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The Unexpected Learning Exchanged: Gender Consciousness and Capacity

February 2015

Humanity cannot solve its problems with one hand effectively tied behind its back. Yet, given the state of women’s rights globally, this is metaphorically the case. One of the guiding principles of Grassroots International’s work is the recognition and support of women’s agency in the struggle for justice and liberation – not just to advance women’s leadership (though that is a goal) but also because women’s engagement and leadership are necessary to push us all forward. The Brazil Agroecology Learning Exchange revealed several instances of such agency. Ponnuthai of the Tamil Nadu Women’s Collective, one of the participants at the learning exchange, shared the challenges facing women peasants in India. She described the struggle to be recognized as legitimate farmers, with clear access and title to land. Such recognition is essential to access government subsidies. This government assistance would then give women greater opportunity to generate and control their own income, which not only alleviates the immediate realities of poverty but liberates women from the restraints of sexism and misogyny. Another example of this liberating agency comes from Vani, a literacy teacher for teens and adults and a member of Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement. She meets regularly with a group of 5-10 women to plan community projects. The group has decided to start an organic garden and a small business selling sweets at the local market. Several learning exchange participants were impressed by how the host organization, the Popular Peasant Movement (MCP). The MCP is a women-led organization that promotes agroecology, peasant autonomy and the production and dissemination of creole seeds. It was women of the MCP that led the campaign for the Brazilian federal school lunch program. Furthermore, MCP women prepare meals and snacks that are then sold as part of the lunch program.  Lastly, MCP women shared the story of women-led negotiations with the city government of Catalao to use city property free of charge for a weekly farmers market. The market has been a huge success. The women who run the market collectively agree upon prices to avoid competition and ensure fair compensation.   As with many learning exchanges, the Brazil Agroecology Learning Exchange offered hands-on techniques to be learned and many ‘best practices’ to be shared.  However, something less tangible emerged once again, that very real quality that sustains and nurtures those engaged in the struggle for justice—solidarity.  Grassroots International, in all its endeavors, knows that this cannot be undervalued, nor underestimated. 

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