The Women on Farms Project, a local organization based in the Western Cape which forms part of the South African Rural Women’s Assembly celebrated their 20th anniversary on 13-15 October 2016.
The first two days we reflected on the changes that took place (both positive and negative) on the farms over the past two decades and what still needs to happen. Labour violations came under the spotlight on the first day when farm women leaders challenged senior department of Labour officials about non-compliance and limited legislative protections. Once of the biggest complaints is non-compliance with regards to occupational health and safety. The follow comment sums up some of the challenges that women farm workers experience daily:
“The farmers treat us very badly. There are no toilets in the vineyards, the pesticides burn our backsides. We are not allowed to go and drink water. We asked for protective clothing, but did not get any.”
Other questions that were posed to the officials were: “What do you do about the labour brokers? When will the gender discrimination on farms end; when will it be addressed? How can we protect vulnerable migrant workers? How can we ensure that there is a pension fund for farmworkers?”
Issues like food security, evictions and gender based violence were also addressed during the first two days. Many women spoke about their vulnerability during off season times when they are dependent on social grants. What was meant for a child must feed the whole family. They also elaborated on the value of food gardens, and indicated that access to bigger pieces of land will increase their food security and independence. They reiterated their demand for one woman, one hectare.
The session on evictions was very emotional. A video capturing the eviction of the Soetendal community, unleashed lots of pain, and confirmed the inhumanity of evictions. Ms Vuyiswa Nxasan from the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform said she current eviction legislation is like a plastic bucket full of holes, that they try to patch up. The water keeps on pouring out. She said violations take place in the full knowledge of the law. Magistrates and police know the law but don’t adhere it.
During the first half of the third day nearly 400 women celebrated International Rural Women’s Day and World Day. Partner organisations came from Robertson, Ashton, Citrusdal and George to celebrate with us. Acknowledgement was given to the valuable contribution rural women make to food security. It was also stated that SA has enough food, but the incorrect food system results in 12 million South African going hungry. The impact of climate change on food security was also highlighted.
The Saturday evening was used to acknowledge 20 years of farm women’s activism. Babara-Anne Beukes said she is proud to be a farm worker. Being part of a women’s structure enables her to challenge the farmer and claim her rights and ultimately bringing change on farms. The women couldn’t wait for the formalities to be done, so that they could claim the dance space. The tune of “My voete juk” (English translation: My feet is itching) had old and young on the dance floor. Everyone agreed with the statement of WFP Board member, Coleen Titus “I am proud to be associated with Women on Farms Project.”
- Article provided by Carmen Louw – Women on Farms Project