The Rural Women’s Assembly participated in the seminar on feminist perspectives on corporate abuse and the violations of rural women rights that took place on Tuesday, 13 March 2018.
The background of the meeting was inspired by the notions that indigenous and rural women are leading struggles that challenge the consolidation of corporate power by asserting their rights and defending their communities despite the lack of legal protections. Corporate impunity for human rights violations is enabled by regulatory gaps in national and international laws. The aim of the discussion was to look at the potential of a legally binding instrument on transnational corporations (and other business enterprises) for human rights – including the rights of rural women – from a feminist perspective. The panelists included activists Latin America, Africa, and South East Asia.
This post provides a snapshot of some of the key issues that were highlighted in terms of how MNCs are violating the human rights of rural women. The first speaker, from El Salvador spoke about the daily persecutions of rural women at the hands of Multi National Corporations (MNC) coming into the country to plunder and exploit the natural resources. Governments’ policy initiatives create a favorable environment for these companies. The movement has been fighting for over 10 years. This year a number of activists were murdered. One of those killed was a pregnant woman. The companies have bought off the local municipal officers. These government officials have allowed MNC to come in and buy land and in some instances, these companies can lease land for 30 years. The movement has involved lawyers to assist and support the community but there is just no justice. They took the struggle to an international level and went to the International UN Rights Commission. There are just no interventions and the cries for solidarity is just not heard instead the contamination of resources such as water continue. Although we have initiated a legal claim for compensation, there is very limited follow through.
The demands of the community is simple we want the company Pacifica and Oceania Gold out of our country. We want justice!
The next speaker, Juana Toleda is from Guatemala and is a fighter for indigenous people’s rights. Most of the indigenous people have their own language and culture. At the end of 2004, a council of indigenous people was formed to fight against the extractivism in our communities. The territory of the indigenous communities is under attack with the building of 21 hydroelectric plants, 8 mining projects and oil projects in our territory that were authorised. The women are angry because these projects do not mean jobs or development. Rather we see that the water sources in our territory are under threat. Women are the first to feel the impact of the lack of water.
Recently a Spanish company came and took over a river for a hydroelectric plant. This river was a real source of water for the people living in that territory. Those that challenged the company have been harassed and criminalised and the company is dividing the community. Six women who were fighting against the building of electric poles and pylons over the clinic. The pylons were radio-active.
We are not only fighting machismo (patriarchy) but we have also recognise the role of colonialism has played.
Yiping Cai spoke about the impact of Chinese investment in agriculture. China’s investment in agriculture is based on several investments including the building of infrastructure, training and local economic development. Yet they are blind to the position of women.
China is increasingly investing in overseas markets. It does not only receive investment but is also one of the biggest global players overseas because they are investing in over 197 countries that is worth 5 trillion USD. China also invests in Africa and this investment often comes through informal means. The Chinese also invests in mining and energy and this investment will have a major impact on gender and the environment in these countries.
When China mines they use Chinese labour, but who is left behind? Who is responsible for care economy?
Sostine Namanya from Uganda highlighted that there is a displacement of women and communities from their land. The process starts with the promise of development. For us the starting point for the women’s movement is that land is food. If we have a small parcel of land we can have shelter, sanitation and food. The land is linked directly to our spirituality and culture. Once the land is taken there is nothing left for the community. She made an example of how MNCs are extracting water from the Nile and how it impacts on the lives of the communities who live around the Nile.
It is important that we start to organise at local level before we can think of global campaigns- because change will only come is women are well mobilised and can defend their own issues and interest.
We were given red roses!
Yesterday I participated in a public event that marked the significance of International Women’s Day (8th March). The event was organised by a local association of mainly Latin American women from a movement called, Movement for Justice in El Barrio. They were founded in 2004 and have been fighting to prevent landlords from evicting and displacing them from the apartments that they live in. The landlords was to gentrify the apartments for rich people. They shared their struggle against the landlord with us.
The event was quite amazing in that everyone one that came to the event was given a red rose. We were told that the red rose symbolised the women’s struggle. Women’s contributions had to be celebrated and the rose showed the importance of building a movement of peace but also of resistance.
The event highlighted the solidarity from the youth in the area, also other popular movements participated. Another very interesting the fact was that all the catering and serving of the food and drinks were done by the men. The public meeting was a celebration of their struggle movement and how they managed to fight for their rights. , it showed how the issues we face are common and that the patriarchical system is alive and well throughout the world.
What was key for me from their story was that they involved all their children, their daughters were active alongside of them. They never tired, the kept on mobilising because they realised that it was not going to take one month to get the landlords to back down. Their struggle is now more than 10 years and they have managed to stop the evictions but they are not resting.
For them it did not matter if they were not literate or they could not speak English – they developed local methods of mobilising and built links so that their message was visible. The other thing that I learnt was that they documented everything, both the successes and the lessons.
They told us how they organised. It included going door to door, mobilising the the whole neighhood, organising local fund-raising and also included taking care of other. They women in the movement realised that it was necessary to share skills and involved everyone on the decision-making. It was a flat organisation where everyone mattered.
As the RWA we spoke at the meeting. We shared songs of our struggle for land and we spoke about the need for solidarity and the despite the fact that International Women’s Day was 100 years ago and it was based on the struggles of working class and rural women for a living wages, for rights and for freedom, that struggle still continues for poor women of Africa and poor women elsewhere.
Speaking at the event in Haarlem, showed the importance on solidarity and building global alliances that strengthen our struggles for another world.
Bread for the World Presentation:
Objective : We have alternatives