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“Pourquoi la campagne”: Via Campesina Africa launches Campaign to End Violence against Women at 2011 World Social Forum in Dakar

February 2011

In 2008, I was privileged to attend the 5th international conference of Grassroots International partner the Via Campesina, in Matola, Mozambique. The Via, a global movement representing over 150 million peasants and other small producers on 5 continents, has been the leading voice for the rights of small farmers and farmworkers as well as other small producers and has led global campaigns for agrarian reform, against free trade and for climate justice. At its 2008 conference, however, it launched another global campaign that a lot of people don’t yet know about. This is the Global Campaign to End Violence against Women.

This month, in Dakar, Senegal at the 2011 World Social Forum the Via launched the Africa piece of this global campaign. At a packed gathering, ten women from Niger, Mali, Togo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique and Zimbabwe spoke about patriarchy, women’s rights violations and the need for equity and justice – giving profoundly moving personal testimonies. Josie Riffaud, from the Confederation Paysanne (Farmers’ Confederation – France) and the Via’s International Coordination Committee (ICC) provided the context for the Via’s historic decision. As far back as 1993 when the Via was formed, Josie said, “there was a realization on the part of the leadership that while most of the ICC was made up of men, most farmers in the world were women. There was early recognition that male domination was present also in our own peasant organizations.”

To address this, the Via introduced a rule of gender parity at all levels of its leadership. When a country from Central America sent an all male delegation to the Mozambique meeting, they were sent back! But, as Josie said in Dakar, “by 2003 we knew that this gender parity rule was not enough to address the deep rooted problem of patriarchy, which we needed to understand and address more fundamentally beyond paying lip service.” And so, they approached their close ally, the international feminist movement, the World March of Women to help educate their leadership and membership about patriarchy including violence against women.

Through this process they created the Via Women’s Commissions at international, regional and national levels to build women’s leadership and to ensure that gender equity and justice, the impacts of patriarchy and other related issues were brought into the core of the Via’s work. This included “building an understanding of the fundamental role played by women in agriculture and the sustenance of life, and also of the undervaluation and non-recognition of women’s work” Josie said.

“Pourquoi la campagne?” Fatimatou Hima, a Via ICC member from the Platforme Paysanne du Niger (PPN – Peasants Platform of Niger) asked. This campaign was needed she said because huge numbers of women – in many countries as many as 1 in 2 – are victims of violence from forced marriages, domestic violence, rape, and sexual slavery to forced sterilization, forced pregnancy, and war. But, Fatimatou emphasized, “We need to see the manifestation of violence against women beyond physical violence, however, painful and real that is; because violence against women has many forms. Women being forced to work up to 18 hours a day without remuneration or recognition is violence. Women being forbidden to belong to feminist groups or political parties is violence. The births of girl children not being celebrated even as that of boys is, is violence. Women not being able to inherit land and have land rights is violence.”

“This campaign is about a different future. We want to engage people – women and men – to end all forms of gender-based violence. Violence against women is considered to be private. As a social movement we want to bring it out into the public sphere and shame the perpetrators.” In Niger, in April 2009, Fatimatou and her colleagues in the PPN launched a campaign following the 2008 Mozambique conference (when PPN joined the Via Campesina). Our goal, she said, was to “begin with ourselves and be agents of change. We identified ourselves as agents of change and our aim was for each of us to change at least ten minds. Our husbands’, our fathers’, our brothers’, our mothers’, our children’s minds. We must stop using culture to commit violence against women.”

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