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Women Changing the World

March 2015

International Women’s Day (March 8) celebrates the power and struggle of women all over the world. There are so many stories of women’s strength, inspiration and bold leadership in the work of our partners and grantees. Eighty-eight percent of the groups that Grassroots International supports work to promote women’s rights. Here are just some of the women-led projects that we have supported over the past year.

The Association of Settlement Areas in the State of Maranhão (ASSEMA) has been working for over 25 years to support peasant women and their families in northern Brazil. ASSEMA represents women associations of babaçu nut harvesters, Quilombola (Afro-Brazilian) communities, rural cooperatives and associations of rural youth. In 2014 ASSEMA organized leadership development trainings, as well as trainings on how to implement sustainable practices. ASSEMA is currently working with 4,500 families in 300 rural communities to improve the quality of life through the empowerment of rural women and youth, implementation of agroecological practices in food production, and promotion of solidary economy.

Mayan indigenous women of the National Coordinator of the Indigenous Peoples and Campesinos (CONIC) are agents of change in their communities. Guided by the Mayan cosmovision and the indigenous concepts of living well (buen vivir) and defense of Mother Earth, women of CONIC are leading the way in improving the quality of life in their communities. The impacts of climate change have hit hard in recent years, resulting in droughts, flooding and other extreme weather conditions that deplete the soil. CONIC is clear about the connection between women’s rights and caring for Mother Earth. They promote family-level food production and sustainable agriculture practices. Through their municipal women’s assemblies they are creating spaces for women to share experiences with one another, especially around the topics of self-esteem, individual and collective rights, and intra-familial violence. They are also organizing workshops on seed production and selection, and promoting seed exchanges. Through the implementation of agroecological practices women of CONIC are building resilience, supporting the health of their families and the healing of the earth.

The We Are the Solution (WAS) project is a women-led initiative that works with rural women farmers associations in the western African countries of Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea and Ghana. It was born out of African peasant movements with the purpose of creating alternatives to industrial model of farming. The project emphasizes and advances methods and practices that promote food sovereignty, local food systems, family farming and farmer-to-farmer collaboration. In 2014 WAS created connections between small-scale farmers and other local food producers, including fisher people and pastoralists, and strengthened coordination across the five West African countries to amplify the voices of rural women farmers.

Women heads of households in the Gaza Strip are growing gardens to feed their families and to generate income. On average, Palestinians only have access to70 liters of water per day per person, well below the 100 liters recommended by the World Health Organization. Israeli citizens, on the other hand, consume 300 liters per day. The Palestinian Agricultural Relief Committees (PARC) works with women heads of household to increase awareness of the water situation in the Gaza Strip through teaching rainwater harvesting techniques that can be used for both for personal use and for irrigation in gardens.

In the Tamil Nadu region of India, the Women’s Collective supports the empowerment of women farmers, especially single and widowed women, through the formation of collective agroecological farms. Devi, a mother of three who was widowed four years ago, was struggling to the point that one of her sons had to drop out of school and get a job in order to help support the family. After joining the Women’s Collective Devi was able to form a collective farm with 10 other women on three acres of leased land. In 2014 together they were able to cultivate 15 crops, including greens, millet and vegetables. This has made a huge difference in her life.

“Today, I cooked rice, pulses and string bean curry,” Devi says. “I plucked the vegetables right from our own farm.”

In addition to supporting the ongoing work of the Women’s Collective, in 2014 Grassroots International also supported three members to participate in an international agroecology learning exchange hosted by the Popular Peasant Movement (MCP) in Brazil. This learning exchange brought together people all over the world to participate in a seminar on biodiversity and creole seeds, followed by site visits to learn and exchange experiences about around rescuing and reproducing creole seeds and using agroecological practices.

There is no doubt that access to women’s health is critical to ensuring women’s full participation in society. In 2014 the Mixe Peoples’ Services (SER Mixe) trained indigenous women’s health rights leaders to establish a path to quality care. They conducted workshops and trainings on women’s health, including general medical consultations, pap smears, counseling, and monitoring to advance equitable participation of women.

Through their Women’s Empowerment Project, in 2014 the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC) advanced food sovereignty and social justice for women in rural Palestine. The Women’s Empowerment Project works to increase active political and economic participation of women farmers through women’s agricultural cooperatives. More than 100 women from five women’s cooperatives celebrated last year’s International Women’s Day by standing in solidarity with the women of Madareb Al- Maleh in the north of the Jordan Valley after their property had just been demolished by Israeli forces.

La Via Campesina’s (LVC) Global Campaign to End Violence Against Women was launched in 2008 as an urgent appeal for social and political change in society’s treatment of women. Grassroots International supports LVC’s Central American Women’s Regional Commission in their implementation of this campaign – specifically in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras. In 2014 the Central American Women’s Regional Commission engaged over 2,000 women through workshops on women’s rights to live in a safe environment free of violence, public events on International Women’s Day and International Day to End of Violence Against Women, and distribution of educational materials.

Our struggle is to build a society based on justice, equality and peace.  We demand respect for all women’s rights.  In rejecting capitalism, patriarchy, xenophobia, homophobia, and discrimination based on race and ethnicity, we reaffirm our commitment to the total equality of women and men.  This demands the end to all forms of violence against women, domestic, social and institutional in both rural and urban areas.  Our campaign against violence towards women is at the heart of our struggles. – From the Jakarta Call – Final declaration of the VIth International Conference of La Vía Campesina

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