|Rural women and food security: current situation and perspectives. (1998)|
|3 Constraints faced by women farmers|
Despite a growing recognition of women's critical role in food production and food security, institutional support to rural women in the Near East has been weak. Government, non-governmental and international efforts remain limited in nature and scope. While variation exists among the countries with respect to the support given to rural women from these various institutions, for the most part, efforts have been small-scale, one-time initiatives that target only a very small number of women beneficiaries. Very few projects have been innovative, and fewer still extend support to women farmers by providing them with credit, land, technology or training for food production and household food security purposes.
At the government level, several Women in Development (WID) Units and other national machineries have been set up to empower women. More often than not, these bodies have vague or limited mandates, with little impact at the national policy level, and suffer considerably from poor funding and limited access to appropriate human and technical resources. These machineries tend to operate outside mainstream development efforts and, so far, have had very little impact on improving the conditions of rural women.
A few countries, such as Egypt, the Sudan, Tunisia and Turkey, have well-established WID structures with clear-cut objectives. Some units in the region (in Egypt, Yemen, the Sudan, Iran and Turkey) have been established at a high level within their ministries of agriculture and have been given the tasks of: promoting gender awareness among men and women through gender planning and training; mainstreaming gender considerations in agricultural policies and practices; conducting research and collecting information on women in agriculture (data, documents, etc.); facilitating women's access to productive resources and services; and coordinating the activities of national and international bodies. For the most part, however, these structures have not yet been successful in incorporating gender issues into food and agricultural development policies and strategies.
Rural women are, in general, poorly supported by NGOs. Although a large number of NGOs operate in the region, few have concentrated their work in rural areas. The number of rural projects and their beneficiaries is quite small. When projects are directed at rural women, they are often one-time, small-scale, income-generating efforts and revolve around educational, health and vocational training. While these are important elements in assisting women to achieve food security at the household level, further efforts are needed to address women's needs in large-scale food production activities, such as crop and livestock production, directly. Specifically, efforts should be directed at developing and providing women with new time-saving and labour-saving technologies to produce and process food more efficiently.
International support for rural women in the region is also poor. The few projects that have been instituted are small-scale, localized and isolated, with little potential for any significant large-scale impact on improving women's contribution to food security. To date, the majority of projects have targeted education, health and family planning needs and have provided training and inputs for small-scale traditional women's enterprises such as weaving and animal husbandry. While these are commendable efforts, more innovative approaches are needed to target larger numbers of rural women and assist them in their efforts to increase food production and establish household food security. Examples of such efforts include interventions that seek to develop and provide agricultural technologies, credit and extension to women farmers, redistribute land to women or increase the demand for women's paid labour in rural areas.
Despite the fact that few high-impact policies and projects have been instituted in the region to support rural women in food security, some significant first-time initiatives have been undertaken, which set the stage for future work in the field . However, these remain isolated, localized and dispersed efforts that target only a small number of rural women.