Advocates for African Food Security: Lessening the Burden for Women
The Baha'i International Community, Convenor of the "Advocates for African Food Security: Lessening the Burden for Women," welcomes the opportunity to address the 34th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women. The "Advocates" was formed following a UNIFEM (United Nations Fund for the Development of Women) initiated symposium on African women farmers held concurrently with the Special Session of the United Nations General Assembly in 1986 on the Critical Economic Situation in Africa. The Advocates objective is to stimulate action to maintain a global focus on the critical role of women in all the activities that countries feel are necessary for achieving full food security. Membership in the Advocates has expanded from the fourteen founding organizations to over thirty. It is a unique group in that it includes NGOs (non-governmental organizations), United Nations bodies, governments and intergovernmental organizations working together on an equal status basis. Activities focus on practical ways to lessen the burden of women in the areas of food, health, water and energy, in order to improve the quality of their lives generally and free their potential to produce crops, not only for their families, but for national food security.
At the Commission's 33rd session, the Advocates had urged the Commission to ensure that women and NGOs would be full participants in all aspects of the United Nations Conference on Popular Participation, held 12-16 February 1990, at Arusha, Tanzania under the auspices of the Economic Commission for Africa. We are pleased to report that the Planning Committee for the Conference included several women. The Committee acknowledged the importance of women's participation, inviting 25 women's organizations to be represented at the Conference.
The Advocates, one of the 25 organizations, were able, through the generous sponsorship of one of its members, to send Mrs. Alasebu Gebre Selassie from Ethiopia as its representative. The Advocates also assisted the work of the Preparatory Committee, by submitting the names of seventy-seven African women qualified to contribute substantively to the Conference. Several were selected to prepare papers for and/or make presentations at the meeting, including Dr. Miriam Were, UNICEF Director of Health and Nutrition for Ethiopia, who made the keynote speech at the Advocates' annual symposium at UN Headquarters in October, 1989. One of the Advocates representatives took part in a unique Marketplace of Ideas held during the Conference, presenting the Advocates as a model for promoting other important issues.
We note very warmly the historic initiative taken by the Preparatory Committee to have a Day Care Center at the Conference, staffed by two women and two men, and recommend that this action be viewed as a precedent for future meetings.
The Advocates take this opportunity to support the efforts of UNIFEM and other agencies pushing for a national and regional policy on food security. We urge the Commission on the Status of Women to promote the design of national food policies which will incorporate the contribution of African women farmers in the various steps of the food chain.
In preparation for the End-Term Review of UNPAAERD in 1991, the Advocates are planning to hold a round table dialogue on possible field level activities with knowledgeable people at the time of the forthcoming Special Session of the General Assembly on Economic Matters. Discussions are underway to have a joint consultation at the same time with the participants in the Women's Alternative Economic Summit.
We are pleased to report that over the past year, the network with women and NGOs in Africa has been strengthened. The Advocates now seek better ways and means to increase communication at local levels, to provide more opportunity to listen to the concerns and needs at field level so as to be better able to promote effective response at international and national levels.
We urge the Commission, therefore:
- to support African women's perspectives in dialogues among UN agencies, governments and NGOs in the search for improved methods of popular participation in African recovery and food security.
- to ensure active participation of women in policy formulation and provide appropriate channels for information exchange in all aspects of food security, including land tenure, water, energy, environment and health.
- to encourage men to recognize and support the valuable contribution of African women farmers to food security and impress upon them that food security is the business of everyone in the community.
- to urge UN agencies, governments and NGOs to recognize and utilize grassroots knowledge and traditional methods when introducing appropriate and new technology.
- to urge governments to include the actual work done by African women farmers in statistical reporting for the GNP.
- to assist the networking process by seeking the support of United Nations bodies and national governments in strengthening the role of the African Women's Development and Communications Network (FEMNET) in coordinating the flow of information among various African women's organizations concerned with women's development.
- to identify, advocate and urge the incorporation of environmentally sound policy strategies which promote sustainable development in Africa.
- to include the concerns of African women farmers in planning for the Fourth UN Development Decade.
- to identify local African organizations working with and for women farmers and support their efforts.
- to press elected representatives and policymakers to favor those programs that directly lessen the burdens of the African woman farmer.