Women of Corn

By Esther Vivas

In the South, women are the main producers of food, in charge of working the land, keeping the seeds, harvesting the fruit, getting water, etc. Between 60 and 80% of food production in these countries falls on women, 50% worldwide. These are the main producers of staple crops like rice, wheat and maize, which feed the poorest populations in the global South. But, despite their key role in agriculture and food, they are, along with children, the most affected by hunger.

For centuries, rural women were responsible for domestic chores, caring for people, feeding their families, for subsistence, cultivation and marketing of some surplus from their gardens. They have borne the reproductive, productive and community work, and occupied an invisible private sphere. However, major economic agricultural transactions have been traditionally performed by men in the markets, buying and selling animals, marketing of large quantities of grain ... peasants occupying the public sphere.

This division of roles assigns to women care of the home, health and education of their families and gives men the management of land and machinery, in short, those particular skills, and keeps intact the roles of men and women for centuries and even today, these roles remain in our societies.

However, in many regions of the global South, in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia, there is considerable feminization of agricultural wage labor. Between 1994 and 2000, women occupied 83% of new jobs in the sector of non-traditional agricultural exports. But this dynamic is accompanied by a marked gender division: plantation women perform unskilled tasks, such as collection and packaging, while men carry out the harvest and planting.

This incorporation of women into the paid workplace implies a double burden on women, who continue to carry out the care of their families while working for income, mostly in precarious employment. They have worse working conditions than their peers and receive a lower financial remuneration for the same tasks and having to work longer to earn the same income.

Another difficulty is access to land. In several countries of the South, there are laws prohibiting them from this right. And in those where they have it legally, traditions and practices prevent them from taking advantage of this right. But, this problem occurs only in the global South. In Europe, many farmers do not have their rights recognized because, despite working in farms, like their peers, the ownership of the property, payment of Social Security, etc. just the men usually have it. Consequently, women, at the time of retirement, do not have any pension, have no claim for support, fees, etc.

The collapse of the field in the South and increased migration to the cities has led to a loss of the agricultural process. Women are an essential component of these migration flows, national and international, resulting in the dismantling and abandonment of families, land and production processes, while the increasing family and community burdens of women remains. In Europe, the USA and Canada ... the migrants end up taking jobs that years ago native women performed, reproducing a cycle of oppression, a burden and invisibility of care and externalizing the social and economic costs to the communities of origin of migrant women.

The inability to resolve the current crisis of care in Western countries, the result of the massive incorporation of women into the labor market, an aging population and no response from the State to these needs, leads to the massive importation of women labor workers from global South countries, for domestic work and unpaid care.

Against this neoliberal model of agriculture, intensive and unsustainable, which has proven utterly unable to satisfy the dietary needs of individuals and respect for nature, and is particularly virulent in women, there is the alternative paradigm of food sovereignty. It's about recovering our right to decide on what, how and where they produce what we eat, that land, water, seeds should be in the hands of the peasants, to fight the monopoly over the food chain.

It is necessary that food sovereignty is deeply feminist and internationalist, and that this achievement will be possible only after the full equality between men and women and free access to the means of production, distribution and consumption of food, as well as from solidarity among peoples, far from the chauvinistic slogan of "first ours."

We must assert the role of rural women in agriculture and food production and recognize the role of "women of corn," those who work the land. Making the invisible visible. And promote partnerships between rural and urban women, North and South. Globalizing feminine resistance ...

Esther Vivas is co-author of 'From farm to fork' (Icaria, 2009).
Source: http://blogs.publico.es/dominiopublico/2321/mujeres-de-maiz/

Translated from the Spanish version by:

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Author`s name Oksana Orlovskaya