For rural women around the world, NOW IS THE TIME!

Around the world, rural women are organizing and mobilizing, and leading agrarian movements, land rights movement, farm workers and peasant movements, and more. From the farmlands and highlands of Peru and Colombia to the farmlands of Zimbabwe and the United States, to the polling stations of India, and beyond, rural women are taking charge.

In the highlands of Peru, in Cajamarca, women are fighting to stop a multinational mining consortium from devastating their waters, lands, and lives. At the helm of this struggle are Máxima Acuña Chaupe, who began her campaign as an attempt to secure her family’s land; and Mirtha Vasquez Chuquilin, a lawyer who works for Comprehensive Training for Sustainable Development (Grupo de Formación Integral para el Desarrollo Sostenible, GRUFIDES). Together, these two women are bringing together popular forces, women’s groups and knowledge, and legal and technical skills. They combat the mining security forces as well as the mining companies’ lawyers while they also combat State security forces and other, more anonymous agents.

The risk to their lives is great, but the risk of not struggling is greater.

Likewise, in Colombia, peasant farmers are engaged in an agrarian strike that has paralyzed much of the country. At the helm of this campaign is Olga Quintero, a leader of the Asociación Campesina del Catatumbo, which was on strike last year for 52 days. Last December, two armed masked men broke into Quintero’s home. She wasn’t there, and so they bound and gagged her three-year-old daughter. Quintero’s response: “Ni el dinero ni la tierra. El miedo fue lo único que quedó bien repartido entre todos en Colombia.” “Neither money nor land. Fear was the only thing well distributed among all in Colombia.”

Her response is to meet fear with courage, hope, love, and mass organization.

In Zimbabwe, Lena Murembwe, saw a problem. Rural women didn’t know their rights to land. More to the point, rural women didn’t know they had any rights. And so Murembwe’s organization, the Women’s Resource Foundation, began giving workshops and trainings to women in their own rural districts. Widows like Lucia Makawa, 43 years old and the mother of five children, grabbed the opportunity, studied hard, organized, met with traditional chiefs, and took claim to their land. Now Makawa owns six hectares of land, and can see something like a future: “As women we were not even allowed to own a piece of land. But with support from WRF, we have managed to mobilise the support of the chiefs and we have helped solve cases where women were deprived of their right to own land. Now I have my own land and I am in the process of sourcing materials to start building structures. I also have enough space to do my farming.”

Other women, such as Beulah Muchabveyo, studied, learned their rights, and organized to create a dignified, safe space for themselves: “In the past my husband was not treating me as a person at all. He was abusive and never helped with farming work but expected me to give him money after selling our produce. Things are now different in my family after I underwent training in gender and human rights. The training has also given us a platform to meet and discuss issues affecting our lives as women.”

These women know and teach: there is power in knowledge, in union, and in organizing.

In India, as the elections proceed, there’s unprecedented movement among rural women, and unprecedented discussion of `what rural women want.’ What do rural women want? Everything! Rural women say they want public dialogue. They want to be heard. They want a say. They want respect and dignity. They want decent jobs, education, health care. They want an end to violence against women and girls. They want an end to violence. They want an end to predatory lending that targets rural populations and often sends them headlong into bondage or death. They want their own representatives – like Dayamani Barla or Soni Sori – and their proven allies, like Medha Patkar, in Parliament. They want the State. They want democracy. They want it all.

And in the United States, the women of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers want it all as well. When women in the tomato fields of Florida, women like Lupe Gonzalo and Isabel, organize for farm worker’s rights and dignity, they put the struggle to end sexual violence and harassment front and center. They say they cannot wait til after the vote, after the contract, after the revolution for their bodily and spiritual well being to become `an issue.’ They say now is the time.

From Peru and Colombia to Zimbabwe to India to the United States, and beyond and between, rural women, peasant women, women farm workers are organizing intensely because their lives matter urgently: NOW IS THE TIME!

(Photo Credit: Forest Woodward / Facebook)

We need Dayamani Barla

Dayamani Barla is back in jail, and the State won’t say why.

Dayamani Barla lives in Ranchi, the capital of Jharkand, in India. There she runs a small tea shop. That is not why she’s in jail. That is not why the State `released’ her on bail, only to put her back in jail immediately. It’s not tea that has placed Dayamani Barla in a  revolving door of jail – jail – jail, always accompanied by thunderous State silence.

Dayamani Barla is a journalist, according to some the first Tribal journalist from Jharkand. She is a women’s activist, tribal activist, and anti-displacement activist. She’s a popular leader who has refused to be intimidated by either multinational corporations or by the State. She has been described as “Iron Lady” and as “a woman with a steely resolve.”

Actually, she’s not made of steel or iron, but rather of flesh and bone and commitment and action and vision. Transformation and liberation come from ordinary people engaged in ordinary practices. Real change is and must be ordinary.

Dayamani Barla organizes, teaches, and writes in the realm of the ordinary. In 2008, she famously opposed construction of an Arcelor-Mittal plant in Jharkhand. Between 2005 and 2008, the State of Jharkhand signed 112 memoranda of understanding with multinationals. Development was booming … at the expense of those who lived on, nurtured and cherished the land. Dayamani Barla opposed the displacement of those who take care of the land, and of the Earth.

The Arcelor-Mittal plant would have involved 12,000 acres and would have displaced over 70,000 people from some 45 villages. For those people, land is not an asset. It is heritage. Ironically, officially at least, the Indian government agrees. This land is protected, and so cannot be sold for non-agricultural use. And yet, repeatedly, it is.

Dayamani Barla listened to her neighbors and helped them organize. Her neighbors understood the essential truth of displacement. Once displaced, you never return: “We will not allow the Arcelor Mittal Company to enter into the villages because one can not be rehabilitated if once displaced. The lands, which we cultivate belong to our ancestors therefore we will not leave it”.

The “simple” folk of rural Jharkand already knew what the International Red Cross and Red Crescent would only `discover’ four long years later. As the World Disaster Report stated, last week: “Development is a major, but often ignored, driver of forced displacement.” And where’s a hotspot for development-driven displacement? India. The poor of India `bear the brunt’ of development, making up one of the largest populations of internally displaced persons anywhere … ever. And, as is so often the case, there is actually little data concerning those displaced through development. This is ironic given that, unlike all the other drivers of displacement, such as natural disasters and conflict, development is always planned. And yet … the data is `surprisingly’ missing.

But the cost of development to the poor has not been ignored by the poor, by the marginalized. Dayamani Barla has not been surprised by the lack of information, by the ignorance. Neither the State nor the multinational corporations nor the un-civil society made up of journalists, academics, ngo’s and so on, know how to or care to listen to the people actually on the ground.

Since 2010, Dayamani Barla has led a movement to stop government acquisition of farmers’ land for three schools, one of management, one of information technology, and one a law school. Villagers have gone on hunger strikes. Others mobilize. They are not opposed to `knowledge’ or to schools being built. They want consultation. They want a say as to which plot, or plots, of hundreds of acres will be used. They want an end to military occupation. And they want answers. For example, they want to know who decided that Jharkhand needs a knowledge triangle of technology-management-law, rather than, say, basic healthcare or primary education?

Many answer, What Jharkand needs is Dayamani Barla. The Gandhian activist Himanshu Kumar agrees. In a recent poem he asks: “Why do we need Dayamani Barla?” Here’s the beginning of his answer:

“It is a grave danger now to be Dayamani Barla
It is a danger to be an adivasi
It is a danger now to reside in the village

There is land in the village
There are trees in the village
There are rivers in the village
There are minerals in the village
There are people in the village
There is also Dayamani Barla in the village”

There is also Dayamani Barla in the village. We need Dayamani Barla, and not just in the village. We need her in the world. We need her writing. We need her organizing. We need her reminding us that women are the shakers as well as the bakers of revolutionary action and praxis: “The participation of the adivasi women in our struggles has been more than that of men. They are more vociferous as they have to bear the major brunt of the economic and cultural destabilization. Adivasi women in the villages facing the threat of displacement … have clamped a people’s curfew. They equally participate with men in blocking any project-related vehicles, machinery or personnel inside their villages. Women ploughed up the roads and sowed seeds. Volunteers stood as watch guards to see that no one tramples upon their sown fields. Organizations involved in the struggle cannot take any decisions or make any settlements without consulting women’s groups.”

Women tear down walls of `development’ and plant saplings of self-determination and autonomy. We need Dayamani Barla.


(Photo Credit: India Resists)