Indian rural women say NO! to the theft and devastation of their lands and lives

 

In India, last month, rural women shouted, “Enough is enough!” They marched, organized, and raised a ruckus about proposals to make corporate and State land “acquisition” easier and more “efficient.” They marched by the thousands to Delhi to express more than opposition. They went to articulate the value of their presence. And they promised that if no one in authority listened, they would return by the tens and hundreds of thousands.

In 2013, the Indian government passed a Land Acquisition Act that addressed consent, public purpose and urgency, and social impact. While the 2013 law had issues, it began a process of democratizing land acquisition. Local populations had to be consulted. The State was under stricter guidelines and controls concerning its capacity to declare a public need or urgency and thereby seize land. Social impact, such as mass dislocation, would have to be factored in. These provisions have complicated large scale land purchase, and so the new government has decided to prove its corporate creds by erasing over 65% of the national population. After all, farming communities are surely the source of India’s poverty, not “big capital [which] could get away with unconscionable waste, choke off all credit in the economy, externalise their costs on to society and flout regulation” and certainly not “the state [which] could fritter away vast land resources without any accountability.”

The new bill has been called anti-farmer, anti-Dalit, anti-poor, anti-women, and so Dalit women, tribal women, poor women, and women farmers united and went to Delhi. Kallan, from Uttar Pradesh, explained the women’s mobilization, “You see, men are scared of police. They flee at the first sign of trouble. We do not. Take us anywhere — to the police station, to the court anywhere, we will go… We will only go home when we get out patta (land documents).”

Sabubai, a tribal woman from Madhya Pradesh, agrees, “The farmers near our village sold off their land to the government, they wanted money and the land was to be used for a sugar factory. We are sharecroppers, we never owned the land. But we wrested it back from them. We have it now, but not the patta… we want the patta too.”

Baldiya Rana, an Adivasi from Assam, asked why the State is “so desperate to cease tribal cultivation close to forests, however encourage tree felling for firms”. Adivasis make up 8.6 percent of the Indian population, and 40 percent of those displaced by “improvement tasks.” Of those Adivasis who have been displaced, only 21 percent have been resettled.

Dalit farm laborer Hiranya Devi, from Uttar Pradesh, noted, “If solely the landowner will get a job and rehabilitation in trade, then the lots of like me will come and fill your cities. Anyway, that’s the place all of the street, electrical energy and water goes.”

Konsa Bai, a tribal woman from Madhya Pradesh, put it succinctly, “We have no land. Only big people have land in the village.”

Life for rural women has never been easy, anywhere in South Asia, and the everyday struggle for survival has always been hard. Where the food has been grown, hunger has always stalked women and children first. But recent years have been catastrophic. From 2001 to 2011, the number of women agricultural laborers increased 24 percent, while the total number of women farmers dropped 14 percent. Of nearly 98 million Indian women who have agricultural jobs, around 63% are agricultural laborers, dependent on the farms of others. Force women off their own land and then force them to return as laborers, in order to barely survive. It’s an old story and a very new one, and it’s part of the reason women marched to Delhi. They have seen the cost of `shining development’, and they know it targets women, viciously and violently.

Last month, thousands of women went to Delhi to say NO to the theft and devastation of their lands and lives. They went to say YES to their own dignity, to affirm the value of their presence and lives. That was last month. And next month … ?

 

(Photo Credit: BBC / AFP)

Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family have decided to stay

Maxima Acuña de Chaupe is an indigenous small hold farmer, a woman from the highlands of northern Peru. She lives in the department of Cajamarca. In 1994, she and her husband Jaime Chaupe bought a small parcel of land to farm and to live on. They began building their home, clearing the land, preparing for the future. In 1994, Cajamarca also `welcomed’ the Yanacocha Mine, the largest open-pit gold mine in Latin America and the second most `productive’ gold mine in the world. Yanacocha is owned by Newmont Mining Corporation, a US-based company and the largest gold mining company in the world; Buenaventura, a Peruvian company; and the World Bank. Newmont owns more than half the mine. Here’s Yanacocha, 2010: “Yanacocha is Newmont’s prize possession, the most productive gold mine in the world. But if history holds one lesson, it is that where there is gold, there is conflict, and the more gold, the more conflict.” More gold, more conflict, and more company and State violence.

This is a story of the largest assaulting the smallest, and the smallest fighting back.

Although Yanacocha is the largest, Newmont wasn’t satisfied. The owners knew there was more gold, just up the road a pace. And so they launched the Conga Mine project, which would be bigger than Yanacocha. Conga promised, or threatened, to be the largest single investment in Peruvian mining history. The mine owners approached Maxima Acuña de Chaupe with an offer, which she refused. She and her family liked their farm, the region, the community, and had no interest in leaving.

That is when the assaults began. In May 2011, company representatives and police tore down the fences and smashed the Chaupe home. The family stayed. In August company representative and riot police bulldozed the Chaupe’s new home and seized all of their possessions. The family stayed. Then private security guards and police beat Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her daughter unconscious, and took her husband and son to jail. The family stayed.

And so, of course, Yanacocha sued the Chaupe family, charging them with illegal occupation. From Indonesia to South Africa to Canada to Peru, the one constant in mining is there is no irony in those killing fields. The family decided to stay: “I may be poor. I may be illiterate, but I know that our mountain lakes are our real treasure. From them, I can get fresh and clean water for my children, for my husband and for my animals! Yet, are we expected to sacrifice our water and our land so that the Yanacocha people can take gold back to their country? Are we supposed to sit quietly and just let them poison our land and water?”

In August, a judge found for the mining company, but in December, an appeals court struck down the lawsuit. Maxima Acuña de Chaupe won the battle! The small woman on her small piece of land had stopped the largest mine, one of the largest mining corporations, and one of the most intensive forms of industrial violence against people, the environment, and democracy. Maxima Acuña de Chaupe was supported by many women: her lawyer, Mirtha Vasquez; the members of Asociación de Mujeres en Defensa de la Vida (Association of Women in Defense of Livelihood) and of the Unión Latinoamericana de Mujeres – ULAM, the latter of whom named Maxima Acuña de Chaupe as the Defender of 2014.

That was December. This week, over 200 fully armed private security guards and police entered the Chaupe farm, again without any warrant or formal authorization, and tore down a second small shack the family was constructing. They held the family hostage for hours. The struggle continues. Maxima Acuña de Chaupe and her family have decided to stay.

 

(Video Credit: Vimeo / Alexandra Luna, congaconflict.wordpress.com) (Photo Credit: CommonDreams.org / Jorge Chávez Ortiz)

 

The women are united. When we say `no’, we mean `NO!’

 

Around the world, forest dwelling women are organizing and mobilizing, and leading agrarian movements, land rights movement, and more. They are part of a global movement of rural women workers who are seizing the threats of multinational corporations and big money, turning them upside down and inside out, and shaking them to see what falls out. Often, what fall to the ground are the seeds of democracy.

In Ecuador, for decades, Wuaroni women have been organizing to stop the degradation and theft of their lands and lives. Ten years ago, they organized formally into AMWAE, Asociación de Mujeres Waorani de la Amazonía Ecuatoriana, to make sure they represented themselves in ongoing struggles and negotiations. In particular, they have been organizing against Texaco’s, then Chevron’s, incursions into Yasuní National Park. From the start, women of AMWAE argued that the loss of water, land, and home would hurt everyone and would target Wuaroni women. Recently, they have worked with the YASunidos campaign for a popular, and extended, consultation on the fate of the Yasuní area, foregrounding its residents. At the same time, they have affiliated with another new group, Colectivo Miradas Críticas del Territorio desde el Feminismo, who have just published their report, La vida en el centro y el crudo bajo tierra: El Yasuní en clave feminista. The report found that along with the contamination of the local ecology, one of the richest in biodiversity in the world, the assault on community increased inequality between men and women by rewarding and subsidizing patriarchal structures. At the same time, the poisoning of the waters has been a direct assault on women’s labor and bodies. In linking with feminist and women’s movements and with women in online advocacy movements, as well as others, rural indigenous women are opening spaces of common and mutual dialogue, action, and vision. And, little by little, they are winning.

From petroleum to the dirty business of palm oil, women are engaging in the struggle for autonomy, respect, and dignity. In Liberia, the Jogbahn Clan has been organizing to stop British palm oil company Equatorial Palm Oil PLC (EPO) from stealing their forest lands. While Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has declared that the land under question is to be considered community land, and thus protected from external interference, reports claim EPO is still cutting down trees, surveying the land, and intimidating the Jogbahn Clan. In a recently released video, Deyeatee Kardor, the Clan’s Chairwoman, explains, “There’s no happy relationship with the company. From the time they arrived, there’s been nothing, just nothing for those who were evicted. All they have done is try to divide us. They identify important people, then offer them a little money to convince them to change others’ minds. As owners of the land we were intimidated because we stopped the company from taking our land, grabbing land. Now they must not expand their plantation onto our land. The women are united, not divided. When we say `no’, we mean `no.’ We stand together and say no! I am very happy my land is free, because when our land is free, we are all free.”

The women are united, not divided. When they say `no’, they mean `NO!’

 

(Photo Credit: IFADTV / You Tube)

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)

In Chile, women shut down Monsanto’s Law

Good news! Women across Chile organized, mobilized and shut down, at least for now, the dreaded Monsanto Law. The law would have given multinational corporations the power to patent seeds they discover, develop or modify. For small and mid-sized farmers, which is to say for the rural 99%, this would have been catastrophic. It would have been disastrous for Chile’s `seed heritage’ as well. Women lead the campaign to stop the law, and last week, the government withdrew the bill.

On Monday, March 17, Secretary General to the Presidency Ximena Rincón announced the withdrawal. Rincón had long been a leading critic of the bill, both in Parliament and in government more generally.

ANAMURI, Asociación Nacional de Mujeres Rurales e Indígenas or the National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women, was a central organizer and mobilizer in the campaign. ANAMURI co-director Alicia Muñoz explained, “All of the resistance that rural organizations, principally indigenous communities, led during these past years was a success. We were able to convey to the parliament how harmful the law would be for the indigenous communities and farmers who feed us all. Big agriculture, or agro-business is just that, a business. It doesn’t feed our country.” In their organizing and mobilizing, ANAMURI explicitly linked the capitalization and commoditization of food and of seeds to capital and to patriarchy. Repeatedly, they stressed that the right to food and the struggle for biodiversity is part of the women’s liberation struggle in Chile and everywhere.

Camila Montecinos, of GRAIN, focuses on biodiversity and food sovereignty. Her organization worked with CLOC, la Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo, to organize rural women, workers, and indigenous communities to educate the members of government and the general population as to what is at stake, and again not only for Chile: “This struggle has not ended. Certainly the agrobusiness sector is going to lobby fiercely. We’re ready for that. Sometimes Chile looks like one of the most submissive countries, but if we can win here, others can win elsewhere where similar laws are in place.” In Argentina, for example, women like Sofía Gatica are leading a similar campaign against Monsanto and Monsanto Laws.

Lucía Sepúlveda, of Rapal, la Red de Acción en Plaguicidas y sus Alternativas or Alliance for a Better Quality of Life/Pesticide Action Network, has been organizing to stop the destruction of small farms and the resultant production of rural food deserts, in the heart of the farmlands. At the same time, when the bill was pulled, Sepúlveda reminded the women around her that it was originally Michelle Bachelet, in 2009, who originally presented the bill to Parliament.

After years of organizing, cajoling, mobilizing, and meeting, Bachelet’s emissary pulled the bill for reconsideration. At the same time, Bachelet announced this week her intention to establish a Ministry for Women and Gender Equality. Alicia Muñoz noted that ANAMURI has been organizing and lobbying for this Ministry since the advent of democracy in Chile.

In Chile, women are on the move: in the government, the fields and factories, the schools, the households and the streets: “We won because we organized an enormous collective effort and massively broadcast and shared our position.” In the words of an earlier Chilean popular movement, “¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!”

 

(Image Credit: ANAMURI)

Where are the women of rural Mozambique?

In an otherwise informative article this past Sunday, the New York Times reported on a rural Mozambique without women. Reporting on the “rural poor…left behind”, and pushed around, by multinational mining and natural gas companies and by the national government, the Times mentioned not a single Mozambican woman. In the accompanying slide show, there’s a slide of “people gathered by a river to bathe, play and wash their dishes”. The `people’ are, not surprisingly, all women and girls. Another slide shows, and names, Beatriz Jose, condemned to living in a tent, thanks to the dismal housing provided by the mining companies. And that’s pretty much it.

Where are the women of rural Mozambique? On the farms and in the countryside of Mozambique, the women are everywhere. Study after study has described the relentless feminization of poverty in rural Mozambique. As one study, conducted for the Mozambican government, explains, “The majority of agricultural workers in Mozambique are women and an increasing number of households are being headed by females.” Eighty percent of Mozambique’s population is rural, and 80% percent of rural workers are women. An exceptionally high number of those rural women workers are divorced, separated or widowed. That means a very large numbers of households are headed by single women. The feminization of poverty has been accompanied by the feminization of household headship. At the same time, women farmers have organized into cooperatives and cooperative associations, such as MuGeDe – Mulher, Genero e Desenvolvimento (Women, Gender and Development).

Thanks to labor migration of men, to the HIV and AIDS pandemic, and to women’s organizing on the ground, the lives of women in rural households and in the fields has been constantly changing in Mozambique. Personal and structural, or sectoral, vulnerability has intensified at the same time that women’s formal and informal organizing has intensified. It takes real work to write about rural Mozambique and avoid any mention of women.

And that’s precisely what The New York Times did this weekend.

 

(Photo Credit: UK Department for International Development)

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)