WORLD RURAL WOMEN’S DAY
As the world celebrates World Rural Women’s Day for 9 years since its launching at the fourth United Nations Conference on Women in Beijing, China in 1995, we ask – are the rural women celebrating today?
According to the State of Food Insecurity in the World 2003, FAO report - (http://www.fao.org/documents/show_cdr.asp?url_file=/docrep/006/j0083e/j0083e00.htm)
- From 1995–1997 to 1999–2001 the number of undernourished actually increased by 18 million.
- Worldwide, FAO estimates that 842 million people were undernourished in 1999–2001. This includes 10 million in the industrialized countries, 34 million in countries in transition and 798 million in developing countries.
Hunger is the urgent issue that rural women are facing today in their families and in their communities. Despite the longer work hours that they put in the drastically decreasing agricultural lands, at the end of a long day, there is just not enough food on the table, not enough rice on the bowl – not for her family, and most of the time, not for her. This is so, even if she makes up the region’s largest food producer.
Rural women produce 60% of food in Asia , and they own only 2% of the land, receive only 1% of all agricultural credit, can avail only 5% of all agricultural extension resources. (http://www.ruralwomyn.net/report_one.html)
Rural women spend an average of 20% more time than men working; and 6% more time than their urban counterpart (Human Development Report 1995)
Between 50-75% of pre-post harvest activities in fishing communities are done by women (Nozawa, Empowerment of Women in Fisheries, International Symposium on Women in Fisheries, 2001)
To this day, the work of rural women remains unrecognized as “productive work”. These are considered only support to men’s labor or extension of women’s “reproductive work”. With the undervaluation of work comes the lack of recognition of their rights to land and access to resources.
These are validated by the stories shared by the women from 12 different countries in Asia when they got together in June 28-30, 2004 in Manila , Philippines for the Asian Conference on Peasant Women Land Rights and Globalisation.
In Nepal , 70% of farmers have less than one hectare of land. L ess than 5% of people occupied most of the fertile land. Men own 90% of private land, and women have no access to inheritance property.
In Thailand, most land is concentrated in just a handful of people. Only about 10% of the population owns more than 100 rai of land (15 hectares), whereas 90% owns 1 rai or even less.About 800,000 families have no land to till and have become tenants.
In Vietnam, the population of 80 million is made up of 51% women. But the Vietnamese women have no direct access to land use. T he Land Use Right certificates are registered in the name of the head of the household. With almost 80% of households currently headed by men, women’s names are largely invisible in Land Use Right Certificates.
In the declaration of the said conference, the women said “As our right to land is continuously denied, so is our right to decent lives. As our rights are denied, so is our children’s right to healthy lives and therefore lives of the future generations.”
This struggle for land is a shared fight between men and women in the rural communities against the big landlords and the transnational corporations allowed in by the governments. Lands and other resources, which are the primary sources of food, are being privatized and commercialized for profit. The rural women have a step further to take, as they also have to struggle against the cultural and political discrimination against them, rendering them with less property, less opportunity, even as they are given the primary responsibility of putting food on the table for the family.
In the Philippines, 60% of the total women population in the country resides in the rural areas, and they constitute half of the poor. In 2001, women registered the biggest number of unemployed in the rural areas. Of the total number of women employed in agriculture, more than half (52%) are unpaid family labor. How poor are the rural women in human terms? Cases of mothers in Nueva Ecija, a province in Luzon region, are now selling their babies, while other infants in public hospitals are dying almost every day. (Alejandro Lichauco, “Mass Hunger in the Philippines and the Fiscal Debt Crisis” August 2004)
With growing hunger staring at our face, neo-liberal processes are persistently being followed by national governments, especially trade liberalisation. With the focus on importing food products, food production took a back seat. From food producers, our countries have become food importers. Our farmers have become wage earners, with wages below survival rate. With the privatisation of natural resources, the once productive lands are either over cultivated, or converted to industrial lands, giving way to mining and other extractive industrial activities, with the TNCs reaping scandalous profits. These have also led to proliferation of large commercial fishing technologies alienating small scale fishing villages, tourism development and other commercial projects such as dams, adversely impacting the coastal ecosystem.
In the declaration of the Asian Regional Consultation on Women in Fisheries (Medan, Indonesia/August 2004), the participants stated that “the nature of ongoing development itself is patriarchal – there is a systemic divide between the public and the private spheres in life and the systemic subjugation of women and of their sexuality, fertility and labour. This patriarchal paradigm of development puts profit before life and is based on the exploitation of nature and the disrespect of life processes. This kind of development jeopardizes the life and livelihood of our people while causing irreparable damage to sensitive ecosystems and the biodiversity on which life is sustained.”
So, are there reasons for the rural women to celebrate?
Yes. APWLD celebrates and salutes the courage and resilience of rural women.
Faced with the grim reality of landlessness and hunger, she finds the courage to ask why, seeks the reasons, and works for change. In the midst of intensifying violence against her and her community for asserting their rights, she uses her fear to push her forward in the frontline of resistance.
APWLD celebrates the sisterhood and comradeship as the rural women strengthened their unity within the Asian Women Peasant Network; as they revitalized their Asian Indigenous Women’s Network; as they continue to find creative ways in broadening their ranks as women fish workers. The rural women’s participation have strengthened the broader peoples movement as they made their presence and contribution felt in the one-month long Peoples’ Caravan for food sovereignty; as they marched through the side streets and villages in Mumbai with their drums and their songs calling for the WTO out of food and agriculture during the Peoples Movement Encounter ( PME ); as they boldly spoke out the adverse impacts of transnational corporations’ encroachment in their lands in the World Social Forum in Mumbai.
APWLD joins them in their call of WTO out of food and agriculture; an end to hunger, as they assert their right to food and land.
APWLD expresses its solidarity in their struggle for food sovereignty.
APWLD echoes their demand for the end of discrimination based on gender, class and caste.
APWLD stands united with them as we collectively break down structures of patriarchy and corporate globalisation and create a just, free, humane, democratic society.
October 15, 2004
Rural and Indigenous Women Task Force
Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development