They always appear distant, on a seemingly endless, monotonous journey. At dawn, they walk in silence, their children on their backs, to pick up their hoes, the sunlight falling on their hands.
These are the rural women of Latin America and the Caribbean, who work 22 hours a week more than the men and seven hours more than women in the cities, a figure which highlights the differences separating these women from others in the 21st century.
The Third Meeting of the Latin American and Caribbean Centre for Rural Women (Enlac), chaired by Luz Haro, national organizer and member of the regional group, raised the ongoing issues that still hamper access to development for those who live nearest to where the food is produced.
Land ownership, insufficient or non-existent access to water, violence in its many forms, denial of basic rights, and salary inequality when compared to men, are common problems for those who are trying to free themselves by attempting to place these matters on the national and international political agenda.
This situation contributes to the continued existence of those factors which are the reasons for its chronic underdevelopment and also allows the transnational companies to make devastating advances through the territories, many of these being ancestral, and in the majority of cases with harmful consequences for the environment.
At Enlac III, which took place from 6th to 9th March, more than 200 participants from 16 countries shared their experiences with the purpose of setting up agreements to put their principal demands in place.
Lucida Quipealaya, of the Regional Enlac Coordinating Group in Peru, told Prensa Latina (the Latin American Press) that the most obvious matters, such as poverty, malnutrition, and lack of access to education and health, affect all women in the region equally.
However, she said, women contribute 70% of the food consumed in their countries, they work the land, they care for the children, they look after the rivers and they have come up with initiatives to solve many of the problems that affect them.
The Salvadorean, Dora Elizabeth Nieto, agrees that the current situation of the female agricultural workers in the region is due to the fact that there are no government strategies on farming. This results in a lack of legal recognition and leads to them either not participating or only participating marginally in the socio-economic life of their countries.
Another of the important matters which is overlooked, she said, is that of violence carried out against female agricultural workers. As the women are unaware of legal measures to protect their rights, they do not report the cases and, as a result, there are no statistics for this problem which also affects them.
Flora Elsa Cruz, leader of the Argentine province of Jujuy, reiterated to the Prensa Latina that this meeting allowed them to strengthen the rural women’s movement in the region; their struggle has many points in common, among those is access to the land, which is considered fundamental.
Public policies are needed urgently
If the female agricultural workers were to have equal incomes, equal rights to loans and to land, the number of malnourished children in the world would be reduced by between 100 and 150 million.
Data provided by international agencies confirm there is a directly proportional relationship between high levels of gender equality and high levels of productivity.
In the closing speech of this meeting, the delegates referred to the need to recover and conserve native seeds in the face of the use of genetically modified seeds.
They demanded guarantees that all rural women have access to rural social security and that official statistics be generated focusing on matters such as their situation as regards to health, violence, production, commercialization and political participation.
The final report points to the pressing need for public policies on the transfer of land to rural women and the abolition of the conditions of poverty in which the majority of them live, as well as a reduction in the gap in income when compared to that of men who do the same job.
National governments and businesses must turn their attention to the intensive mining development by transnational companies in their territories, the compulsory displacement of people due to social conflict and the inequitable commercialization of their products, and provide public finance to reverse these processes.
Moreover, the sexist and patriarchal sociocultural model prevalent in this area reinforces ideas of submission and gender stereotypes. These have become barriers, obstructing access to civic spaces and leading to delays in the completion of immediate plans.
Finally, it is a concern that the lack of access to information and to communication technologies, and the ignorance of rural women concerning their rights (being unable to access this information), obstructs them from planning their daily life and performing their social role. (PL)
Translated by Jane Martin- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)