The South Asian farmer women speak out on International Women's Day, 2004

In 1910, Clara Zetkin declared 8th March as International Women's Day. Subsequently the day became an integral political and symbolic legacy of women's movement around the world. The day has the origin in the workers movement and therefore symbolises the converging moment of both working class and women's movement. We know that the women’s day was declared to demand and intensify the movement of women workers, particularly women in the garment factories. Later on, the movement was extended to demand for voting rights of women and other social and political rights. Women's struggles are continuing irrespective of race, class, colour, caste, nationality, religion and cultures.

However, over the period since 1910, all forums have neglected women farmers' issues and no initiative was taken until today to involve farmer women or incorporate their specific needs and demands. Women’s organisations have been celebrating the day with much enthusiasm at the national levels and have been connecting themselves with the international movement. This day was also recognised by the United Nations in 1976. Since then, 8th March is celebrated at the government level as well. The government, mainstream women’s movement and women workers organisations are now very active on the 8th March.

It is time to bring farmer women at the centre stage of women's movement, since our survival is at stake due to insecurity in food and livelihood and because of the control of the food chain by few large corporations. Industrial and bio-industrial model of civilisation has become the major threat for all lifeforms to survive. This is the time that farmer women around the world must unite and bring sisters from all other sectors to fight back the destructive global corporate empire touted as 'globalisation'.

Women need to be more reflective and inclusive in their movements. Given that there is intense resistance against globalisation, the International Women's Day is bound to raise critical reflection to bring the women's movement to the centre of popular resistance. Economy, ecology and the survival strategies of agrarian communities are not same as urban communities. It cannot be taken for granted that the questions of working women in the industrial factory and the women in agriculture can be the same. In fact it is different. The relation between economy and ecology is more complex in agrarian communities. Absence of farmer women from the women's movement is a surprising blank space or spot. It perhaps explains why women farmers are not participating on various occasions addressing women's questions. Therefore, it is necessary to bring the issue of farmer women forward.

It is very significant that in this year South Asian farmer women from India, Nepal, Sri lanka, and Pakistan are gathering Bangladesh to fill the gap in the movement. This event is organised by South Asia Network of Food, Ecology and Culture (SANFEC). Clara Zetkin declared the International Women's Day based on women workers struggles. Now that the farmer women's struggles are intensifying around the world and issues of food, agriculture, livelihood and biodiversity are becoming basic survival questions, the South Asian farmer women are really showing the way forward. Farmer women have ethical bond to all lives and believe that 'food' is not a commodity, but the 'gift' for us all, to be shared and enjoyed collectively by all including all lifeforms.

The farmer women's movement is based on the slogan "sisters 'save seed in your hands' because this is the most effective struggle against bio-colonialism. No legal regime or no international covenant could save us from biopiracy unless women in the farming and indigenous communities are mobilised, organised and consolidated in their movement to save seeds in their own hands. This is the supreme expression of "anti-globalisation" without political rhetoric.

Since last few years, farmers in South Asian have been protesting against the Agreements on Agriculture of the WTO. Women joined these movements as they belong to the sections of the society which are most affected. Trade liberalisation and consequent destruction of local food production has direct implication for the livelihood of farmers. It is devastating for the women as it destroys biodiversity-based production systems. Women are particularly concerned about the issues of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) particularly TRIPS. In countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America women have experienced the piracy of the germplasm and therefore narrowing of the genetic base of the agriculture, since 60s due to 'Green Revolution". The TRIPs is viewed in this context as the continuation of piracy in a 'legalised' mode over which women has no say or control. The agreements in TRIPs are the supreme expressions of patriarchal power asserting legal appropriation of the biological resources and associated knowledge systems that are integral part of women. The strong attachment, emotion, cultural and ethical values related to seed have induced the participation of women in the rallies in large numbers against TRIPs and WTO in South Asia and same is true in many other regions.

Women are the key practitioners of the ecological agriculture. They love and care the farmland and biodiversity as a family member, as their own baby. But unfortunately ecological or organic agriculture as an alternative to conventional agriculture is becoming men's involvement in the developed countries and 'organic' agriculture is being turned into commercial operation. On the contrary women have been practicing biodiversity-based farming ensuring food and survival of all life forms. This is being neglected. Farmer women's struggle is not to commodify nature, food and our values.

It is useless to talk about food self-suffiency or of higher yields in food production with the application of chemicals in the form of fertilizers and pesticides. It is well-documented fact that these are causing serious health hazards including cancer and various forms of reproductive health problems. Women have demanded ban of use of chemicals, particularly pesticides.

Women's lack of property rights; access and ownership have been identified as a major cause of their subordinate position in the family and society. Like the mainstream women's movement farmer women have also demanded equal rights to inherited property.

South Asian farmer women have demanded protection of local variety fish, cattle, goats, ducks and fowls. The Industrialisation of food production including industrialisation in poultry and meat farming must be stopped. They have demanded support to women in the rural areas to keep poultry, goats, sheep, cows etc. At the same time, they have expressed their positions against exotic and alien tree plantations which displaces forest and indigenous people and also destroy livelihood sources for people.

By all means, women are against patenting of life forms. The introduction of hybrid seeds and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are seen as war against women's seed preservation. These technologies because they are patented seeds. WOMEN SAY NO TO GMOs. Hybrid seeds and introduction of genetically modified seeds must be stopped.

In the general women's movement the violence against women is seen sphere of the physical, emotional, social, economical and political conditions. But farmer women's perspective is much broader. They see violence in the destruction of seeds, biodiversity, knowledge, wisdom, skill, food and livelihood.

Let's listen to the farmer women on this day of International Women's Day.

[based on Declaration of South Asian Farmer Women on International Women’s Day, 2004, organised by SANFEC, summerised by Farida Akhter.]

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