Learning about female defenders and producers at the Central America Conference on Rural Women´s Land Rights

Liliana Vianey Vargas
Friday, October 20, 2017

The event brought together organizations from Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Costa Rica, Mexico and Colombia to share experiences, challenges and opportunities for rural women.

The sub-regional Central America Conference from the Rural Women´s Land Rights Initiative was held on July 6-9 in Panajachel, Guatemala. It was organized by Comite Campesino del Altiplano (CCDA) and the initiative´s focal point, the Centro de Investigacion y Educacion Popular (CINEP/PPP).

A standout point of the conference was the discussion on the distinct approaches for women to claim their access to land. The experiences shared showed evidence of diversity of strategies in combating inequality in regards to land access and in favour of women´s individual and collective development.

It was observed that limited land access affects the violation of  fundamental rights, such as the right to food. Access to land for women living in rural areas – e.g. indigenous women- , not only means a source of employment to produce food for their families, but also for entire communities. It is worth mentioning that food produced by these women groups tends to be chemical-free and mostly intended for local markets.

It was also noted the violations suffered by human rights and environmental defenders, and the criminalization of protests by governments. Contrastingly, it was interesting to see that female leaders, at the community level or promoting social struggles, are increasingly using strategic spheres to make their gender and collective demands more visible. However, this has had high social, political, economic and cultural costs for women, and in the most critical cases, has put at risk the lives of male and female defenders.

Colleagues of CCDA and CODECA (Comite de Desarrollo Campesino) from Guatemala, shared their resistance strategies, social demands and the mobilizations, that promoted grassroots organizations to act as a protection mechanisms and give visibility to their agendas. Both organizations reported that peasant rights are not respected and that farms of landowners have large plots of unused land.

It was pointed out, that having a job working in the fields, does not necessarily translate into better living conditions. Participants reported that large employers promote neo-colonizing strategies to continue marginalizing workers, constantly violating their rights in the face of State inaction.

Other strategies and approaches were also shared, such as the educational processes that female indigenous leaders are managing and promoting. Another initiative by the International Indigenous Women´s Forum (IIWF/FIMI), in connection with the Alliance of Indigenous Women in Central America and Mexico (Alianza de Mujeres Indigenas de Centroamerica y Mexico), have been able to  politically empower indigenous women and strengthening advocacy efforts in favour of the agendas for gender equality and the indigenous movement. They also want to generate the capacities of local leadership for political advocacy at local, national and international levels. The educational processes have been carried out, with thematic guides imparted by indigenous women with extensive experience in defending land and territorial rights, as well as with female indigenous lobbyists at the international level, primarily on the elaboration of several international treaties. These experiences illustrate advocacy processes which are meant to establish specific demands posed by women and Indigenous Peoples in the documents governing national policies related to land access and biodiversity protection.

The fieldwork visit to female producers showed evidence of women’s central role in safeguarding the right to food. Women demand increased land access, as they are the ones engaging in food production for their families and communities, and have demonstrated their capabilities to be organized and of considering the common good through collective and family production. Collective organization for food production also teaches new generations the mechanisms that can be used to achieve food sovereignty, based on mutual, collective and multilateral cooperation at the local level.

Lake Atitlan was a source of inspiration for visiting organizations, in particular to reflect and evaluate the organizational capacity of communities in Guatemala and the forefront of the current resistance based on identity, political training and professionalization. Visitors could also learnt of intergenerational leaderships, where again the role of women has been decisive to dignify rural and indigenous life.

Finally, it should be highlighted that peasant and indigenous women, and all those other women living in rural areas, have strong local leaderships but they face various kinds of problems. In women´s words: "we were blessed, they robbed us all our fish, they drained the pond and we lost a lot of money. Our fish was spawning and all was stolen, but one of them stayed and still had its young. When we arrived, one day, we saw they had emptied the pond, but we knew we had hopes to recover our work again. A female fish populated anew the pond, she blessed us and we repopulated the area again." Therefore, it is through their work that women are always searching for new alternatives.

Women participating in the event showed their capacities to networking and to promote political strategies to defend women´s rights, primarily regarding land rights, a central theme of one of the ten International Land Coalition (ILC) commitments to achieve people-centred land governance.

Liliana Vianey Vargas