Azra Talat Sayeed
Women through history have been subjugated under feudalism and patriarchal norms. With the advent of neo-liberal policies under capitalism has increased the hardships in women’s lives by many folds; this is especially true for rural women in the agriculture economy. Women are considered to be the backbone of not only household food security but also rural food production. However, the advent of mechanized farming under the aegis of Green Revolution has inflicted vast damage to women. Apart from the fact that green revolution has brought unlimited harm to the lives and livelihood of the small and landless farmers and the ecological balance of the Earth, it has also snatched away from women their central role in agriculture. There is no doubt that it had been women, who since the inception of domesticated agriculture, had been the seed selectors and preservers, bringing to human kind, over centuries, invaluable genetic resources, the life-blood of food and agriculture. Today, what had been preserved through many millennia is now in the avaricious hands of corporate agriculture. The increased mechanization has thrust them away from meaningful agricultural production, to be the handmaidens of profit-ridden corporate agriculture, barely able to scrimp and scavenge a livelihood which fails to provide for their and their families daily needs.
Since the 1970s, neo-liberalism policies have been rapidly encroaching people’s public spaces and services, all of which has had devastating impacts on women’s ability to deal with their imposed multiple responsibilities in production and reproduction. The various free trade agreements including those in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and now the rapidly spreading bilateral agreements and free trade agreements imposed by the imperialist countries of the North on Third World countries have particularly focused on the liberalization of agriculture in general, and intellectual property rights over seeds in particular.
The hall mark of globalization has been deregulation, privatization and trade liberalization which have focused on removing government support from local producers. Emphasis of all trade liberalization policies have been paving the way for providing market access to monopolistic transnational corporations who control the global trade in every sector, including food and agriculture. In the food sector, corporations now not only control agricultural production, but the chain stretches to food storage, processing, distribution and marketing.
A majority of the TNCs are associated with the US and Europe. For instance, some of the world’s largest grain traders include Cargill, ADM, ConAgra and Bunge are all from the US. Global dairy leaders are Nestle, Danone, Arla Foods, Unilever and Lactalis are from Europe, where as Dean Foods, Dairy Farmers of America, Kraft Foods are from the US.
However, while these corporations control all aspects of the food chain, the situation of farmers as the producers working for these gigantic is abysmal. According to the Institute for Food Policy and Research (IFPRI):
“450 million farms provide agricultural value added crops equalling 1,315 billion USD of the global market. Of these farms, only five percent of them are equal to 100 hectares or more. Eighty-five percent of farms are small plots of land with no more than two hectares for planting. The current rules discriminate against such smallholders, leaving farmers with much less than their fair share of returns from agriculture.”
It is well known that women are the main foundation for food production. For instance, “women account for 70 to 80 percent of household food production in sub-Saharan Africa, 65 percent in Asia, and 45 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean.”
The Foundation: Rural Economy
In order to understand the socio-economic conditions of women in agriculture production, it is important to understand the importance of agriculture in domestic production and as well as the sector where a vast number of the work force is engaged and dependent for its sustenance. Among the three continents which are generally considered the Third World and have gone through a long violent, exploitative history of colonization, agriculture remains a major source of livelihood and sustenance of its people. At the same time agriculture is also a major foreign exchange earner for a large majority of the countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
For many countries such as Pakistan, India and the Philippines the rural population is still more than 60% rural; South Asia is almost 70% rural whereas sixty percent of African population is rural.
However, rural populations across the world suffer the most from poverty and hunger. They have bee left far behind by the dominant elite class in ensuring that basic needs such as education, health services, nutrition, livelihood and a safe and healthy environment is provided to them as their basic right, with women being the majority to suffer from the worst atrocities of poverty inflicted by the powerful capitalist and feudal forces.
Peasant Women: Socio-economic Conditions
The section provides details the impact of exploitation and oppression of rural women.The most telling indicator is that of male female ratios. For instance, in the Indian population women comprise 48.1% as compared to 51.9% of male population.
In South Asia in particular, the lesser number of girl children and women is mainly due to the male preference phenomenon.Infant girls are more prone to die at an earlier age mostly due to less care given to their nutritional need and there is stronger evidence that health care is certainly less available to infant girls as compared to infant boys.
In South Asia, the story of discrimination from birth to infant-hood to womanhood continues. For instance, there are starkly differentiated figures for female and male illiteracy.
In Pakistan, female illiteracy in 2013-14 was 47% which has decreased from 48% in 2012-13. According to older data presented by ESCAP 2007:
“there are distinct gender and rural/urban differentials concealed in the literacy rate. Women have a literacy rate of 16%, as against 35% for men. Similarly, theliteracy rate for the urban population only is 47.1%, whereas the literacy rate for the rural population is 17.3%. Moreover, this rural/urban differential is more pronounced in the case of women than men. The literacy rate for urban men (55.3%) is more than twice the rate for rural men (26.2%). However, the literacy rate for urban women (37.3%) is more than five times the rate for rural women (7.3%).”
A major impact of feudal structures, elitist governments and trade liberalization has been on the health, nutritional status and healthcare services in third world countries. This is very vivid for South Asia, which is home to nearly 1.5 billion of the approximately 7.2 billion global population,
Globalization has allowed greater technology reach. However, this reach is only for those who can afford private health care that is the norm forcefully being implemented by privatization policy of the dominant neoliberal regime.
For rural women living under the unwritten codes of feudalism and patriarchy their physical presence was barely acceptable in the public sphere and hence even in the subsidized public health care systems their access to public health spheres faced many barriers. With private sector forcing ‘clients’ to pay for health care, rural women face even greater hurdles in being able to reach the most basic of health services.
In addition, with the removal of subsidies on agricultural inputs, the cost of food production has gone up immensely. The result has been very high increase in food items, including staple foods. All these policies have had a multi-fold impact on the health of rural women.
According to the World Health Organization, nearly 800 women in third world countries die every day due to preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth. A majority of these women are from the third world countries in the rural areas.
According to a recent study, the prevalence of anemia was higher among pregnant women who were from rural areas as compared to pregnant women residents of urban areas in which the risk of developing anemia among rural pregnant women was 1.75 times higher to be anemic as compared to those pregnant women living in urban areas. 
A particular result of these conditions can be seen in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Pakistan, a country which has a strong feudal base, comes 44th in ranking maternal mortality and a majority of the top 40 countries were from Africa. The Pakistani government accepts that a primary cause of high maternal mortality is malnutrition that affects 34% of pregnant women with a calorie intake of 70% less than recommended level.
In essence, the poor health of women in general, and rural women in particular can be blamed on the collaboration of the third world governments with pro-globalization forces emanating form the western advanced industrialized governments. The facts are well documented with the acute rise in food prices in the last few years. The FAO has provided the following figures for increase in food prices:
“Agricultural commodity prices rose sharply in 2006 and 2007 and continued to rise even more sharply in the first three months of 2008. While the FAO food price index rose, on average, 8 percent in 2006 compared with the previous year, it increased by 24 percent in 2007 compared to 2006.Currently, the increase in the average of the index for the first three months of 2008 compared to the same three months in 2007 stands at 53 percent. The continuing surge in prices is led by vegetable oils, which on average increased by more than 97 percent during the same period, followed by grains with 87 percent, dairy products with 58 percent and rice with 46 percent. Sugar and meat product prices also rose, but not to the same extent.”
The past decades of research have provided ample proof of women’s invaluable contribution to agricultural production; however, the patriarchal and feudal values continue to neglect, undermine and undervalue women’s economic role in agriculture. This bias is especially embedded in the agricultural statistics, which on one hand blinds, the (by and large only) male data collectors from probing the sexual division of labor, and on the other, male family members from elaborating on women’s role in economic activity in agriculture. Keeping these caveats in mind, some statistics on women’s participation in agriculture are:
According to the UN, women are 43% of the agriculture labor force. Recent data by FAO estimates women labor force to be on the average 40% with percentages rising higher in South East Asia where 50% women are considered part of the labor force.
It is important to understand that the agriculture sector although being a major source of employment and livelihood is still not considered a formal sector where the small, landless farmers and other food producers are protected by national labor laws provided for various labor sectors protected by national laws. According to FAO:
“Millions of (agricultural) workers live below the poverty line; they often cannot afford to buy sufficient food. In general, worker households spend over 70 percent of their cash salary on food. …Their employment is often unstable and temporary, the report said. Globalization has led to less and less permanent labor and a more flexible and marginalized workforce, with an increasing presence of “middlemen”, labor contractors and subcontractors. Migrant workers face particular difficulties due to their casual contracts and lack of access to social protection…. Agricultural workers are poorly paid and increasingly female.”
However, the labor statistics, especially in Asia continues its failure in capturing the depth and width of the work carried out by women, and patriarchal as well feudal values demean women, treating them as physical property and subjecting them to inhuman practices.
Women in Pakistani agriculture production play critical roles in major crop productions, such as wheat, rice, sugarcane and cotton, as well as in livestock production.  Cotton, which is the major export earner for Pakistan, is a crop which cannot be harvested with out women. In rural communities, women report that they start going with their mothers for cotton picking at a very early age. This activity is a major source of earning, which women engage in with great eagerness as they are able to earn approximately Rs. 2,500-4,000 in a season. Women also report that their men force them to engage in this task:
“According to women, they face a lot of pressure from their husbands to go for picking; if they refused they would face verbal and physical abuse at the hands of the male family members. Women complained that even in pregnancy some women were forced to go for picking. One woman said if she would not go for picking her husband would make life difficult for her by taunting her about the food she consumed but not willing to earn her share of the food.”
Work hours for women in agriculture sector are long; starting from sunrise to sunset, a 16 hour work load for women is not unusual, as they combine their domestic work with agriculture work.
According to AMIHAN, the National Federation of Peasant Women in the Philippines, women in the agriculture sector are employed at all levels of crop production. Types of work carried out by women in the Agricultural production. In rice and corn production, women’s labor contributes to an estimated 70-80% of the total labor. They perform such work as planting, transplanting, fertilizer application, weeding, harvesting, threshing for palay and corn shelling for corn and drying. In coconut farms, women perform all steps in the production except climbing and harvesting coconuts; from gathering of coconuts, de-husking, and breaking nuts, removing the meat, drying the coconut meat (copra) and bringing the copra to the market.
Based on the research carried out by AMIHAN, peasant women spend 18 – 20 hours daily in performing their productive and reproductive roles. A typical day starts at 4:00 am, to cook food for the husband, and send him off to the farm, this followed by the preparation of food for the rest of the family, usually the children who go to school; this work ends at 7:00 am, this is followed by doing the laundry and cleaning the house, and tending for the livestock and backyard garden until 10:00 am; preparation of food for the husband and the children who will come home from school to take lunch, follows her itinerary. After cooking, and feeding the children, she brings the food for her husband in the farm, and stays in the farm to help out in the farm work; at 4 pm, she goes home, to prepare supper, tend the livestock, and do other household chores. After serving supper, and putting the children to sleep, she then takes care of preparing clothes i.e. ironing and other related tasks so that children can wear them the following day. The women finally are able to rest at 10:00-11:00 pm.
The above account of a woman’s day reflects clearly the multiple burdens women carry not only those working in the agriculture sector but in any sector. In many third world countries, another responsibility is fetching water not only for household consumption and chores but also for livestock. Women often remark that their work starts with sunrise and continues long after sundown. However, even with their utmost contribution to agricultural production, there continues a marginalization of women’s role in agricultural work based on patriarchal values given to women’s productive roles. For instance, a research study analyzing women’s role in agriculture asked the question of women “if any of them knew anything about agriculture and whether they worked in their fields” got the following response:
“What do you mean by the question? Of course, we work in the fields; we do everything- – weeding, plucking, harvesting, watering, winnowing and threshing. We work day and night, and anyway what do the men folk know?”
The bias against women is reflected especially in the wage pattern for women agricultural workers. The agriculture sector remains part of the informal sector, where labor laws are glaring absent. In Pakistan, the category of unpaid family workers is the most prevalent form of category that women are forced to exist in. For instance the government of Pakistan states:
“For females, a significant increase is observed in the unpaid family helpers’ category whereas a decrease in the self-employee and employees category. The increase in unpaid family helper category for both men and women is an indication of the expansion of economic activities within the household, especially in rural areas.”
The above explanation hides the exploitation which is embedded in this sentence. Increase in productive opportunity is beneficial for the poorest sectors of the society if it also brings increase in economic returns. Here, the admission by the government of Pakistan is that although work load of the people has increased it has not resulted in increase in income. Or if indeed economic returns of a particular member of the household have increased, then by no means will that increase spill over to other household members, especially women!
Similar findings are reported from the Philippines. According to AMIHAN, participation of women in the production of her basic material needs, her family and that of the community is significant, yet not recognized. The Philippine Government statistics continue to hold on to a patriarchal lens which renders the women invisible in the productive sphere. This is best exemplified with the common notion that: “The farmer is a male” or “she’s a mere housewife.” The result is that in 50 %or more of farm employment, women work as unpaid family labor. Data shows that for every peso that a man earns, a woman from the agricultural, forestry, and fishery sector earns Php 0.36. Further on the average, a woman earns only Php 0.39 for every peso a man earns. There is no minimum wage for women in agriculture production.
With respect to use of legal mechanisms to protect women agricultural workers, FAO’s analysis is telling:
“In reviewing labor legislation, as it applies to agricultural workers, it must be remembered that in many countries (especially developing countries) these rules are not applied to a large sector of the economy, the informal sector. . . .Beyond labor law, other norms are also relevant. For instance, in some countries family law allows the husband to interfere in his wife’s occupation, e.g. by requiring his consent for her signing employment contracts and by allowing him to terminate her contract if he deems it necessary for the fulfillment of her family obligations. . . .The case law on women’s labor rights rarely refers directly to agricultural workers. It more commonly relates to urban occupations (secretaries, civil servants, etc.), especially in developing countries, where access to courts for rural women is usually very limited.”
In essence, there is no doubt that women agricultural labor, if it wants to empower itself, will have to rely on organizing itself, and making its presence felt. It will have to go out to take its rights; no doubt the system is rooted in mechanism which provide negligible space for justice to deliver the right of women agricultural workers.
Trade Liberalization, Women and Migration
The very first manifestation of market-based agriculture in Third World subsistence food and agriculture production had been through the poisonous injection of the Green Revolution. The mechanized-based industrial agricultural production had resulted in making people redundant on the farmland. The result had been a massive migration of rural population in search of a livelihood.
Migration has been in many directions, ranging from seasonal rural-rural, to rural-urban, and with the advent to trade liberalization has now become sharply rural-overseas. In the past decades, there has been an influx of migrant women in the agriculture sector in the imperialists nations. For example, a research study on women migrant workers from Latin American Countries in Canada has detailed the following:
“Many women participating in the Seasonal Agricultural Worker Program (SAWP) are single-mothers from impoverished rural communities who have few economic opportunities in their home country and cannot count on social welfare programs to sustain their households. The wages they earn in Canada are significantly higher than what they could make in the few income-generating activities available to women in their country, such as petty commerce, domestic labor or work in export processing zones. Labor migration is among the survival strategies many of them adopt to secure an economic livelihood for their families.”
In South Asia, the pattern has also been seen for rural women from Bangladesh seeking employment in Pakistan and the Gulf region. For example:
“A collaborative initiative of UNDP, UNAIDS, IOM and UNIFEM estimates that 70-80 percent of migrants from Sri Lanka and the Philippines to the Arab States are women. Between 1991 and 2007, 60 percent of women migrants from Bangladesh left to find employment in the Arab States. Remittances from Filipinos working in the Arab States in 2007 amounted to $2.17 billion. In Bangladesh, migrant workers sent back close to $637 million from the UAE. Current remittances by migrant workers from Sri Lanka amount to $3 billion.”
Many women in the Philippines are from rural background, forced to seek better work opportunities, as they are unable to eke out a living from agriculture, a direct consequence of the trade liberalization. Many of these women either seek overseas employment, and others end up in the export processing zones in the Philippine. Klien has detailed the abuse faced by women in the EPZs, which range from limited use of washroom facilities by padlocking them, to forced pregnancy tests for women to ensure that pregnant women are not hired.
Land to the Tiller: Land Reforms and Land Ownership
There is no doubt that the major human right abuses in Asia, Latin America and Africa are entrenched in the landless state of its people. After many year of independence from colonial masters, the colonial land ownership created by them remains wholly intact. With the rising corporate agriculture trends, land grabbing is escalating sharply.
The feudal base of countries such as the Philippines, Pakistan and many other countries has ensured that equitable land distribution does not happen. The land ownership pattern in Pakistan tells the story of inequality and political, economic as well social injustice prevalent in the country. According to statistics, the top four percent of rural elite households own nearly half of the land in Sindh and Punjab province.Nearly half of all rural households in Sindh and Punjab (the total population of these two provinces account for 80% of Pakistan population) own no land with another 25% holding 5 acres or less land.
It needs to be emphasized in Pakistan the number of women which have land entitlement to land is negligible. In addition, even if women have land entitlements the decision making with respect to land production and the income from the land is totally in the hands of the male family members. In short, it can be said that these land reforms have failed to redress the highly unequal distribution of land in the country.
According to SEWA (Self-help Women’s Association) the situation of women in India with respect to landlessness is no different. SEWA reports that although women constitute two-third of the agriculture work force, they own less than one-tenth of the agricultural lands. When the family’s property is divided among the children, girls or women hardly ever get a share.”
In the Philippines, sixty per cent (60%) of the total agricultural lands are controlled by only 13% of the population. Twenty per cent (20%) of the total agricultural land is controlled only by an estimated 9,000 individuals who belong to the big landlord class and are members of prominent families such as the Cojuangcos and Ayalas. Meanwhile, it is estimated that seven out of ten (10) farmers are landless. In addition, about 600,000 hectares of agricultural lands are controlled by foreign corporations who utilize these lands as plantations for export crop production. Much of this highly inequitable landholding is based on the pattern set by its Spanish and American colonial masters.
The Philippine gained independence from its American colonists in 1946, and has since gone through various land reform programs. However, the land reform policies in the Philippine government have failed an equitable land distribution for the landless and small farmers.
Militant organizations of the peasants including the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas and Amihan, National Federation of Peasant Women, have severely opposed and critiqued the land reform program CARP. CARP, was an ineffective program, did not actually distribute lands to the farmers, and in the end have actually worked in favor of the landed gentry.
The Thai government provides the following figures for land ownership. The total number of landless farmer households in Thailand is 10.81%, whereas those who are considered nearly landless i.e. having holding less than 5 rai (1 rai = 0.395 acres)are about 17.19%,. Another 20% households are considered to be small farmers with landholding in the range of 5-10 rais.In other words, it can be said that nearly 50% of the Thai farming community consist of small and landless farmers.In Thailand, it is estimated that 22% women farmers own the land they cultivate.
Much of the Thai agriculture reform policy has been emphasizing conversion of national forests, and bringing more area under cultivation. In 1993, it was decided that 4 million rais of deteriorated forest land was to be distributed to farmers, annually, an issue which become highly controversial as the policy started including non-tillers, and led to distribution of land to land investors, as part of corrupt dealings.
There has been less priority in acquiring land from the private owners to be distributed to the landless, which means that big landlords have not been impacted by land reforms. The main thrust of he Agricultural Land Reform Act is “not on private landholdings as a means of equitably distributing land, but rather on confirmation of occupancy rights of small and landless farmers on public lands.”According to PRAFA, “24.5% of farmer families are landless and lack stable land tenure. That is why 100,000 – 200,000 people migrate to Greater Bangkok or go abroad every year. These circumstances have also pulled many young girls towards prostitution.”
Agarwal’s work on women’s ownership of land details the immensely critical importance of women’s land ownership in terms of giving them some safety from feudal and patriarchal forces. Agarwal quotes:
We had tongues but could not speak.
We had feet but could not walk.
Now that we have land
We have the strength to speak and walk
Women farmers all across the globe use land as a means of sustenance of their families, They use it keeping in mind the needs of this generation as well the coming generations; lastly they use it ensuring that the land is preserved and nurtured and is not used only as a means of cash generation. As Agarwal states, for women natural resources such as forests are a source of “fuel, fodder, food, fiber, fertilizer, soil, water and pure air.” However, there is no doubt that in contemporary times, feudal, patriarchal and now neoliberal forces have joint hands to ensure that the historically unequal distribution of land between men and women should be given no chance of rectification, and the status quo continues.
Trade Liberalization Policies and Programs: Impacts on women agricultural labor force
Ever since the 1970s, with the inception of the IMF/World Bank driven structural adjustment programmes there has been consistent emphasis on the negative impact of trade liberalization on small farmers, especially women as small farmers. For instance:
“The studies on Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Mexico, Jamaica and the Philippines all show how trade liberalization is impacting heavily on women and accentuating gender inequality. In Kenya, as a result of the liberalization of agricultural trade, many women cannot afford adequate chemicals and fertilizers, and farm output has declined. In Uganda, liberalization may mean that the local parastatal depot is closed down, and producers have to go out of the village to sell their produce. If not, they are forced to sell their produce at lower prices to village traders who benefit from it.”
Neo-liberalism which encompasses deregulation, privatization and trade liberalization form the basis of all policies geared to creating a free market economy, which dictates that all government spending for economic and social welfare is heavily curtailed or best eliminated. In addition, free market economies dictate policies which allow imports, ensuring that tariffs are severely brought down. The concept of providing protection to vulnerable sectors, or sectors critical to the livelihood of the people is non-existent in market-based capitalist regimes.
Trade liberalization policies since the 1970s have taken away the buffer of state regulation and subsidies, social welfare spending in health, education, housing, transport and other basic services. The sector which has emerged the most vulnerable is the small and landless farmers, of which women are a majority.
With the inception of globalization in the 1970s, third world countries have gone through a range of trade liberalization policies, the precursor of course being the structural adjustments programs pushed by the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in the 1970s. With the formation of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995, a whole range of agreements in the WTO have not only affected agricultural production but every sphere of economic activity the third world nations, severely impacting the lives of the common woman and man.
Countries such as Thailand and the Philippines have actively pursued implementation of many trade liberalization policies. Trade agreements that Thailand has already implemented bilaterally and multilaterally include the ASEAN-China FTA (ACFTA), Thailand-Australia FTA, Thailand-New Zealand Closer Economic Partnership (TNZCEP), Thailand-India FTA (TIFTA), Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement (JTEPA), and ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA).
There has been stringent activism against the FTAs being negotiated and implemented in Thailand, especially against the Thai-US FTA. A huge range of activists from various sectors including, academia, civil society organizations, farmers, women groups, and others have opposed the free trade agreements, especially the US-Thai FTA.
Activists have consistently contested that:
“The issue of extending or strengthening intellectual property rights should be taken out of the FTA negotiations on the grounds that this agreement is more restrictive than the TRIPs agreement of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Also, granting monopoly rights on life forms under patent systems is a barrier to free trade.”
Intellectual property rights governed by the Trade-related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) Agreement in the WTO allows not only medicines but also seeds to be patented by huge transnational corporations, which basically means that health, food as well as livelihood of millions of people will be held in the monopolistic control of the transnational corporate sector.
The TRIPS+ agreements being agreed to through the FTAs, especially in the agriculture sector means that not only patented seeds which includes genetically modified seeds allows their sale in the Thai market, passing further control of agricultural production to Agri-corporate sector, and marginalizing the Thai small farmers further.
Similar concerns have been voiced for JTEPA (Japan-Thailand Economic Partnership Agreement). According to Witoon Leanchamroon, director of BioThai, there are hidden agendas in the agreement which would allow Japan microorganism patent registration, through which they can study Thai biodiversity and patent these life forms. Thailand does not have suitable mechanisms which can be used for taking advantage of the system.
Philippines, apart from structural adjustment programmes, has faced severe trade liberalization since entering the WTO. Both the Philippines and Thailand are members of ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA), a free trade agreement which has carried out trade liberalization in agriculture. The primary goal of AFTA was to increase ASEAN competitive edge as a production base in the world market, through the elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers in the ASEAN region, as well as to attract transnational corporations in the region.
The Philippines has also signed a free trade agreement, known as JPEPA (the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement) with Japan.
In addition, it has free trade agreements with the US known as the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) which was signed in 1989. Numerous additional agreements have been signed under TIFA since then, and agriculture has been specifically targeted. According to the USDA (US Department of Agriculture), “the objective is to advance agricultural cooperation, productivity and sustainable natural resource management through science and technology collaboration.”
The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TTPA), is an extremely powerful tool of the US, which has increased in members and strength. A final agreement on TTPA was reached recently in October 2015 and has 12 Pacific-rim countries with such disparate members as Laos, Vietnam, Mexico, Peru on one hand and the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia on the other.
Impacts on Women Agricultural Labor Force of Agricultural Trade Liberalization and Privatization
It has already been stated above that women dominate the poorer sectors of agricultural production. The increased cost of production pushes women out of their livelihood, to lead a life of deprivation, poverty and misery.
Corporate farming practices have serious impacts on women’s lives. In the Philippines, production for export purposes generates high demands for young female labor, but paid returns to labor is minimal aside from the work tenure insecurity and exploitative work conditions
The impact of the Agreement on Agriculture (AOA), an agreement within the WTO, has impacted greatly on local agricultural production. According to AMIHAN, the destructive effects of the World Trade Organization (WTO) can be clearly seen when data is compared before and after the accession of the Philippines to the WTO. From 1990-1994, the Philippines’ agricultural trade registered an agricultural trade surplus amounting to US $1.2B. However, after its entry to the WTO in 1995, agricultural trade registered an accumulated agricultural trade deficit amounting to US $3.5B from 1995-1999 which reached US $5.2B in 2001. Also as of 2006, the Philippines has become the highest importer of rice in the world.
According to AMIHAN, land owners who had submitted their for coverage in the agrarian reform program of the government, have started taking back their lands, when a perceived opportunity for cash crops production for export was opened with trade liberalization. With the taking back of the lands, the major source of livelihood of rural people – is also lost. With loss of livelihood and land comes displacements from the lands, and has resulted in increased migration of rural people to cities and other urban centers in the hope of finding other sources of livelihood.
Following is a case study of a small farmer, Carmen Buena, also the national chairperson of AMIHAN, National Federation of Peasant Women in the Philippines. Carmen is 60 years old, has 5 children, 2 girls and 3 boys. She comes from a village called Sepung Ilog in the province of Pampanga, in the island of Luzon in the Philippines.
Carmen is a landless rice and vegetable farmer. The two hectare land she and her family has been working on, is owned by a usurer in her village. She normally remits to this land owner 50% of the net earnings in the farm. She also doesn’t have a capital for farming. To raise the money needed for the rice production inputs such as fertilizer, fuel for extracting water underground for irrigation, she gets loans from loan sharks at 8-10% monthly interest. To top it all, the production inputs is getting higher each planting season. This is because the government is no longer giving subsidy to farmers as dictated by the WTO, of which the Philippine is a member.
Other issues faced by women include access over safe water, which for the Philippines is only 76 per cent. It is lowest in the rural areas. Seeds are accessed largely through the certified seeds which the farmers buy, or is given by the Department of Agriculture on discounted rates. Credit is readily available but at usurious rates, which could range from 5-20% interest per month.
It is important to note that paddy production is an important source of livelihoods in rural areas. It accounts for 17% of the country’s agricultural output from 2001-2005, and directly employs at least 4 million rice farmers. It is estimated that of the 6 million women engaged in agriculture, 37.36%, or more than one third, are connected to rice farming.
So, the above case study does not only pinpoint the condition of a single women, but millions of women working as small or landless farmers trying to eke out a living for themselves and their families.
As has been said before, land is critical to small farmers’ food security. However, instead of giving land to the landless, the government is promising agricultural land to foreign corporations. It was under the aegis of the highly autocratic military regime of General Pervaiz Musharaf that the Corporate Ordinance was passed in 2001. This allowed the government to allow stock listed corporations can now lease land in Paksitan for a period of 99 years, broken into two periods of 50 and 49 years.
The government has allowed TNCs to lease unlimited land with a minimum ceiling of 1500 acres. In addition, the TNCs have been promised 100% equity, numerous tax incentives as well as full repatriation of profits. Government has identified state lands which it would lease under the CFO. The eight year old ordinance is now bearing ‘fruit’. Under a so-called democratically elected elitist government, the current Federal Investment Minister Waqar Ahmed has just recently stated:
“We are in talks with investors from Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, for investment in corporate farming. Investors will be ensured repatriation of 100 per cent crop yield to their countries even in case Pakistan faces food deficit. . . . Foreign investors would cultivate hybrid seeds in addition to utilizing modern and innovative technologies for corporate farming . . . . They will be extended the facilities of tax holidays for 10 years period also. Moreover, they will be allowed to take back their full crops to their countries. This will have nothing to do with Pakistan food yields.”
The above blood chilling information is completely blind to the suffering of the women peasants. Land, if available should have been first and foremost given to the most deserving that those who till the land, but that is not to be the case, obviously.
Just in the past 3-4 years, the CFO has shown its results. Since 2010, a UAE firm, Al Dahra has leased land in many parts of the country which has led to hundreds of landless families facing loss of livelihood as well as household level food security. Al Dahra has formed at least leased land in three different sites in Sindh, Pakistan mostly from feudal lords. The land is being used to grow fodder which is then exported out of Pakistan. Before being leased, this land was used for growing wheat, cotton and other crops which were a source of food as well livelihood for hundreds of families. Women have been particularly impacted as due to patriarchal norms, especially Muslim women are now unable to go to other far-off villages for work. Many have had to sell their livestock as they have no access to land for growing fodder for their animals.
2008 was marked as the “Great Hunger” due to the immense escalation of food prices, the highest in the past 30 years, should have resulted in increasing food production by and for the people. However, just the opposite has been done, so that corporations have ample opportunity to amass food crops to be sold at grotesque levels of profit when millions go hungry! It should be remembered that much of this profit is also accumulated from those who face the highest level of hunger and malnutrition.
Organizing of Women in Agricultural Labor Force
More than two decades of a neo-liberal environment, where globalization policies have eroded the lives and livelihoods of the most marginalized sectors of the communities, including women has not gone unchallenged. There have been many resistances which have arisen, with peasant women by no means left in the back drop. Apart from the spontaneous resistances that have sprung up, there are also organizations who have been working to mobilize and organize women to stand against imperialist globalization.
The level of organization against neoliberal agriculture has been at two levels: national as well as regional. Particular examples of women peasants organizing against agricultural neoliberal polices have been provided below:
Women’s Responses at Home
A particular example in Pakistan has been the case of the “Maliki ya Maut” movement, which translated stands for “Ownership or Death”. With the military coup in 1999, the military state in Pakistan decided to take away land from sharecroppers who had been tilling their land for more than a century.
The result of the changes being sought by the Pakistan military farms has since then led to a massive movement which has coalesced under the name of the Anjuman-e-Mazarin Punjab (AMP).In fact, from 2000 onward, the movement has even stopped giving the 40% of their production, when it was found that the contested land was actually provincial land under the administrative control of the province of Punjab, and not the military management, as had been previously believed.
There is no doubt that a driving force in the Maliki ya Maut movement; women have been a major driving force. The peasant women to this day are determined to resist land evictions. For instance:
The peasant women have been a very visible, vibrant and vocal part of the movement. Having equipped themselves with thapas (wooden sticks used for washing clothes, they have organized themselves to confront the military. There are details of women being tortured through their men folk. The sons of a sixty year old woman Susan BiBi’s were active members of the movement. The authorities had arrested her husband and were coercing her to exchange her husband for her son. She refused bluntly, saying that she would rather die. Nor was she even under such duress willing to give her share of the produce. At one point, military personnel surrounded her and tried to forcefully take her away in a van. However, her daughters and other peasant women surrounded the van and resisted, finally being able to get her out of the vehicle.
The militant role of Maliki ya Maut movement has been further narrated as such:
“The police thought that they stood a better chance in this hamlet. This was, again, not to be. The peasant women attacked the convoy of police and fought like a true revolutionary army. They burnt the remaining tractors and again the police had to retreat while licking their wounds. In previous encounters, women used to supply men with ammunition who were doing the main fighting. This time around it was all in reverse order. In the end, the organization of the peasants was a spectacle worth watching: women in the front ranks, children in the middle and all the men behind. A bold peasant woman, with a burning blanket, came running behind an armored police vehicle and threw the blanket on its roof. Soon the vehicle caught fire as the policemen came out of it coughing away and gasping for breath. The men and children, meanwhile, were amusing themselves and were clapping and chanting revolutionary slogans.
According to the AMP leadership, there was a separate women wing organization in the AMP. Catherine James, a peasant leader states that they had plunged right into what was happening, as there were no options. If they had not gone in, their land would have been lost. Their method of keeping people informed had been to assign woman peasant leader to assign the duty of informing 10-20 households of whatever was being planned. The network operated through the responsibilities taken up by the women. Similar organization had also been carried out for youth in the movement.
It is the consistent political will to fight back trade liberalization and imperialist globalization that has resulted in the formation of resistance groups across not only the Asia, but taking it wider to other continents. In the Philippines, a peasant women’s organization AMIHAN was formed with the objectives:
“a separate peasant women’s organization will make peasant women and their particular situation more visible in the broader peasants’ movement, national liberation movement, and the women’s movement. AMIHAN’s overall goal is to work toward the empowerment of peasant women through organization and by collectively advocating for alternative development policies and strategies that will respond to their particular situation as peasants and as women.”
According to AMIHAN, they organize women by sector i.e peasant women, fisher folk women and agricultural workers are organized as separate categories. AMIHAN reports various difficulties in organizing women workers such as women’s mobility. The lack of security of tenure in their work and in their lands, push them to move from one place to another to find work; so in so many months, they can active in the organization in a particular place, in some months they have to leave to find work in other places. In addition, poverty forces them to seek work and makes it difficult for them to allot time to organizing activities. Further, given the political situation of the Philippines, if women become active in organizing, they are suspected to be part of the members of the armed group, the New People’s Army. If the women earn the suspicion of the military, they become target of harassment or worse, extrajudicial killings.
In the Philippines, another organization which has taken a strong position against neo-liberal imperialist globalization is GABRIELA, a militant, national coalition of women’s organizations. GABRIELA has worked toward developing a:
“critical political consciousness among its members and the larger public on the impact of neo-liberal globalization on Filipino women …,One significant contribution that GABRIELA has made in the long-term process of changing the Philippine state is the formation of a Women’s Party, which has been able to elect GABRIELA’s candidates into Congress, such as Representative Liza Largosa Masa.”
In India, feminization of agricultural labor force has increased since 1990s when India went through liberalization. SEWA, following a non-violent framework, has organized agricultural workers to form cooperatives. These cooperatives have been organized using the central objective of increasing land productivity and income to make agriculture a sustainable livelihood. An example is of Vanlaxmi Women Tree Grower’s Co-operative, where it women 10 years to be able to access government land. Now the land is productive and women engage in sustainable agricultural production. However according to SEWA:
“Still, the struggle is not yet over. The land was allotted on a 30-year lease. However it took the women almost 10 years to make the land cultivable. Just as the land reaches its peak fertility and performance with maximum yields, the lease will expire. Also, earlier the wastelands were managed by the Panchayat and earned it no revenue. On seeing the productivity of the land on account of the women’s efforts, the Panchayat now demands 1/3rd of the value of their produce. This will eat into the meager share of the women’s profit.”
The above case study highlights the bitter fights that are ongoing due to the combined exploitative power of local elite control over people’s resources now combined with the immense power of agricultural-based corporate forces. The result has been that women peasants have taken on different methods of struggling for their livelihood. According to a paper circulated by All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA):
“Women have participated actively in wage struggles – these struggles have generally been launched during the periods of peak labor demand : in areas where rice is the major crop, these are paddy transplanting and paddy harvesting, in which women participate heavily. It has therefore frequently been women who have initially placed wage demands before employers, and subsequently collectively refused to work. And women’s participation has gone much further than this: in Bihar for example, women have also led marches of thousands to physically occupy land for redistribution, and have been at the forefront of resistance and protest against the repression unleashed by the landowners and the police. It is women who, armed with bricks, small scythes or household utensils, have driven the police out of their villages when they have arrived heavily armed in midnight or dawn raids, or who have surrounded police jeeps and snatched back those arrested, even forcing the police to apologize in some instances. As feminisation increases however, women are increasingly becoming the center of these struggles. In Thanjavur district of Tamil Nadu, women mobilized thousands in a sustained struggle for equal wages. Some months ago when activists in Central Bihar were holding discussions with laborers in different villages about the formation for the first time of a separate organisation for agricultural laborers, the Khet Mazdoor Sabha, they found that women were often the most enthusiastic. They felt that here at last was an organisation that would represent their specific needs and demands. Even in households where men showed little interest, women came forward to join the organisation. And they encouraged their daughters to join – when the men would say ‘what is the point, she will be going to another village once she is married’ the women responded that ‘when she goes, she will take part in the organisation there.”
Another venture by the market-driven Indian government has been the case of Singur. The decision of the Indian government to provide TATA with 1000 acres of land faced wide-spread public resistance from not only Indian left-oriented groups and progressive social activist, but also internationally. However, this did not stop Indian forces from attacking peasant communities in Singur, and force was used consistently crush their resistance struggle. Literature on the struggles in Singur and Nandigram mentions the critical role of women peasants in the struggle. The role of women has been even highlighted to mention that the resistance against TATA was started as a result of women’s resistance to TATA official:
“As part of its Singur Abhiyan (Campaign), CPI(ML) organised a rally at Singur on September 10 . . . activists and supporters from all over south Bengal converged at Kamarkundu station, from where they marched to Barohatkalitola, where the Singur movement had started when local women chased away Tata Motors officials on August 22, 2006 when they came to survey the land.”
“. . . on 25th September (2006) at the dead of night the government let loose its armed police and Rapid Action Force (RAF), assisted by the CPI(M) storm troopers on the protesting villagers. They ransacked the homes, beat up everybody sparing not even octogenarian ladies and tiny toddlers. Women were specially targeted because they were in the forefront of the struggle. . . . Only a few days back a young girl, a leading activist in the resistance was molested, killed and burned allegedly by the CPI(M) party hoodlums within the fenced in acquired land.”
Regional and International Women’s Organization
At the regional level a number of initiatives have sprung in the last few years. Given the regional nature, the movement has been a combination of national level peasant leadership combined with support activist from the NGO community.
A major example is of the People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS). PCFS is “a growing network of various grassroots groups of small food producers particularly of peasant-farmer organizations and their support NGOs, working towards a People’s Convention on Food Sovereignty.” The Coalition has been responsible for spreading the paradigm change concept of Food Sovereignty which calls for the control and access of land, seed, water and all agricultural productionresources by farmers, including men and women. The concept of Food Sovereignty has given immense organizational strength to movements across Asia, Africa and Latin America to struggle against the vicious onslaught of neo-liberal agriculture.
Another formation has been the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC). APC, at the First General Assembly of the APC, November 2004, stated clearly its stand against corporate agriculture. The statement issued from the General Assembly read:
“We, the 119 delegates and guests of the Asian Peasant Coalition First General Assembly, representing 26 peasant organizations and 6 support NGOs from the countries of Bangladesh, India, Malaysia, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan and comprising the sectors from the farmers, landless peasants, dalits, forests peoples, indigenous peoples, agricultural workers, harders and pasturalist, including the women and youth across these sectors in Asia, produced the food and feed the peoples of the world, yet we remain impoverished that we cannot even eat what we produce. . . .“We are poor because the land, water, seed and natural resources are controlled by a few landlord and agrochemical transnational corporations (TNCs). . . .The forced “structural adjustment” of our agriculture by the World Bank-International Monetary Fund (WB-IMF) collaboration, and the imposition of globalization policies by the World Trade Organization (WTO) intensify imperialist exploitation and further aggravate impoverishment. . . .The imperialist camp headed by the United States also utilizes regional trade formations like APEC, NAFTA and CAFTA to ensure and perpetuate their dominance over the world’s economy and satisfy their endless thirst for super profits at the expense of exploited peasants, farm workers, fisher-folk and other rural producers across the globe.”
It was an important acceptance that :
“The movement also recognized that farm workers also suffer from low wages, discrimination between men and women, and substandard and unacceptable living and working conditions, unacceptable even to international labor standards.”
There are more and more learning’s that women need to organize at two level. First, join the wider platforms of movements representing themselves as fisher-folk, peasants agricultural workers and other sectors. However, there is also a recognition that patriarchy is well and kicking, hence it is critically important also to organize on ‘women only’ platforms.
Movements across the globe are basing their calls on the triple pillars of social justice, gender justice and environmental justice. Given that women are the most progressive force in promoting and protecting biodiversity, and have the skills and knowledge to wrench back the earth from the impacts of climate change, food sovereignty has very deliberately focused women in its vision. It is the forces in Asia, who have been working on promoting the central place of women in agriculture that, were responsible for developing a new platform for solidifying women’s resistance against corporate agriculture: The Asian Rural Women’s Coalition.
On March 8, 2008, the outcome of the First Annual Rural Women’s Conference in Tamil Nadu, India was the Asian Rural Women’s Coalition. The 716 participants from 21 countries representing peasants, agricultural workers, indigenous women, Dalit women, nomads, fisher-folk, informal and formal workers, migrants and supportive activists came up with a declaration.
“….we, the participants to the First Asian Rural Women’s Conference is sending a call for rural women to defy injustices and raise our voices against all forms of discrimination and violence on women. We, the rural women and supportive activists resolve to continue to challenge and resist neo-liberal globalization, imperialist and fundamentalist forces and militarization. We call for genuine agrarian reform and rural women’s ownership and access to land and productive resources which include access to credit and training; we demand for food sovereignty, to healthy and local foods and healthy agriculture and to reclaim rural women’s knowledge and skills. We demand direct access and control of coastal and marine resources with meaningful participation and decision-making of fisher folk in all policies related to our livelihoods and marine resources. We demand for the end of development aggression in indigenous peoples’ ancestral lands, state and corporate plunder of our resources and demand for the right to self-determination. We demand a ban on hazardous agro-chemicals and technologies including pesticides, inorganic fertilizers and genetic engineering in food and agriculture, in favor of ecological and biodiversity-based agriculture.”
The ARWC is a platform which has the strength and vision to bring together the millions of women together who till the soil with their sweat so that the people of Asia and the World can eat and the coming generations may survive. It is their hard labor which results in preserving our rich biodiversity; though there is no doubt that the mega-corporations from the North and their partners in the South are doing their best to poison the earth, the waters and the atmospheres with their poisonous pesticides, chemical fertilizers and genetically modified seeds. However, the grim determination of the women and communities in the vast agricultural, pastoral lands to survive, and cherish and nourish the ecological cycle, their livelihoods not only for themselves but the coming generations allows them to understand the importance of unified platform, where they can fight not only trade liberalization but also the patriarchal forces embedded in the neoliberal framework. The struggles at the national level, at the village level, against the imperialist elitist policies which given feudal lords and corporate executives control over seed, water and land, also need to have a regional and global platform for not only revitalizing our movements but also to strategize and take the struggle forward.
The presence of platforms such as the PCFS and ARWC have come together to provide further organization of rural women.
To end, in 2010, the founding assembly of the International Women’s Alliance took place in Montreal Canada. Today we celebrate the Second General Assembly of IWA. We have resolved to:
Build a movement to further unite the oppressed and exploited women from all parts of the world and link local struggles and campaigns against imperialism with the struggle of peoples of the world;
Build a movement that will move forward the peoples’ struggle for national and social liberation and the full emancipation of women, and that will guarantee a life without exploitation and exploitation, one that is protective of the world’s natural resources and the environment.
Let us go forward embracing militancy, strengthening our solidarity and overcoming all obstacles and fulfil our aspirations!
Long Live International Solidarity!
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