Position paper during La Via Campesina III International Conference

The radical changes that are occurring in the countryside are undermining the economies, cultures and the very lives of rural women all over the world. We, in the Via Campesina, understand that these threats to women, mothers and the Mother Earth must be analyzed and conscientiously, collectively confronted in order to shape a future that is filled with regenerative energy, justice and hope.
The global neo-liberal economic agenda is designed to enhance corporate profit and concentrate power without regard for the destruction of nature, culture, community or the well-being of people. The impact of these changes are most acute in rural areas where the brutal exploitation of the environment and the people of the land is an immediate, daily experience for millions. Women experience the impact of these changes in different ways than their male counterparts because of their history, roles and relationships. Hence it is fitting and necessary to articulate a gender analysis in order to shape inclusive, just and viable long-term solutions.

The predominant current economic goal of increasing the production of saleable items assigns more value to industrial production than reproduction, manufacturing than nurturing, profits than people. This devalues the reproductive, regenerative forces both of the natural world and in human society. As the bearers of children all women are suffering from this fundamental shift in values. As those who grow food and take care of the land, peasant and rural women are doubly discounted and disadvantaged by the policies and social changes based on these neo-liberal values. These negative changes, coupled with a history of subjugation and voicelessness, often undermine the self-esteem and leadership confidence of rural and peasant women.

However, women of the land are key to the building of healthy, sustainable rural communities, caring for the land and achieving genuine, long-term food security. Rural women produce much of the food that feeds families and local communities. They are historically and currently responsible for protecting and enhancing the bio-diversity which is vital to human survival. They are the beating heart of rural cultures. Genuine rural development, which includes cultural, social, economic and environmental rejuvenation, depends on rural women consciously and courageously taking a leading role.

1. Equality and Human Rights

1.1 Women are entitled to full and equal social and political decision-making. The barriers to the full democratic participation and leadership of women in these arenas must be systematically erased. Women’s perspectives, leadership and energy are essential for the building of just societies.
1.2 Peasant and rural organizations must reflect the key role of women in their organizational structures and policies. Equality and full democratic participation of women within our own organizations must model the social and political equality we are struggling for in all other domains.
1.3 We demand an end to human rights violations in the countryside. The intimidation and brutalization of peasants, which often includes the sexual as well as physical abuse of women and girls, must stop. We denounce the violent displacement of peasants and the militarization of the countryside. Military conflict should be resolved by negotiated processes and include the participation of women:
1.4 The confidence, self-esteem and human potential of women is cruelly undermined by the subjugation and abuse many experience within their own homes. We commit ourselves to respecting women and upholding their right to be free from domestic violence and repression.
2. Economic Justice
2.1 The neo-liberal economic model, which forces everyone into a global competition, is most disadvantageous and unjust to peasant women. It strips them of resources to grow food and forces them into an uncertain struggle for their own and their children’s survival. It leaves rural displacement, family and community break down, joblessness, low wages, and economic slavery in its path. Women suffer the most acute and widespread impoverishment under these conditions. Because women bear the biggest cost of these changes, justice demands that they have a larger role in reshaping the economy. The Via Campesina will lead the way in demanding and demonstrating alternative economic arrangements which give the needs of women and children first priority, rather than relegating them to last place as is currently being done.
2.2 Women have always had, and continue to have, primary responsibility for the food provisions of their families and communities. In order to be able to fulfill that role, women must have access to land in their own right. We are committed to ensuring that women gain security of tenure on land, and have equal access to such credit and training as may be required to enhance their food production.
2.3 Women have a long tradition of gathering, selecting and propagating seed varieties for food and medicinal uses. They are primary protectors of the world’s genetic resources and bio- diversity. We oppose the corporate theft and patenting of these genetic resources. Women’s traditional knowledge must be honoured and respected and their ability to continue the vital role of protecting and enhancing bio-diversity must never be undermined. The future of humankind depends on this.
2.4 Women who work in the agriculture or rural service sectors for wages must be given wages equal to those of their male counterparts. Wage discrimination on the basis of gender is a fundamental injustice against women. Along with being paid lower wages, women are sometimes made to suffer the psychological and physical damage of sexual harassment in workplaces, and are forced by economic circumstances to endure unhealthy and even dangerous working conditions. This is unacceptable.
3. Social Development
3.1 Our goal of rural development includes the genuine improvement and development of human society, rather than merely the increased production of industrial goods. We are working to achieve a model of rural development which improves education for all rural people, ensuring especially that all children, girls as well as boys, have the opportunity to get schooling.
3.2 We recognize that in the current global context we must build links of solidarity and egalitarian interdependence in order to stave off an enslaving dependence on transnational corporations. In order to resist the corporate onslaught and build cohesive, regenerative communities, the Via Campesina commits itself to respect the autonomy and human value of all persons and the many unique cultures of peasant communities.
3.3 Rural women must have access to adequate and appropriate health care services. A great deal of unnecessary suffering is caused by the lack of basic health facilities, medicines and trained professionals in the countryside. Health services must never be tied to forced sterilization or acceptance of corporate products such as baby formula.
3.4 Our health, and that of our families, is increasingly endangered by the chemical and biological pollution and lack of good water and soil as a result of modern production methods. The global experimentation with genetically modified seeds and plants is a Russian roulette. These agricultural production practices also reduce our quality of life. Economic globalization undermines any possibility of building a sustainable future. The Via Campesina will continue to struggle against the environmental destruction which is destroying the health of families along with the health of the eco-system.

* Work to achieve gender parity at all policy-making events within our organizations at the local, national, regional and international levels.
* Achieve the goal of having 50 percent women delegates in all committees and conferences of the Via Campesina
* Build leadership among women through concrete training and participation in programs.
* Support the organization of gender workshops for both women and men.
* Ensure that women take positions of decision-making within local, regional, national and international peasant and farm organizations. * Continue to actively build links of solidarity between peasant and farm women within the Via Campesina movement through better communication, meetings, exchanges and collective analysis.
* Gender issues should be integrated into all of the following themes of the Via Campesina : agrarian reform, biodiversity and genetic resources, human rights, food sovereignty and trade and farmer based sustainable agriculture. Develop a strategy of publicity and mass media campaigns on these issues.
* All Via Campesina initiatives should be implemented and assessed to ensure that they respect equal rights of women.
* All members in all participating Via Campesina organisations must accept the importance of developing a gender, class and ethnicity perspective and integrate this into their frameworks. The burning problem of inequality between the genders can be solved in the countryside.
* Via Campesina organisations must build and support literacy training programs, consciousness raising and political training in rural areas. The Via Campesina demands free education for all women and men.
* The Women’s Assembly pointed out that women want equality; they do not want to overcome men. Equality means that women need social, psychological, physical and economical support.
* For this reason Via Campesina needs better coordination so that there is greater interaction with organizations around the world. To ensure better coordination, coordinators from each country should work together to find solutions to the issues they face at the national level; they should also work closely together to strengthen the work at the international level.