Over 50% of the world’s food is produced by women, according to data from the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). This index reaches 80% in some regions, such as the Caribbean and Africa.

    A study in Brazil by the UNIFEM in conjunction with the Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA) shows that 34% of rural family income is the fruit of women’s labor and 15.9% of the female work force is engaged in rural activities.

    Despite their economic impact, rural women continue to be marginalized and invisible. "Poverty in Latin America has a rural woman’s face," says Ana Falu, director of the UNIFEM.

    In addition to having to deal with such cultural and social problems as domestic violence and, in many countries, the absence of legal documents, government policies contribute to the perpetuation of gender inequality.

    Around 140 female activists from at least 12 countries met Saturday, March 4, and  Sunday, March 5, in the southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre to discuss strategies to change this situation.

    They were also defining demands and suggestions to present at the 2nd International Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development, which begins this Monday, March 6, and will run through Friday, March 10, also in Porto Alegre. The conference is sponsored by the United Nations in partnership with the Brazilian government.

    The opening of the international seminar, "Policies for Women in Agrarian Reform and Rural Development," on Saturday, was graced by the presence of Brazil’s Minister of Agrarian Development, Miguel Rossetto, and Minister Nilcéa Freire, head of the special Secretariat of Women’s Policies.

    At the seminar women representing social movements in Latin America, Africa, and Asia recounted their experiences.

    In comparison with other Latin American countries and countries in Africa, Brazil’s government policies for gender equality in rural settings are regarded as progressive. Falu, for example, underscored the recognition of rural retirement benefits for female farmers, thanks to the 1988 Constitution.

    Roberto Kiel, executive director of the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (INCRA), mentioned such advances as legal documentation for rural women. "We succeeded in bringing to life 150,000 ghosts who didn’t even have the right to retire," he affirmed.

    Another conquest, according to Kiel, was in the sphere of equal title rights between men and women to agrarian reform lots. This can affect succession rights and "can mean a woman’s right to have a future independent from her husband," he remarked.

    Until the previous Administration, according to the INCRA, property deeds for these lots were always made out to the husband.

    Agência Brasil

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