Sow peasant feminism and you will reap Liberty

Natalia Tangona

When did we start talking about food sovereignty? How did agroecology become one of the most powerful political concepts of the 21st Century? What role does feminism occupy in the food production movements? In order to understand the reconfiguration of the rural food production economy as the main actor in the struggle against the extractive neoliberal model, it is necessary to observe the seed within it: the struggle of rural and peasant women against the patriarchal oppression of their bodies and of the land. To understand where we are today, it is necessary to know the processes that have brought us to where we are now. An interview with Francisca «Pancha» Rodríguez, from ANAMURI.

The Americas Continental Campaign: 500 Years of Indigenous, Black and Popular Resistance (1989-1992), convened by peasant and indigenous organizations in the Andean region and the Landless Movement (MST) in Brazil, was the trigger for us to begin to organise ourselves against the policies of plunder and the establishment of agribusiness in the countryside in the Americas in the 1990s. And so, in 1994 the Latin American Coordination of Peasant Organizations (Coordinadora Latinoamericana de Organizaciones del Campo, or CLOC) was born. Two years later, in Rome, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) World Food Summit was held, where for five days the topic for debate was the eradication of hunger in the World as well as guaranteeing «food security». It was then that the CLOC-Vía Campesina redefined the term «food security». Because what do the owners of the World conceive as security? Is it «security» in quantitative terms or in equitable terms? Doesn’t the «right to eat» imply the right of the peasant to decide on how they produce, in a way that is in accordance with their cultures of the people who live on the land? It was by this means that the term «Food Sovereignty» was coined from the same struggle for land and thousands of years of agriculture, giving food sovereignty as a political framework for rural and peasant movements in resistance against agribusiness and the monopoly of property and land ownership.

25 years later, the debate has taken root.

Francisca «Pancha» Rodriguez is a representative of ANAMURI (The National Association of Rural Women and Indigenous Peoples of Chile) within the CLOC, and is one of the founders of La Via Campesina. One of the guardians of the Earth, seeds, resources, of the future, a weaver of collective solutions, against all forms of violence, towards life and freedom.

Q: – How did women begin to organize themselves within the CLOC and what activities did they develop? When did they begin to identify themselves as feminists, how did this affect the organization and how was that process?

A: – Women did not start to organise themselves within CLOC, we already came organized and building the CLOC was a joint effort by men and women. Women’s organization has its own history, but this is a history that is unrecognized, sometimes even we ourselves fail to recognise it. But the truth is that we have always been present, we have always been the mainstay of agricultural production and in times of extreme difficulty this becomes much more visible. And this is what happened with the constitution of the CLOC. It meant building the process that leads to unity, a struggle by adding new members, new allies in different sectors. These include fisher-folk, native peoples and mainly putting together women who worked in these different activities in country life, which I always call «survival strategy» something we women have created. Revolving round our connection with the earth, especially arts and crafts, transforming and cooking food, work in the harvest… So in difficult times all this knowledge, all of women’s work in the front line, which is where we are now.

I think that the feminist movement in Latin America had a stronger pressure in what was the struggle for the re-founding of democracy in those countries that suffered dictatorships, and it is a feminism that emerges with a commitment to the people’s struggles. This also went on to build new women’s culture, and we didn’t remain on the margins, because there was already an important process of participation by women who were demanding to be an active part in these organizations, and that has only been growing in power. This was also so in terms of the processes at an international level, that is, for us (although apparently with a decade of women behind us) though, for this was not so much this way. I believe that we have still to recognise what that process meant, the fusion that took place gently between feminist women and the popular sectors. We women were apparently a new sector emerging powerfully from the 500-year Campaign of Indigenous Black Popular & Peasant Resistance, from the construction of Vía Campesina itself, and of CLOC, where we women were always present. We have come a little further in our story over these last decades, marked by taking a protagonist role in the process of struggle for food sovereignty, for the right to land, for the defence of our natural resources.»

In those years, in many territories in Latin America, the movement from peasant agriculture to industrialized production was consolidated, in the hands of the «Green Revolution», beginning in the 1970s. The peasants were then (as we are now) obstacles to the market monopolization plans of the large transnationals, and in the new forms of insertion and appropriation redesigned through «Free Trade» Agreements. The role of women was taking on a notoriety historically made invisible when it came to producing food for the World. Resistance so as to be able to continue to exist, to survive. In this struggle for the existence of our ancestral agriculture, of peoples, of identities, of resources, the empowerment of women was shaping a new political framework that was perfectly linked to that of food sovereignty; peasant and popular feminism.

«Our political participation is to understand where we are and where we want to go, that is why we managed to establish gender parity within the CLOC and the Vía Campesina, to take part in the political debate, to make ourselves visible, to establish our own spaces of discussion where we contribute to the important decisions made by the peasant movement, and the peasant movement contemplates this in its resolutions. That is how gender parity emerges, that is how the campaign for Food Sovereignty, as well as the emergence of the campaign for seeds. This is the origin of the Campaign to oppose violence against rural women, and beyond the countryside, against violence in all of its expressions, against violence that one finds in the communities but that mostly assaults us, affecting women. This lead to a dizzying political development of the peasant movement in Latin America, which has become increasingly notorious. This is not only the struggle for food sovereignty: it is the struggle for agrarian reform, it is the struggle over water, for the defence of our territories and our biodiversity. In this struggle we are very present, visible and conscious.

For us women, getting to the point of defining ourselves as feminists was not an easy process. We have been in this debate for more than ten years now. But it was one political step at a time as the peasant movement was defining policies for the construction of a new model of society in a socialist framework. Our first slogan was to say that we were coming this debate with all our historical experience – not that we began from nothing – and reconstructing processes that have been disqualified by the interest of capital. It is for this that we said «there can be no socialism without feminism». And we began to reconstruct a process that led us to theorize, to dig back into the past and to rediscover the point of view of what had historically been women’s role in agriculture. It has been a very interesting process to get into it, to see at what point women were relegated to the background. How capitalism expresses itself and generates these profound gender differences, how patriarchy is developed as a tool that sustains this system and how it demonizes debate and political construction. I think we’re back to that again.»

Q – What is rural and popular feminism and how do we build it?

A – «When we are speaking about feminism, just as when we speak to food sovereignty, we women speak about rights: about women’s rights, about the rights of Mother Earth, about peasant’s rights. So how do we bring these together, from our rights, that brings us a framework to confront the task to build the society we aspire to? It is a process that never ends, it doesn’t stop.

We do it looking toward the same construction of the indigenous peoples, from that dual vision, from complementarity, to see how this dual cosmovision could nourish our new thinking. For example, the value that seeds have — what they mean to us women — the value of our seeds, the meaning of life that our seed has and what it gives back to us: food sovereignty; this very important peasant rôle those who produce the food that the people need. But also within that is our own creativity, our infinite creativity in transforming produce and turn it into food, to generate an important space for encounter, where we can reunite and create within the kitchen, which for some women in the city or for some feminists is not really acceptable. I think that it will take some time before it is understood that we have to have a feminist viewpoint where we hold present the culture of native peoples, our identity, because we have lost a lot of our identity in general terms.

Our own identity has been taken away from us to put up barriers that distance us even from the reality of who we are. We are no longer peasants, we are producers, we are small business people, we are entrepreneurs, we are competitive women, we are innovators! It turns out that none of these identities that have given us are solving the great problems that we women have today, not only in personal economic terms, but also in political terms, and culturally, to be able to improve our quality of life, being able to hold onto our territory and, within our territories, holding onto our culture and what our spirituality means to us. So I think that today there is a deep admiration for the grace, the courage that the young feminist movement has, but also from the point of view of the women and of all rural people, of the reactionary element that is still very present. There is a fear, a rejection that can delay us in our debate if we don’t find points in common. Because of this we say that our feminism is a political and class-based feminism, it is a feminism that liberates us, coming from the people’s struggle, from the communities. It is a feminism that combats violence, to end harassment as a patriarchal practice. A signal has come to rural life to tear off what was deeply hidden and to generate a culture of breaches in the face of custom, this silent situation, these traditions that are so offensive to us».

Every two years, the CLOC-Vía Campesina organizes the American Continental School for rural women, strengthening political education with a gender perspective, reflection, meetings and exchanges, to bring a collective construction of a peasant and a popular feminism.

Q – How do we build bridges between the different bodies-territories?

A – Perhaps looking at that which is concrete, tangible, and with each step, this enables us to identify the historical processes of these territories in very history of our own bodies. Identity, seed memory, the water that weaves us together, and this very fine edge driving us down the path toward savage capitalism, we need to rediscover ourselves, by disentangling ourselves from wires and fences, from patriarchy, essential synonyms in this process of change where agroecology is central.

Q – How does one relate agroecology for food sovereignty to peasant feminism and popular feminism? What are the strengths acquired looking toward the future and what is the horizon for the fight?

A – «Undoubtedly we need to meet again in a deeper conversation between the cities and the countryside. I think that the pandemic had a strong impact on us. Because in he countryside you have to quarantine but you also need to keep producing, so food sovereignty is more powerful for ourselves, those that have constructed it, over these few years, as an identity. We can’t think that food sovereignty is just a discourse nothing more, and not recognise it for what it is. This is a necessary conversation.

I believe that at this moment the link between the countryside and the city will be strengthened, because the people of the city have understood that guaranteeing food, being able to face these terrible crisis situations, is done with the peasants, it is done by looking at what the land can give us. Food sovereignty takes on tremendous validity, but above all, in this period the work, the struggle, the resistance of women is also put on a fairly high level. We are in a different era; it is time to to be able to redo the gardens, to give a new meaning to life. And that brings us closer to the women of the countryside and the city. Once again an important cordon is being drawn between the rural world and the urban world, and we cannot lose that. We have to rebuild this path, which is what will give us a definitive change where we can build the world we want: a world of equality, where our rights and the rights of the people are enshrined and where the indigenous peoples, the native peoples, recover their territory and we can look at each other as sisters and brothers. Perhaps we could say that these are old women’s dreams, but I believe that they are dreams of the future. In the moments when you are in the silence of your homes, you begin to think about what it was, what your life has been, what you have learned from it and what you are learning from the times to come and the uncertainty that it gives you that we are still not capable of consolidating processes that will lead us to a definitive change. I only tell you, ant-like work, the political work, the use of these social networks, the encouragement of hope… I believe it’s what will allow us to emerge victorious in a new world»

Although the processes are long, dreams of the future keep being born. Integral agrarian reform which is both feminist and popular is still the goal. Just as when sowing seed, it is necessary to rotate, add new perspectives, re-connect with old seeds for a new humanity, make, re-make, sprout, re-sprout, keep being born, keep dreaming, removing fences, healing the Earth after so many agrotoxins, so much prejudice and dependence. The harvest will certainly come. With agroecology and feminism, there will be freedom.



Illustrations by María Chevalier –