Women and Land

“There is not one ‘women’s issue’ that does not concern all of humanity, all of the earth. Everyone’s future is at stake when it comes to women’s ownership and control.” With these words, from the play Ragazze (Girls), actress Lella Costa introduced the Terra Madre 2010 workshop on women and land.

Even though women are almost always directly responsible for feeding the family, and in rural areas they are generally the ones who ensure there is food for the whole community, 98% of the world’s agricultural land is owned by men.

The female world often has the task of passing on traditional knowledge from generation to generation, yet the important role of women is rarely recognized and in many countries gender equality remains a distant, unrealized goal. Violence, often perpetrated in the family, is one of the main causes of death and socio-economic changes impact much more on women’s lives than on the male population.

In the face of such extreme vulnerability, there is a lack on the one hand of suitable policies and on the other of educational opportunities able to develop a culture of equality and cooperation between the sexes from the bottom up.

Women are not just watching idly, and in some cases their reaction has been decisive in changing the course of events. In the Philippines, for example, women farmers were at the front line in demanding the return of land taken by big estate owners, who did not hesitate to hire private militia to fight them during the 2007 revolts. The sugar-cane fields, whose ownership was demanded by the local population, became the setting for guerrilla warfare. “To support agrarian reform, the women active in the protest went all the way to the capital, Manila, sometimes traveling as much as 10 hours by boat to demand their rights in the city,” said Karen Tuason of the Philippine association Task Force Mapalad.

The workshop’s participants heard many different stories from around the world, including that of Erica Guevara and Juanita Ayala Alvarado of El Salvador, both members of the Movimiento Salvadoreño de Mujeres (MSM), the El Salvadorean women’s movement. “We have to focus on education,” emphasized Erica, “without which women cannot become aware of their own rights.”

“In Malawi, we try to support schooling and to curb the phenomenon of early marriages, into which girls as young as ten or 11 or even nine are forced,” reported Masoe Darline Jue Gondwe of the Coalition of Women Farmers. Her organization won this year’s UNESCO Confucius Prize for Literacy, and thanks to literacy and informational meetings, Malawi’s women are learning to fight discriminatory practices.

The necessary actions are many: As well as lobbying governments, people’s mentality must also be changed. “Women’s rights concern the whole population,” declared Samuel Muhunyu, the head of Slow Food in Kenya. “Their respect is an indication of well-being for all of society. Men must not feel threatened by women’s demands. Instead they should feel that they share in the successes of their mothers, their wives, their sisters.”

The seminar was organized in collaboration with the NGO Action Aid and the International Land Coalition, both active in facilitating women’s access to land.

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