Rural Women. Period.

October 15 is the International Day of Rural Women. This year marks the fourth celebration. According to the United Nations, the day “recognizes `the critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women, in enhancing agricultural and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty.’”

Rural women do a bit more than ”enhance” and “improve”, and the do so in more areas than “the rural”.

Who, and where, exactly, are “rural women”?

On one hand, they are women in rural zones. As such, they are the heart of the current food crisis. They are the women working the sugar farms, or sweatshops, in KwaZulu-Natal and the citrus farms of the Western Cape, both in South Africa, too often overlooked or forgotten by the trade unions, the State, and, to a certain extent, large swathes of the women’s movement. They are also the South African women who comprise Sikhula Sonke and the Surplus Peoples Project, women who struggle, organize, keep on keeping on.

They are the rural and indigenous women in Argentina who speak out about and who organize to stop the environmental and economic devastation of climate change, a process they see and live with every day.

They are the rural and indigenous women across Asia who struggle with the intensification of patriarchal exclusion the emerges from the embrace of local power brokers, national governments and multinational corporations, especially but not exclusively those engaged in agriculture. They are women, like Rajkala Devi, who have broken glass, linen, silk, and concrete ceilings to attain public office in villages, as in hers in Rajasthan, India, and to move more than the village into more than recognition of women’s rights.

They are the fisherwomen like Rehema Bavuma, from Uganda, who struggle, along with their Asian and Latin American sisters, to do more and better than merely stop land grabs, to change the entire system. These women know, without the `benefit’ of longitudinal studies, that girls and women are the key to food security, to well being. They also know that girls and women are the key to food sovereignty, to something more and better than an end to hunger and an end to threat of starvation.

They are women who struggle with patriarchal governments, like Lind Bara-Weaver, a stone’s throw from Washington. Bara-Weaver struggles with the economy, as do all farmers. But she also struggles with the US federal government’s policies concerning loans to women farmers.

They are Dina Apomayta, in the highlands of Peru, the seed keepers, the guardians of diversity, the last station against what some call “Holocene extinction”, the end of diversity. And they are everywhere.

Rural women are not just in rural areas. They are in cities, too. They are women like Somali farmer Khadija Musame and Liberian farmer Sarah Salie, both now living and providing food for residents of San Diego … in the United States. They are women like Jenga Mwendo, founder of the Backyard Gardeners Network in New Orleans, and women like Regina Fhiceka, a garden and community organizer in Philippi, just outside of Cape Town.

Rural women are everywhere. They are in rural areas and they are in cities. They are the world. That’s the message we should carry on the International Day of Rural Women, today, and into tomorrow, World Food Day … and beyond. Rural women. Period.

 

(Image Credit: American Dairy Association of Indiana)

Women pay for rising food prices

Youth in Algeria are `rioting’ to protest, and change the conditions of, high unemployment and high and quickly rising food prices. In Egypt, where food inflation is running at a staggering 17 percent, the women are talking once again of the food lines, and the food riots and uprisings, of 2008.

In Bolivia, shopkeepers, such as Pilar Calisaya, are battling with police because of quickly rising bread prices. As she explains, “I am not at fault”.

In China, as Xu Shengru shops for food to feed her family, she notes that cabbage, a staple, has doubled in price since last year. That’s actually the good news. Recently, rice prices rose 30 percent in just 10 days.  Pepper prices rocketed an astonishing 1,000 percent.  In Indonesia, where pepper prices are also scaling new heights at new speeds, the government is imploring citizens to plant chilies in their backyards.

In India, food inflation has `zoomed’ to 18.32 percent this week alone, spurred by onion, vegetable and milk price rises. Last year alone, the price of onions rose 40 percent.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, world food prices in 2010 hit a new high, especially cereals and sugar. Wheat prices soared, corn as well. The price of meat and of milk also rose precipitously. These are the highest prices in thirty years. Put differently, well over half the world’s population has never lived with such high prices. It’s no surprise the youth of Algeria are protesting.

The brunt is back, and yet again the analysts inform us that it’s the world’s poorest who will bear the brunt.  And yet again there will be stories of individual women, such as Pilar Calisaya, or the unnamed woman in Egypt, or the unnamed woman in Algeria facing down a row of police, or Xu Shengru, and their struggles with food political economies, but there will be no analysis or reporting on the place of women in the `danger territory’ of food provision and consumption.

As the discussions of food prices, food riots, food protests, food markets, and food counter-markets spiral, keep an eye out for structural analyses of women’s positions.

One woman who knows something about women, food, crisis, is Jenga Mwendo.   Mwendo is the founder of the Backyard Gardens Network in New Orleans. After Katrina, she began rebuilding her own home, in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward, and began building a new food political economy in the middle of food desert and in the midst of a food desertification.  She organized the rebuilding of two community gardens, the planting of fruit trees, and more. Mwendo understands that the only buffer against the predations of market control of food is community production. For some, this would be community gardens, for others, coops. In all of these, and other alternative community food experiments and projects, women historically have been the principal agents and constituency. Women still are.

Jenga Mwendo is precisely not exceptional. Women do not only bear the brunt of the devastating food market economies. Women are neither the victims nor the survivors of food catastrophes and crises. Instead, women are the change agents, from food uprisings to community gardens, and beyond.

Meanwhile, “fresh rioting broke out in Algiers today.”

 

(Photo Credit: Chris Granger/The Times-Picayune)