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8 March 2006

The following statement was issued by Jean Ziegler, the Independent Expert on the right to food of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on the occasion of International Women's Day:

“The Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Jean Ziegler, is concerned about the impact of desertification on women and women’s rights. One of the world's most alarming processes of environmental degradation, the risks of desertification are substantial and clear. It contributes to food insecurity, famine and poverty, and can lead to the violations of economic and social rights that can cause tension, conflicts, further poverty and land degradation.

Land degradation affects the rights of men and women differently given their differing roles. While stress and hardship rise for everyone as the resources closest to a community begin to disappear, women usually end up travelling longer distances to compensate, often under harsh and unsafe conditions. Their workload grows as they struggle to collect food and fuel. Erosion and diminished soil fertility affect agricultural production and additional sources of income. And if a family can no longer survive, using this traditional means of livelihoods, young people and especially men in rural areas embark on seasonal or permanent migration. This puts a sharp strain on those left behind, mostly women, as labour increases but results in less output.

On this day and given this year's special focus of the UN on desertification, the Special Rapporteur urges States to promote awareness and facilitate the participation of the local population, particularly women and youth, with the support of non-governmental organizations, in efforts to combat desertification and mitigate the effects of drought as provided by the United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification. The Special Rapporteur also recalls that under international human rights law States have the obligation to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all areas of economic and social life and against women in rural areas taking into account the particular problems faced by rural women and the significant roles which rural women play in the economic survival of their families, including their work in the non-monetized sectors of the economy.

Finally the Special Rapporteur emphasizes that States and the international community must contribute to preserving an environment which is conducive to the realization of the right to food whereby all women and men are entitled to have regular, permanent and unrestricted access, either directly or by means of financial purchases, to quantitatively and qualitatively adequate and sufficient food corresponding to the cultural traditions of the people to which the consumer belongs, and which ensure a physical and mental, individual and collective, fulfilling and dignified life free of fear”.

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