Over the past decades, the Asia-Pacific region has made considerable strides in social development, driven by economic growth, which generated new jobs, increased incomes and improved access to basic services and other opportunities. The Social Development Division SDD promotes social protection, fosters gender equality, and strengthens social inclusion of persons with disabilities, older persons, youth and migrants, among others. Our work is informed by data analysis and research.
Migration and health
SDD presents original research and evidence-based policy analysis on inequality of opportunity and on identifying the furthest behind; social protection; gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls; ageing societies and older persons; international migration; population and development issues; and the rights of persons with disabilities.
SDD builds capacities in the Asia-Pacific region through national level activities that support governments to accelerate the implementation of the Agenda and other global and regional frameworks. It also develops policy tools and guidelines to analyze the role of sustainable urbanization in national and regional growth and transformation and ensure its accurate monitoring through robust data and statistics towards evidence based policy making. Importantly, the section supports member States in the implementation, follow up and review of Goal 11 of the Agenda for Sustainable Development, as well as the New Urban Agenda of the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development Habitat II in , including through regional partnerships.
Table of contents
Skip to main content. Social Development About. Consumption patterns and industrial production in developed countries are very detrimental to sustainable development, natural resources and people everywhere. Global warming, the shrinking ozone layer and reduced biodiversity are some of the better-known effects of environmental degradation. In many countries the lives of rural people are wholly dependent on the availability of natural resources. Both men and women overexploit natural resources in a struggle for survival in which soils are depleted, wildlife, plant and marine resources destroyed, and the quality of water downgraded.
Environmental degradation is most keenly felt by the most vulnerable members of the community and those who rely heavily on nature's bounty.
For this reason, gender disparities in natural resource management and participation in policy-making must be clearly understood. Women continue to be under-represented in governments, legislative bodies and many other crucial sectors affecting public opinion, such as the mass media, the arts, religion and culture. Worldwide, there are only 16 countries in which more than 15 percent of ministerial posts are held by women, and in 59 countries there are no women ministers at all. These inequalities have their roots in everyday family life; gender disparities in the division of household tasks and responsibilities cramp women's horizons and hamper their full participation in other activities.
Socio-cultural prejudices and stereotyping are still the main constraints to women's participation in the spheres of political and economic power. Few women occupy key positions in large companies, and it is still rare to find a woman heading one. Ministries of finance and budget and the central banks are mostly headed by men, with very few administrative or management positions filled by women.
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Such policies have, indeed, often had a negative impact. Two reasons for this have already been made clear: women agricultural producers have been left out of the equation; and many development policies and projects do not take gender issues into consideration. The lack of gender-disaggregated data has probably been the main constraint to serious consideration of women's real role in agriculture. Such data would help to enlist women's full participation in the formulation of rural development and food security strategies.
In addition, gender-disaggregated data would illuminate gender-differentiated impacts on food and cash crop production, financial management and supervision, and the storage and sale of agricultural products. Secure land rights encompass the rights to lease public land and use community-owned property, and not just the right to own private property. Women would certainly make better use of land to which they had some sort of guaranteed rights, as such rights would help and encourage them to make the correct long-and short-term input and management decisions and achieve higher yields.
Women have had limited access to land nearly everywhere throughout history. Even agrarian reform or resettlement programmes have failed to solve this problem - indeed they have aggravated it by allocating land to the head of the family, who is presumed to be a man. Those responsible for the design and execution of such programmes have paid little attention to the question of who is really responsible for the household or productive unit.
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In addition, the modernization of agriculture has often led to whole populations being moved off the best land to make room for cash crops, making once self-sufficient farmers dependent on getting food from other sources. In contrast, however, agrarian reform in some countries, such as Thailand, China, Nicaragua, Malaysia and Cuba, has led to changes in systems that once relegated women to a subordinate position in family food production. Many women have also organized themselves to claim access to collectively owned land. Limited access to land is still a major constraint to women's full participation in rural development.
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The Beijing Platform for Action underlined this aspect as a direct cause of female poverty. Among the options for eradicating poverty, it urged governments to implement policies to promote women's access to and control over land, and to reform legislation that deprived women of the right to own and inherit land. In rural areas, where fetching water can take all day, women are responsible for providing it to the family unit. Water is needed for food preparation, drinking, personal hygiene and watering the garden and livestock. Women cannot afford to waste a drop of it.
They know the local sources of good drinking-water, which they have to fetch, store and manage. They recycle it for washing and watering, maximizing water use and keeping it as clean as possible. They have acquired real expertise in water management, and consideration and recognition of this is crucial to the success of water conservation programmes and policies. Despite this, agricultural sector policies tend to favour monocropping for cash over the crop diversification that is typical of and essential to rural food production.
One feature of this approach is that little attention is paid to small-scale irrigation and water supply systems that are appropriate to small farmers. The needs, as well as the water management expertise, of the men and women in this subsector are overlooked. In many cases, water is monopolized and channeled, and rivers and streams are diverted for commercial irrigation, depriving many small settlements and farm plots. Drainage systems are built and cause water supplies to become polluted with pesticides and other contaminants. Water is wasted, and no thought is given to recycling this resource, or even using it in a rational way.
Decisions regarding the scheduling of water in irrigated zones tend to be made without women's on-farm and home activities being taken into account. The exclusion of women from water management and irrigation projects is a key factor in the frequent failure of both water and poverty alleviation projects.
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Despite this, agricultural research has focused nearly exclusively on profitable cash crops and other basic commodities such as maize, to the detriment of cereal, fruit, pulse and vegetable crops. To achieve sustainable agricultural production in developing countries, research programmes need to target food crops and small livestock, making the most of the farming expertise of women who are responsible for growing food. FAO studies confirm that women constitute the backbone of the small farming sector, they produce 60 to 80 percent of the food in developing countries and 50 percent worldwide , do much of the work on the farm and provide for their families.
However, they have much less access than men to the information and farm support services that were established to boost productivity. Micro-economic studies in Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa have shown that women also play a decisive role in specific cash crop operations. In many countries they are responsible for coastal and inland fisheries in rivers and lagoons; the production of secondary crops; gathering forest products, fuelwood and water; processing and conserving food; and fetching the family's water supply.
Women are extremely knowledgeable about the value and use of wild and domestic varieties, and this has major implications for food, health, income and the conservation of plant genetic resources. If women are overlooked as food producers and resource managers, modern technology will lose the benefit of traditional practices. New approaches now being introduced will bring women into agricultural research, harnessing their special skills in production and biodiversity for their own benefit and for that of society.
There are pragmatic gender differences in men's and women's knowledge about the environment, plants and animals, and their respective uses and products. This gender differentiated knowledge is crucial to in situ genetic resource conservation, management and improvement. Deciding which species to conserve demands an intimate local understanding of the value of each resource.
In times of famine, drought and war, people often depend on their familiarity with wild plants and animals to feed themselves. Subsistence farmers the majority of whom are women in most parts of the world are not in a position to buy such inputs as fertilizers, pesticides and veterinary medicines and have to fall back on their ability to adapt to the environment, which allows them to grow a wide range of crops and to buffer crop failure and livestock disease or death by finding alternative food sources in the wild.
For subsistence farmers, the natural ecosystem is a varied and permanent larder and an ally in the struggle against hunger and malnutrition. Research programmes have consistently undervalued the capacity of rural communities for varietal improvement and innovative crop practices. Modern techniques and attitudes have caused women to lose much of the influence and control over production and the access to resources which they used to enjoy.
This is the legacy of patriarchal practices that where introduced during the process of colonization and which, unfortunately, persist today in some parts of the world involving the introduction of crops and techniques for the benefit of commercial interests, while totally ignoring environmental protection and the needs of the local people. There is a body of highly sophisticated knowledge that is handed down from one generation to the next. Sustainable practices for the protection of soil, water, natural vegetation and biodiversity have been developed over time.
They should be preserved and extended, and priority given to enhancing and promoting them. A concomitant requirement would be to set up a database for an initial analysis, followed by permanent monitoring and evaluation of progress. FAO studies have identified several weak points that prevent extension programmes from reaching rural women.
The traditional focus of most extension services is the farmer-landowner, 21 who is in a position to claim credit and invest in inputs and new technology. Few women have access to land and other resources, and encounter serious constraints to obtaining credit. Extension services tend to sideline them, focusing more on cash crops than on the subsistence food crops that are a priority for women farmers and are vital to the food security of millions.
Deep-rooted, erroneous beliefs on the part of extension workers lead them to overlook women. They may claim that it is difficult to establish dialogue with women who are, in any case, of only minor importance in agricultural production , that women have little say in farm decisions or a poor grasp of what extensionists are teaching, or that they are too shy or reluctant to accept new technology.
Other factors hindering women's access to extension are their lack of formal schooling, mobility and time for extension activities. However, women are good at finding ways of balancing domestic responsibilities with farm duties. Their inclusion in extension programmes would make their work more productive, helping to boost agricultural production. Extension programmes would be more likely to succeed if they were tailored to women's special circumstances. The lack of extension service provision for women restricts their access to inputs such as improved seed, fertilizer and pesticides.
Women rarely belong to cooperatives, but cooperative membership is often a necessary qualification for government-subsidized inputs for small farmers. Extension services are pivotal to increased productivity, agricultural development and poverty eradication.