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Report from the Women’s Assembly of the Via Campesina

This June, I traveled to Jakarta, Indonesia for the Via Campesina’s – a Grassroots partner – 6th International Congress. The Via’s International Women’s Commission kicked off the Congress by organizing the 4th International Women’s Assembly for two days from June 6-7.

  After a resplendent mistica (a cultural expression or ceremony) with inspiring chants in Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Bahasa Indonesia among others, women from all corners of the world gave a resounding call for full women’s equality and solidarity with all sectors of people facing the brunt of neoliberal globalization. And across the board they demanded an end to violence against women in all forms — personal; cultural and institutional; physical and psychological.

«This assembly truly represents the rich diversity of women’s struggles globally, and the powerful resistance of the women of La Via Campesina,» said Nette Wiebe from Canada.

Powerful women spoke over the two days about key issues. Elizabeth Mpofu (Zimbabwe) highlighted the unequal drudgery of domestic work in addition to demands on their labor as peasant women.  Nandini Singarigowda (India) pointed out that violence against women is increasingly unpunished, especially for rural women. Thwet Thwet Win (Burma) discussed the ravages of mining and extractive industries. And Asma Begum (Bangladesh) outlined the dangerous plight of working women in the informal sector.

Shanta Manavi (Nepal), Jean Enriquez (Philippines), and Francisca ‘Pancha’ Rodriguez (Chile) powerfully linked the dual oppression of capitalism and patriarchy, and called for a popular peasant feminism that recognizes women’s equally important roles within peasant agriculture.   “We need power,” Shanta said, adding that “through empowering ourselves politically we will overcome the violence and discrimination of centuries.”   “I am a peasant and a feminist,» proudly declared Pancha, who fought Pinochet’s brutal military dictatorship in Chile, «And I recognize that ours is a long struggle even within our peasant movement but we must fight on to achieve food sovereignty in the fullest sense of the term, which of necessity means the full sovereignty of women.»    Jean (a member of the World March of Women, an ally of the Via Campesina and of Grassroots International) noted how important their relationship to the Via and its women is. “The World March has historically been comprised of radical urban feminists. Our close partnership with the Via through the Global Campaign to End Violence against Women has brought us together with our radical rural feminist sisters in furthering justice for women worldwide.”   There is a lot to be done still, even within the movement – a reality not lost on the women leaders of the Via. Itelvina Massioli (Brazil) and Josie Riffaud (France) both noted in response to questions from some of the host women from Indonesia that even as a commitment to feminism meant women’s full equality it by no means meant an exclusion of men – from the movement or from their lives.   At the end of two rich days of discussion the Women’s Assembly passed a manifesto demanding full equality of women within the movement at every level and also in the larger struggle for agrarian reform and food sovereignty. As a concrete step in taking the struggle and role of women within the movement to the next level, the women’s assembly proposed that the International Women’s Commission reorganize as the International Women’s Articulation which would be led by all women members of the Via’s International Coordinating Committee and another woman representative from each region.   Explaining the logic behind this move as substance beyond semantics, Itelvina noted: “Women are not just a small part of, or a ‘topic’ in, the movement. We are the totality. We understand that making this change is part of the political maturity necessary [for the movement] to face the many challenges of the next period.”   Through these deliberations and decisions the women of the Via Campesina are articulating a significantly new vision of their role in the movement – and the movement itself.   [Grassroots International is presenting the Via Campesina and the World March of Women with its Global Partnership Award on September 28, 2013 during Grassroots’ 30th Anniversary celebration.]