy accelerated when increasing numbers of women entered the paid workforce. Women’s empowerment is “one of the most powerful drivers of economic development,” he said.

Following a discussion in which representatives of the member states and partner agencies exchanged views on the vision and operations of the joint programme, the Chef de Cabinet in the FAO Director-General’s office, Fernanda Guerrieri, wrapped up the meeting. Guerrieri made a final appeal for donors to fully fund the programme in the interest of millions of strong but often marginalized women who are, in many ways, the driving force behind rural development.

Learn more about the Joint Programme on Accelerating Progress towards the Economic Empowerment of Rural Women – and watch the video below, produced by WFP, with Doña María Elena Pop, leader of the Pocomchí Farmers' Association in Guatemala, discussing the importance of supporting women's associations and highlighting the work of UN agencies in this area.

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