Filipino Rural Women and their struggle for land rights

In an agricultural country like the Philippines, landlessness means massive poverty and hunger. Despite the Philippine government’s three-decade–old agrarian reform program, the majority of Filipino peasants remain landless. Worse, the flawed agrarian reform program itself is being used to perpetuate the monopoly of landlords and big corporations. Meanwhile, neoliberal restructuring and plunder under globalization further aggravates the problem of landlessness.

The Filipino peasants however, have a long history of struggle for their right to land and resources. They have braved repressions, killings, and massacres in their fight for land, livelihood and rights.

Rural women have an indispensable role in this struggle. Under the banner of groups such as AMIHAN, a nationwide organization of peasant women in the Philippines, rural women are at the heart of forging unity amongst peasants and play a leading role in the struggle for land.

 

Marcianita Doroha
Philippines

Since the year 2000, 72 year-old Marcianita has been the spokeperson of the Sunflower Farmers Organization, which was formed to help farmers like her to fight for their right to land.

Their organization has 300 members who depend on a 68-hectare agricultural land for subsistence. The said land is being targeted by a Chinese corporation. “Our livelihood and survival rely on our land. We cannot afford to lose it,” Marcianita says.

Part of Marcianita’s responsibilities is voicing out their demands publicly on different platforms and to different audiences to make people understand and support their fight for land. But because of this, she and her family have become a target for the military. One of her sons, who is also active in their land struggle, was abducted by the military from their own home and detained with trumped-up charges.

With the help of the organization, Marcianita was able to secure a pro-bono lawyer for her son. The organization have since held protest actions during court hearings to demand freedom for Marcianita’s son.

“My son is still in jail, but my strength and courage remain as I know that I am not alone in this fight. Families of other victims of state repression are with me in our demand for justice,” Marcianita says.

 

Merlina “Maly” Amante
Philippines

Sixty-one year-old Merlina “Maly” Amante is the Deputy Secretary General of AMIHAN, a nationwide organization of peasant women in the Philippines.

Before she became part of AMIHAN, Maly and other members of her community were cultivating land where they grew crops for their consumption. The said land came under dispute when a local landlord claimed to be its owner. The community decided to form an organization that will keep them united in asserting their rights to the land.

Later on, the community found an abandoned ranch and occupied it for cultivation.

Maly recalls: “One of the challenges I faced is encouraging the members to become more active and committed. We have held a lot of trainings, discussions and other awareness-raising activities. As a result, the organization grew in terms of number and strength.”

 “I understand that my responsibility as a Deputy Secretary-General of AMIHAN entails sacrifice. My commitment in the cause for genuine land reform runs deep, the welfare of my people comes before me. I believe that this is a more permanent solution to the problems of hunger, poverty and injustice in our country.”

 

Angel Faye Mendoza
Philippines

In 2012, the Samahan ng Maralita ng Pangkabuhayan Para sa Taga Samba (SAMBA) was formed and Angel Faye was elected treasurer. The objective of the organization is to secure alternative livelihood opportunities for the community. Angel Faye’s community was cultivating an abandoned 25-hectare land where they planted crops for consumption and livelihood.

Angel Faye recalls how the strength of their organization was put to the test when a bank claimed ownership over the land they were cultivating. Despite not having any proof of ownership, the bank wanted to put up a fence on the land. The organization fought for their rights and filed a petition to make the disputed land a part of the government’s land reform program. According to Angel Faye, they have somehow succeeded because some of the farmers were given a Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA) as a result of the struggle of the organization.

Angel Faye knows the importance of being part of an organization that fights for the people’s rights and welfare. She also understands deeply the responsibilities of being a member or a leader of such an organization.

Angel Faye shares: “Being a leader entails a lot of responsibility and sacrifice. The people here have different needs, personalities and interests. So it is important that you know how to get along inside the organization. You should set a good example in terms attitude and participation. Sharing of knowledge and skills is also important. Sometimes, marital and personal issues get in the way but the important thing is how we overcome them.

Now, SAMBA has expanded their services and has built their own child care center that has a weekly feeding program.

 

Constancia J. Roxas
Philippines

Constancia Roxas is a farmworker who for decades now has been fighting for the right to land. Together with her husband, she is also an organizer of PAMATU – a farmworkers’ organization in their town of Nasugbu in Batangas, a province south of Manila, the country’s capital.

In 1993, they became agrarian reform beneficiaries (ARB) under the government’s agrarian reform program. They were given a Certificate of Land Ownership Award (CLOA). But in recent years, the powerful political and landlord clan of former Philippine senator Mar Roxas is claiming ownership of their lands.

For Constancia there is no other recourse but to fight. She believes that being an ARB or a CLOA holder does not guarantee that they will not lose their land. She also doesn’t trust the government to protect their rights.

Constancia says they face “red tagging” or being accused of supporting communists just because they fight for their rights. Despite this, she says she has already learned to defend what they are doing because it is just and it is their right.

“The life of a farmer is very hard,” Constancia says, “It’s hard when you already have a family. You have to labor for every bit of what the family will be eating. As a wife you have to budget your time carefully to spare time for the organization. I need to finish cleaning the house, wash clothes, take care of the animals and water the plants.”

 

Juanita Cabrera
Philippines

Despite her old age, 73-year old Juanita who hails from Bohol, an island in central Philippines, is the leader of their farmers’ group, KAMASCA (Kahugpungan sa mga Mag-uuma sa Sitio Carandia).

For many decades, Juanita’s community has been occupying and cultivating the land of an absentee landlord whom they knew by the name of Mr. Durano. One day, armed goons arrived and tried to drive them away. The community stood their ground and continued farming. They were harassed, threatened and persecuted with criminal charges until they met Hugpong sa Mag-uumang Bol-anon (HUMABOL/ Organization of Boholano Farmers, a farmer’s organization in Bohol. HUMABOL helped Juanita’s community in forming their own organization, and in September of 2010, KAMASCA was born.

Juanita shares: “As KAMASCA’s vice chairperson, I help lead in negotiations, dialogues and protest actions. I have to stay strong and inspire bravery in the midst of threats and harassments by the military. Although I am a leader, I believe in learning and working together with my fellow members. Our work becomes easier because of bayanihan (cooperation).

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These are but a few stories of rural women who persevere in the struggle for land and resources. May they inspire more women to participate and lead in the global fight against landlessness, hunger and poverty.

We welcome your questions, comments, suggestions and contributions. Email us at: info@panap.net

Our Stories, One Journey aims to highlight women’s stories of struggles and victories across the globe. As part of PAN Asia Pacific’s Women Rise Up campaign, it celebrates the one journey that connects women all over the world, specifically rural women – the journey towards empowerment, gender equality, food sovereignty and genuine freedom from all forms of oppression and discrimination.

Freedom from oppression and discrimination: the struggles of the Dalit women in Tamil Nadu

Dalit, which means “oppressed” in Sanskrit, is a name used by communities belonging to the lowest castes in India. These communities are the poorest in the country because of lack of ownership and access to resources and the pervasive and entrenched discrimination against them.

Dalits are treated as “untouchables,” meaning they are confined to menial and despised jobs. Some practices of “untouchability” include: forbidding Dalits from wearing sandals or carrying an umbrella in front of dominant caste members; the ‘two-tumbler system’ wherein Dalits are not allowed to use the same kind of cups or tumblers as dominant castes; segregation; separate burial grounds; and pouring drinking water into their hands instead of providing them a glass, among others. While open discrimination and untouchability may have been reduced over the last century owing to the outlawing of such actions, Dalits remain an oppressed community especially because of landlessness  and lack of access to resources.

Dalit women experience oppression threefold because they suffer not only in terms of caste and class, but also in terms of gender. They have a long history of starvation and gender violence inflicted by upper castes.

Dalit women therefore have more than enough reason to struggle for a better life for their families and communities. And struggle they have.

Here are some of the stories of how Dalit women are fighting to liberate themselves from oppression and discrimination.

 

Chandramma
Konalam Village, Vellore District, Tamil Nadu

Chandramma is a leader of the Rural Women’s Liberation Movement in their district. She is determined to fight against the oppression of the Dalit and is not afraid to question “untouchability” practices that still remain widespread in India.

Chandramma’s community was prevented access to a burial ground because dominant caste people occupied the road leading to it.  Chandramma led her community in the fight for access to the said grounds. In one funeral march, she led a demonstration in front of the Taluk (local administration) office and spoke vehemently against caste atrocities.

Because of their persistent struggle against discrimination, Chandramma and the other Dalit women in their village faced many threats. These threats escalated to a point where their houses were burned down. They had to leave their village but continued with their movement.

After receiving a lot of media attention, the issue of the rights to the burial grounds of Chandramma’s community was eventually addressed by the government. As a result of the Dalit women’s struggle, the government took control of the contested road and Dalits were finally allowed access to it.

Furthermore, the government also built a center for making iron equipment as an employment-generating activity for the community. Indeed, their struggle bore fruits.

Owing the victory to the collective action of their mass movement, Chandramma declares: “I will be part of the movement as long as I live.”

 

Magimai
Agannagar, Vellore District, Tamil Nadu

As a child, Magimai faced caste discrimination in school:  water was poured to her hands to drink as she was not allowed to use a cup; and she was beaten by a boy from a different caste.  She felt deeply hurt and wanted to change the situation for Dalits.

As a young girl, Magimai joined the Rural Women’s Liberation Movement and mobilized women on issues of land, basic services, and Dalit and women’s rights.

In 1997, a series of incidents of caste violence in the southern districts of the state erupted when the government announced the creation of a new transport corporation in Virudhunagar district in the name of a Pallar community member (the Veeran Sundaralingam Transport Corporation, VSTC). Upper caste Thevars opposed the proposal and on May 1, 1997, when VSTC was inaugurated, Thevars threw stones at the buses and refused to ride them- for them it was unthinkable to ride a bus named after a Dalit. In the successive months, different attacks against Dalits were perpetrated by upper caste and state police. These incidents prodded Magimai, along with the movement, to conduct a fact -finding mission. The issue was taken up by the government with the perpetrators being punished and rehabilitative measurers provided to the victims.  Magimai and her colleagues realized that caste violence is particularly harsh to women, making them doubly marginalized. Thus the Tamil Nadu Dalit Women’s Movement was established.

Magimai worked on spreading the movement to 24 districts of the state.  She provided trainings for women regarding violence against women, Dalit Human Rights, legal literacy and leadership.  This helped women in the district chapters to start addressing issues of Dalit women.

Magimai was also instrumental in carrying out state level campaigns for various issues.  She has represented Dalit women in the 40th Committee on World Food Security (CFS) Meeting in Rome in 2012.

Magimai proudly shares how the intervention of the movement in various caste violence issues helped in bringing justice to the victims.  However, she is saddened by the fact that caste structure remains intact and Dalits face caste violence even today.

Migamai declares, “I am happy about my accomplishments and I will continue my path till caste atrocities are stopped.”

 

Sowri
Mudhur, Vellore District, Tamil Nadu

Sowri, a mother to three children, is a daily labourer like her husband. She is the President of the Dalit People’s Movement, which works to stop violence against and discrimination of Dalits, and for their land rights, education and political rights.

Sowri’s life changed when in 1995, she decided to take on a case of caste violence. The incident involved dominant caste men attacking a group of Dalit youth who accidentally touched them while travelling by public transport. Four of the Dalit youth were critically wounded. Sowri took up this issue with the Dalit People’s Movement, informed the district administration and filed a court case. Since then, Sowri has been very active in the movement.

With the movement, she stopped menial labour assigned to Dalits, e.g. carrying dead body and manual scavenging.  She started a self-help group with 30 women to initiate economic empowerment activities. Sowri also triumphed in fighting for “bhoodan land”— lands that were allotted to Dalits but occupied by dominant caste people.  She also became a representative of local government.

Sowri enjoys the respect of the community. Though she faces opposition from the dominant caste (?) community, she is sure to lead the movement to achieve dignity for Dalits. Sowri shares, “If you want social justice you have to give sustained effort and dedication.”

 

Salamma
Kaverirajapuram, Thiruvallur district, Tamil Nadu

Salamma joined the Rural Women’s Movement after she experienced sexual harassment at the hands of the police. The movement offered her moral and legal support.

From then on, Salamma has been active in fighting against discrimination and oppression. As an agricultural labourer, Salamma herself was a victim of “untouchability” practices. She experienced not being allowed to take drinking water from the common well, and food (ragi balls) was thrown and not handed to her.

Salamma was part of the cultural team of the movement and sang awareness songs and performed plays that talk about caste and gender violence. She also constantly addressed the right to wear footwear, criticized untouchability, and the “two-tumbler system.”

Now, Salamma is bold enough to go to the government office and apply for aid for the needy. She has good rapport with people in the government.  She experienced travelling to many places and meeting different people from other states. She attends meeting for women’s liberation and actions against untouchability.

Salamma ran for a position in the local government elections and won. She then worked for basic services for her community. She also learnt tailoring skills, which is her source of livelihood now. Salamma says, “To gain political power is to achieve empowerment.”

  

Shanthi
Puliampatti, Salem District, Tamil Nadu

Since childhood, Shanthi witnessed caste and gender violence. This led her to establish the Tamil Nadu Dalit Women Federation in 1987. She fought caste violence, the ‘two tumbler system’ in tea shops, and facilitated inter-caste marriages.

Shanthi also intervened on the issue of 40 quarry working families treated as bonded labourers.  These labourers were not allowed to go out of the work sites and their children were not allowed to go to school.  Shanthi was able to secure assistance from the police in rescuing the families and confronted the local administration for their inaction.  She succeeded in getting compensation for the victims, as well as land titles, public distribution cards and voter identification cards.

Shanthi also constantly addressed sexual violence and worked hard to make sure the culprits are punished and the victims are rehabilitated. Once, a mentally disturbed 16 year-old girl was raped by a 75 year-old man. The movement led by Shanthi saw to it that the culprit got punishment and that the victim received shelter and treatment.

Shanthi became the district leader for Tamil Nadu Dalit Women’s Movement, through which she worked for political participation of women and accountability of governance to people.  Now, she has gained respect even from the police officials.

“I travel all over India to campaign and forge solidarity on Dalit and gender issues,” Shanthi says.

 

Backiam (India)
Periapalaiyur  Karur District, Tamil Nadu

Backiam studied up to 10th standard, from Periapalaiyur  Karur District Tamil Nadu, and is a Dalit woman. She has three daughters, all in school and is married to a daily wage worker.

A strong Dalit woman activist, she started an organization called “Ambedkar Dalit Women’s Movement” to fight against caste atrocities and gender-based violence.

She started to mobilise women and formed Self-Help Groups (SHGs) under the leadership of Dalit women.  However, other dominant caste people opposed the idea of running a SHG under the leadership of Dalit women; thus she was insulted for challenging the issue of untouchability practices and caste discrimination.

Backiam was not scared. She filed a complaint under the Prevention of Atrocities against SC/ST Act (scheduled caste / scheduled tribe).  In a case where Dalit youth were attacked, she took up the issue with the police and filed cases.  The victims received compensation from the perpetrators and the other caste.  She also constantly addressed issues of sexual violence against women by protesting, exposing and reporting these cases, following up the issues and helping in the rehabilitation of the victims.

Her family and relatives at first resisted her involvement in public activities.  It took a while for them to be convinced of the value of her work.   She engaged with the Tamil Nadu Women’s Forum (TNWF) and started addressing the issues of pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), land grabbing, and multinational companies (MNCs) responsible for pesticides use such as Monsanto. She also started advocating for legislation on violence against women.

Backiam has attended trainings on the Convention on Elimination of all kinds of       Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and promotion of food sovereignty and land rights for women.  She shared this information to Dalit women in her district through various training programs.

“I face a lot of difficulties whenever I solve a problem, but when the result is fruitful, I am immensely happy,” Backjam declares.

Chandramma, Magimai, Sowri, Salamma, Shanthi and Backiam are just some of the Dalit women fighting and struggling for genuine freedom and social justice. Their stories inspire and give hope to all other Dalit communities.

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PAN Asia Pacific’s (PANAP) Women Rise Up campaign celebrates the struggles of Dalit and all Rural Women for human rights, social justice, land and resources.

We welcome your questions, comments, suggestions and contributions. Email us at: info@panap.net

 

Our Stories, One Journey aims to highlight women’s stories of struggles and victories across the globe. As part of PAN Asia Pacific’s Women Rise Up campaign, it celebrates the one journey that connects women all over the world, specifically rural women – the journey towards empowerment, gender equality, food sovereignty and genuine freedom from all forms of oppression and discrimination.

Women in the mass movements: Stories Of Rural Women On The Forefront Of The Fight For People’s Rights

There is a growing movement of rural women asserting their rights as farmers, as small-producers, as agricultural workers, as fisherfolk, as Dalits, or as part of Indigenous Peoples’ communities. They are fighting for their rights to land and resources, their rights to healthy and safe food, their rights to determine government policies that are in favor of the marginalized and poor, ultimately empowering themselves as they hold up half the sky.

Here are some stories of empowered rural women in the different communities in some of the countries PAN Asia Pacific is reaching out to and working with. These stories inspire other women across the globe to Rise Up!

 

Philippines
Juliet Ragay

47 year-old Juliet Ragay was exposed to community work at an early age.

During her teens, she was active in helping the women in their community in delivering free health services to their neighbors. She says her commitment to the community deepened even more, when she joined KAUGMAON, the local chapter of KMP (Peasant Movement of the Philippines) in Negros Oriental, a province in Southern Philippines.

She once joined a fact -finding mission of KMP when one of its leaders was murdered. Upon learning that poor farmers are becoming victims of human rights abuses perpetrated by the military, she became active in speaking against such atrocities and joining rallies to denounce abuses perpetrated against the people.

Later on, Juliet was elected as the chairperson of BANIKA, a local chapter of the nationwide federation of peasant women, AMIHAN.

She says they have a lot of work in their organization, especially since they face a lot of problems including militarization, land-use conversion and mining. They also campaign for equal wages for women.

Juliet shares: “As the chairperson of BANIKA-AMIHAN, I ensure meaningful and productive meetings. I try to set a good example and have learned to accept my weaknesses, criticisms, and most importantly, strive to correct them. I was able to visit different areas, and able to facilitate support for communities during calamities. Because of this, I have earned the love and respect of my community.”

 

Philippines
Marissa Cabaljao

31 year-old Marissa Cabaljao is a single mother with two children. She is currently the Secretary General of “People’s Surge,” an organization formed by the victims of Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan). In November 2013, Typhoon Yolanda, one of the most intense tropical cyclones on record, devastated the islands of Leyte, Philippines, submerging whole towns and cities, and causing an estimated 10,000 deaths.

Before the typhoon, Marissa was a Barangay (lowest government administrative level) secretary. She says working for the government, she came to know how officials neglect their responsibilities. Marisaa recalls, “I learned about the corruption in government. In meetings, barangay officers talked about what they want and not what the people want.  That’s when I learned how to be a leader: one should be for the people and should listen to the people.”

When Typhoon Yolanda came, Marissa recalls how there were no means of livelihood. She said that the municipal or city government units took control of the barangay funds leaving them helpless. She says the only thing they could do was speak in the radio to let others know what was happening.  She criticized the bureaucratic way the government handled the disaster. “The people were already dying of hunger but they were asking too many questions.” Instead of ensuring rice and relief, they were asking first for reports on how many square meters of camote (sweet potato) and coconuts were affected,” she adds.

At that time, Marissa could not take care of her own children because she was helping too many victims.  She prioritized helping others and left her mother to take care of her children.

Marissa reflects: “I used to think about my family only, but now I’m carrying the world in my shoulder. Typhoon Yolanda destroyed everything. I learned to speak for those who cannot speak. That was when I realized the importance of becoming a leader. “

“I know now that as long as there is oppression, people will fight for their liberation.”

 

Sri Lanka
Ramaletchumy

Ramaletchumy of Deltota, Kandy, Sri Lanka, or teacher Ramesh as everybody calls her, is the President of the Women Solidarity Front (WSF).

Ramesh is a single mother of two children in a marginalized plantation community, and is known by all the women in the area as a talented speaker.  Before joining WSF, she was a volunteer teacher in an Estate school.

She is involved in the Local Level Language Committee and she can write and speak Tamil and Sinhalese languages fluently. She is also involved in election monitoring and advocating for political reservation for women (representation of women in political parties through reservation or quota for women representatives). She negotiates with management regarding women workers’ problems, housing and land rights.

In her free time, she cultivates an organic garden. Very careful with environment issues and health, she cooks exclusively in natural ways and never uses industrials products.

 

Sri Lanka
Rilifa Begum

Rilifa Begum  is a progressive Muslim woman who lives in Kalmunai, Ampara Sri Lanka.  She faced many troubles in her married life, including domestic violence. Her married life ended in 2008 when her husband left her.  Since then, she worked with the Muslim Women Research Center, which supports women in legal actions.

She started a women’s society group to promote self-employment for women.  The group does business of buy-and-sell of stationaries where the income is divided among all the members.

Rilifa says she became a very confident leader after she attended trainings on human rights, gender equality and peace reconciliation organized by the Human Development Organization (HDO). HDO is a Sri-Lankan organization fighting for the establishment of a socially just, equitable and peaceful civil society through poverty eradication and sustainable development.

Later on, she learned to speak on Muslim Sharia laws and do awareness-raising activities for women.  After 2012, she joined groups advocating for rights to safe and organic food, and organic farming.  She is an assistant leader of the Velvi Forum which advocates for women’s representation in the political parties.

 

Senegal
Tine Ndoye

Born in Rufisque, a town in the outskirts of Dakar, Tine Ndoye married a farmer who came from her father’s village. Living in the said village for 22 years, Tine observed how rural women work all day long, from sowing to harvesting, but still come home empty handed at the end of the day. She says such situation motivated her to organize the women of the village. This small group that Tine organized will eventually grow to become the National Network of Rural Women of Senegal (RNFRS) in which FAO-Dimitra played a fundamental role.

Tine would later become a councillor in the rural community of Diender before being appointed as the second deputy mayor of the Kayar village. During her term, she was the only female among 27 councillors.  She says the gender equality law was not even mentioned during that time. As deputy mayor, she fought for the village to have access to electricity and pipe borne water.

Tine says that since 2002, the issues of women are more and more becoming recognized.  Among the issues are women’s right land access.  Neither religion nor the law states that women can have equal access to land resources as men do. On the other hand, during that time, they also acknowledged that among the main challenges for women is access to information and communication.

In 2014, the President of the Republic of Senegal assigned 120 positions to Senegal professional and women organizations at the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (CESE). Tine is now the economic social and environmental councillor at the CESE and a member of the National Observatory of male / female parity.

 

Senegal
Gueye Mbaye

Gueye Mbaye has been the president of the Union of Market Gardeners of the Niayes  for several years.  During the early 2000s, she was trained by PAN Africa and FAO on the integrated management of pests and products.  Since then, she has been applying organic agriculture and has been active in encouraging the women in their community to practice safe and sustainable agriculture.  She has organized awareness and information campaigns on agroecology in her community as well as surrounding villages.

Gueye also went into politics to defend women’s rights, especially rural women’s rights.  She was elected as the second deputy mayor of the town of Kuyar in 2007. She says the position has allowed her to lobby for women farmers to be granted in land in Kayar and Niayes.

She says her struggle has yielded positive results after the president of UPM/GIPD decided to give a piece of land to the women of the union to allow them to farm and have financial autonomy.

“My greatest challenge right now is to help women achieve financial autonomy and equal access to land resources in the union, in Niaye and in Senegal as a whole,” she adds.

 

India
Arputhammal

Arputhammal is an agricultural laborer from Illupur village of Thiruvellore District, Tamil Nadu, India who was offered an opportunity to get trained in midwifery. After her training, she started assisting in child births in her community.

When the Rural Women Liberation Movement addressed a case of a gang rape of a twelve year-old child, Arputhammal took part in a march and meetings seeking justice for the victim.  This experience taught her the dimensions of caste system and gender violence issues and inspired her to become active in the movement.

She actively participated in several successful campaigns of the movement, such as land ownership for 40 women, construction of 32 houses owned by women, and ban of liquor use in the community.

Once, Arputhammal had an opportunity to attend an exchange program of women farmers in Malaysia. She had to travel alone by air for the first time. Even if she can’t speak english, she managed the journey beautifully by following her fellow passenger’s actions. She says she learned a lot from the exchange program.

Arputhammal would later become the president of the movement.  Arputhammal firmly believes in her leadership qualities and that she would be able to handle any issue.  She sdeclares: “Agriculture should be safeguarded at any cost.”

 

Vietnam
Vu Thi Lan

“She is always enthusiatic, sincere, and helpful”.  These are among the words of praises of the women of village 11 in Hai Son commune, Hai Hau district to Vu Thi Lan, the leader of the village women’s union.

Vu Thi Lan has been working for the women’s movement for 20 years. Her husband supports her and even takes her by motorbike to trainings to show his support of other women who are facing difficulties.

She mobilizes the support of the village union for women who are in need. She always speaks out to protect women and children. And as such, some of the women overcame their difficulties and moved ahead with their lives.

Vu Thi Lan has also established a credit model to develop economies, as well as clubs such as the “clean breeding and vegetables at home.” She raises red-worms and hens together with ecologically-safe vegetables to provide for her children who are living in Hanoi. Many women follow her model.

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These are just some stories of rural women at the forefront of the fight for empowerment. May their stories and journey inspire more women to join the ever-widening mass movements of women all over the world.

We welcome your questions, comments, suggestions and contributions. Email us at: info@panap.net

Our Stories, One Journey aims to highlight women’s stories of struggles and victories across the globe. As part of PAN Asia Pacific’s Women Rise Up campaign, it celebrates the one journey that connects women all over the world, specifically rural women – the journey towards empowerment, gender equality, food sovereignty and genuine freedom from all forms of oppression and discrimination.

#PesticidesFreeWorld | 1,148 children worldwide poisoned by pesticides in past 5 years

PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) today disclosed that about 1,148 children have been poisoned by pesticides in the past five years. Of this number, 42 have died due to the poisoning.

The children are mostly from Asia and are aged up to 17 years old.

PANAP released its findings to mark today’s World Environment Day and to stress how pesticides violate the children’s right to health and a healthy environment.

The data, which cover the period 2013 to 2017, are part of the Protect Our Children (POC) Watch, the latest initiative of PANAP to closely monitor and expose such violations to children’s rights.

Of the total number of victims, 552 children fell ill due to toxic fumes and pesticide drift while 596 were poisoned by consuming food contaminated by pesticides.

In the first five months of 2017 alone, 475 children in India were poisoned by toxic fumes while 9 children have died due to pesticide poisoning in India, US, South Africa and UAE.

Despite supposedly stricter pesticide regulations, children are still being poisoned. Poisoning symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and dizziness with severe cases causing death, PANAP noted.

In many developing countries, poverty forces many children to work in farms and plantations where they are often engaged in using pesticides. Many rural children also live near plantations where they are exposed to pesticide spray drifts.

In the Philippines, for instance, plantations that carry out aerial spraying are usually near communities and schools. In Palestine, the Israeli-operated Geshuri Industrial Complex that produces agrochemicals is very close to two universities and seven schools that together serve a total of 11,000 students.

Children are especially vulnerable to pesticides as they breathe more air, eat more food and drink more water per unit of body weight than adults. The 1,148 cases reported in the POC Watch also do not account for low-level long-term exposure to pesticides which can lead to learning disorders and cancer.

Agrochemical corporations continue to make profits from pesticides and must be held accountable for poisoning and in several cases even killing children with their toxic commodities, said PANAP.

PANAP reiterated the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Dr Hilal Elver’s call for a buffer-zone around schools and to replace chemicals like pesticides with biology for a better environment for our children’s future.

Every year, 1.7 million children die due to environmental pollution, including pesticides, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) 2017 report. However, estimates on the number children impacted globally by pesticides are largely unknown.

PANAP’s monitoring of pesticide poisoning among children aims to address this gap. For this monitoring work, PANAP culls the data and information from online news and reports from its partners and network.

Information on residues is often hard to get publicly, especially in Asia due to limitations on the right to information. Governments also lack the capacity to test for residues.

Because of this limitation, PANAP does not claim that its monitoring represents the true global extent of pesticide poisoning among children but offers a glimpse of the impacts of pesticides on the lives of children.

PANAP urged government agencies and relevant inter-governmental bodies like the WHO, UN Environment Programme (UNEP), and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to closely and systematically monitor the impacts of pesticides on young children.

TAKE ACTION >> Urge governments to implement a one-kilometer or more pesticide-free buffer zone around schools.

For more information: Deeppa Ravindran, PANAP’s Pesticide Programme Coordinator, deeppa.ravindran@panap.net.

Reference:

1. List of pesticide poisoning cases from 2013 to 2017.

2. Community Pesticide Action Monitoring, Mindanao.

3. Pesticides and Agroecology In The Occupied West Bank.

The gains and losses of the Triple COPs entail more work for civil societies and developing countries

PAN delegates (third from left, Jayakumar, Keith Tyrel, Susan Haffmans, Sarojeni Rengam & seventh from left, Dr.Meriel Watts) seen applauding during the adoption of the 50th chemical listed under the Rotterdam Convention.

PAN welcomes the positive outcomes and discussions during the Triple Conferences of the Parties (COPs) to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm (BRS) conventions which took place in Geneva, Switzerland from April 24 to May 5, 2017.

PAN is pleased that two pesticides, carbofuran and trichlorfon, were listed in the Annex III of the Rotterdam Convention. The listing comes as a huge step forward in addressing the numerous cases of poisoning of people and wildlife brought about by these pesticides.

Pesticides listed in Annex 3 of the Rotterdam Convention will be subject to a procedure (Prior Informed Consent Procedure) whereby an informed decision of a country would be needed before a country gives consent or not for future importation of the pesticide. Listing does not constitute a ban. It opens avenues for developing countries to build their capacity to evaluate pesticides and adopt agroecological strategies in managing pests.

PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) Executive Director, Sarojeni Rengam also welcomed the serious discussion of gender issues in the Triple COPs.

“As the impact of chemicals on the health of women and children is too often ignored, involving women in decision making and in programmes to reduce highly hazardous pesticides and to replace them with agroecology is essential.

“We need policies to support women’s leadership in all levels and programmes to strengthen their capacity,” said Rengam, who is also a 2017 Gender Pioneers awardee.

Despite the positive outcomes, PANAP Senior Science Advisor Dr. Meriel Watts, is however disappointed that civil society organisations (CSOs) such as PAN, were excluded from important discussions on the effectiveness of the Rotterdam Convention.

“As CSOs, we have much to contribute and we hope that CSOs will be included in future discussions on this issue,” she said.

There was also disappointment when no consensus was reached on the listing of carbosulfan and pesticide formulations paraquat dichloride and fenthion in Annex 3 of Rotterdam Convention even though the Parties agreed they met the criteria for the listing.

“Rotterdam facilitates information sharing and so we urge those countries who blocked the inclusion of carbosulfan, and the two pesticide formulations, paraquat and fenthion, in the list to go to fields and plantations and see the real impact of these chemicals on the health of workers, farmers and their communities and the environment and not just look at its narrow economic benefits,” said Rengam.

PAN further calls upon all Parties to the Conventions to act on the State of Palestine’s request for assistance with the removal of and the monitoring and prevention of illegal traffic of banned pesticides and chemical wastes in the Israeli-occupied West Bank Region.

Dr.Watts reiterated, “A programme for monitoring and clean-up in this region is desperately needed.”

In parting, Dr.Watts said, “We welcome the COPs recognition of the need to link human rights and sound management of chemicals and waste, and thus, we strongly suggest specific discussion on this is included in the next BRS agenda.”
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Contacts:
Sarojeni Rengam – sarojeni.rengam@panap.net
Dr.Meriel Watts – meriel@merielwatts.net

 

Chemical leak in New Delhi strengthens the need for pesticide-free buffer zones

School girls being treated at a New Delhi hospital after exposure to CCMP. (Source: PTI photo)

The New Delhi chemical leak that largely affected students in two different schools and residents in southeast Delhi’s Tughlakabad area is another horrifying reminder for an urgent and immediate establishment of buffer zones around schools to protect the most vulnerable populace – children.

“The 6th of May CCMP  (2-Chloro-5-chloromethyl-pyridine) leak in New Delhi has  affected 475 school girls, and at least 37 teachers and residents in the Tughlakabad area. This makes our call for the establishment of at least 2 km pesticide-free buffer zones around schools extremely urgent.

“This could have been prevented if some preemptive measures were taken earlier given that the schools (Jhansi School and Government Girls Senior Secondary School) are just about 100 m away from the Tughlakabad depot, where the container truck that leaked toxic fumes was parked,” says PANAP Executive Director, Sarojeni Rengam.

The container was brought to India from China by road, and was in the depot for three days awaiting Custom’s clearance.  Bound for a factory in Sonipat, Haryana the truck contained 80 drums of liquid CCMP used in pesticides. Leaks from 3-4 drums vaporised upon contact with the air and drifted to the schools and residences.

CCMP is considered a hazardous substance by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, and thus, the fact that the truck driver was not able to associate his dizziness to the chemical would only indicate his lack of training and knowledge on the dangers of CCMP.

“What is more worrying is that the driver informed the authorities only after four hours of having noticed the leak!” Rengam who is also the 2017 Gender Pioneers for a Future Detoxified awardee added.

Victims reported breathing difficulty, severe burning sensation in the eyes and on the skin, headache, nausea and vomiting. Some even became unconscious.

Times of India reported, “Personnel from the National Disaster Response Force cordoned off the area and took measures to neutralise the effect of the leak. Later, a team from NDRF’s nuclear, biological and chemical disposal unit reached the scene and covered the liquid with salt to cut off the fumes.”

PANAP’s Pesticide Programme Coordinator Deeppa Ravindran said, “Exposure to CCMP can result in various health complications.”

She shared that based on the findings of the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) on test animals, CCMP is rapidly absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract and via the skin and could affect the spleen, liver, lungs, and forestomach.

PANAP and its partners have been urging state governments to institute pesticide-free buffer zones especially around schools precisely because of this type of unwanted incidents that harm the children.

Ravindran added, “Incident after incident such as this chemical leak keeps on showing that schools especially in Asia that are meant to be safe sanctuaries for children to learn and grow are consistently becoming dangerous. It is important that the survival and development of the child be ensured to the maximum extent possible.”

Accordingly, ECHA reports that “Doses of 250 mg/kg and above in males, and the dose of 500 mg/kg bw in females, produced clinical signs and mortalities in both sexes. Necropsy findings of animals which died included darkened livers, pale spleen, reddened forestomach with ulcer-like lesions, enlarged stomachs filled with mixture of feed and water, and expanded lungs.”

CCMP is used in the production of the agro-insecticide imidacloroprid, which has been found to be extremely toxic to non-target insects like bees, and recently has led to resistance in the Colorado potato beetle.

Dr. Meriel Watts, author of Replacing Chemicals with Biology: Phasing out highly hazardous pesticides with agroecology reiterated the need to veer away from the use of hazardous pesticides.  She echoed Rengam and Ravindran’s appeal saying “State Governments must come up with policies towards the establishment of pesticide-free buffer zones at least around schools while transitioning to human and environment-friendly agriculture.”

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TAKE ACTION >> Protect our children by signing this petition here.

Contact: Deeppa Ravindran, Program Coordinator, deeppa.ravindran@panap.net

Acceptance speech: PANAP Executive Director acknowledges millions of rural women

I would like to thank KEMI for nominating me and the members of the selection committee. As a woman, a feminist, and an advocate of agroecology and for the elimination of pesticides, it is an honour to be one of the recipients of the “Gender Pioneers for a Future Detoxified” award.

Let me acknowledge the millions of rural women on the ground who are in the frontlines of the struggle against highly hazardous pesticides in their daily lives as farmers, workers, and consumers. This recognition I dedicate to and share with them.

They have inspired me with their commitment to protect their children, their families, and their communities from hazardous pesticides and to work for non-chemical alternatives. The reality of pesticide use in the farms and plantations is horrendous and women as sprayers often do not have the information about what they are spraying and what the impacts are. When they are poisoned, there is no medical support. Their health issue, like issues of women in general, are rarely taken seriously. This is because as women, they are still in position of subordination in their homes and communities, and at the national level.

It has been my privilege to contribute in the struggle of women through our work at PANAP. In our little way, we help build the capacity of women to monitor the impact of pesticides on health and the environment through what we call community pesticide action monitoring or CPAM. This process helps women become more organised to take action against harmful pesticides in their communities and at the national level. We take the results of these community monitoring initiatives to the global level such as here in the BRS and other platforms. By doing so, we hope to highlight the reality faced by many communities that are exposed to highly hazardous pesticides and lobby for policy reforms.

Aside from pesticide monitoring, we also provide support to women and other rural sectors for capacity building in agroecology. All these efforts are meant to ensure that women and children and the communities are no longer poisoned and silenced; and that they have sustainable livelihoods, healthy and safe environment, and production systems that are just.

This recognition will serve as an inspiration for me to continue in my advocacy for women and the environment, for agroecology and food sovereignty, and for social justice.

Thank you.

 

 

PANAP’s Sarojeni Rengam clinches award for championing women’s struggle against toxic pesticides

For her efforts in championing women’s issues in various campaigns against toxic pesticides in the past 25 years, Ms. Sarojeni Rengam, Executive Director of Malaysia-based PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP), was recognized in the Conferences of the Parties (COPs) to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm (BRS) Conventions on May 3, 2017 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Rengam was among the recipients of the ‘Gender Pioneers for a Future Detoxified’ award given by the BRS Conventions for distinguished advocates of advancing gender equality and mainstreaming gender issues in the area of chemicals and wastes.

In her speech accepting the award, Rengam acknowledged the millions of rural women on the ground that are in the frontlines of the struggle against highly hazardous pesticides in their daily lives as farmers, workers, and consumers.

“This recognition I dedicate to and share with them. This will serve as an inspiration for me to continue in my advocacy for women and the environment, for agroecology and food sovereignty, and for social justice,” Rengam said.

Ule Johanson, senior advisor for Development Cooperation, International Unit of Swedish Chemicals Agency (KEMI) who nominated Rengam for the award said, “We are very happy to hear that Ms. Rengam has received this award. Her long and persistent fight for human rights at all levels and in particular for rural women is noteworthy and makes her a perfect choice.”

Dr. Burnad Fathima Natesan of the Asian Rural Women’s Coalition (ARWC) said this is a proud moment for many rural women whose rights and interests Rengam has steadfastly fought for in PANAP’s campaigns, including on harmful pesticides and right to land and resources.

“The impact and awareness she has created in helping rural women understand the hazards of pesticide application in their fields and the impacts on one’s health, especially on women’s reproductive health, makes her the right person for this award,” Burnad said.

Burnad pointed out that Rengam has initiated a special program called Women and Agriculture in PANAP to study and look into the aspect of women’s land rights and to expose the role of corporations in promoting highly hazardous pesticides. “The rural women from India and from women’s movements in the region rejoice over this special moment,” said Burnad.

The PANAP official is known for her strong position on issues of women, farmers, farm workers, indigenous people and other marginalised rural sectors.

Glorene Amala, Executive Director of Tenaganita, a Malaysia-based advocacy group working with migrants, refugees and women, described Rengam as an “embodiment of women empowerment”. She continues to inspire women through her leadership by building women’s resistance against pesticides and chemicals through many programs and activities nationally, regionally and at the global level,” Amala said.

Situations change when people are informed and empowered.

“To make things change you have to educate and empower people. To improve farming conditions and reduce the negative impact of pesticide use you have to collect evidence of malpractice and cases of people getting hurt. Rengam has done all of this, and year by year conditions start to improve,” said KEMI’s Ule.

Amala added, “Her (Rengam’s) work has brought about tremendous changes in the lives of those who have been affected with pesticides and chemicals as she led many of them in global actions and movement on environment issues, food security and sovereignty, and women’s rights over land and productive resources.”

Based in Switzerland, the BRS Conventions are multilateral environmental agreements that aim to protect human health and the environment from hazardous chemicals and wastes. The “Gender Pioneers for a Future Detoxified” award is part of its activities on gender equality.

Click here to read Sarojeni Rengam’s acceptance speech

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Community Monitoring Shows Pattern of Labour Violations in Southeast Asia Plantations


PENANG, MALAYSIA APRIL 28, 2017 – On World Day for Safety and Health at Work, PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP) and partners disclosed patterns of poor working conditions for labourers in plantations in Southeast Asia. From exposure to toxic agrochemicals to meager wages, the group said that the conditions of plantation workers violate human rights and several international labor standards and regulations.

PANAP and its partners carried out community monitoring in Mindanao, Philippines  and an initial investigation in North Sumatra, Indonesia . The findings reveal that the expansion of banana and oil palm industries comes at a very steep price – abandonment of occupational safety and continued exploitation of vulnerable workers.

Health concerns over hazardous pesticides

Workers being exposed to highly hazardous pesticides (HHPs) like Syngenta’s paraquat  and Monsanto’s glyphosate  were raised in the reports.

In one of the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) certified plantations in North Sumatra, of the 15 women who participated in the investigation, 13 reported to have suffered symptoms linked to HHP exposure. Puspita (not real name) recalled dizziness, headache, blurred vision, excessive sweating, hand tremors, nausea, skin rashes and diarrhoea, among others with her exposure to pesticides.

Similarly, in the Philippines, workers experienced dizziness and headaches immediately after spraying, and believed that excessive sweating and blurred vision were side effects of pesticides exposure. There were 11 recorded cases of pesticide poisoning and several health symptoms.

Adriana (also not real name) has breast cysts and myoma and finds it difficult to urinate, while experiencing itchiness around her vaginal area. She attributed her symptoms to pesticides since she used to urinate on newly sprayed grounds in her oil palm plantation.

PAN Phillippines’ Dr. Romeo Quijano said, “These findings further substantiate our claims that the use of pesticides in these communities has been causing severe health impacts on the people. Things are made even worse by the lack of access to trained medical professionals who can properly recognize the health symptoms of pesticides poisoning and give the appropriate treatment.”

Inadequate training and protective equipment

Key findings of the report further show that workers received either inadequate training for pesticide handling or none. Personal protective equipments (PPEs) were provided once to the workers but they were expected to purchase on their own once the PPEs have become worn out or degraded. The workers also have limited or no knowledge of pesticides and their hazards.

Without replacement PPEs from plantation operators, some Filipino workers resort to the use of bra cups as masks or “respirators” while Indonesian women workers wrap scarves around their faces to cover and protect them from the strong odour of pesticides.

“This is beyond appalling. How could the management be doing this to their workers? Ensuring the safety of their workers should be the primary responsibility of the management. They cannot expect the workers who are already receiving little wages to spend half of their income on protective gears,” said Sarojeni Rengam, PANAP Executive Director.

Casual, underpaid and overworked women

Workers in the plantations investigated by PANAP and its partners were casual or seasonal and underpaid, and in some instances, overworked.

In Indonesia, for instance, the findings show that all women from the report were casual workers, working less than 21 days in a month – a strategy employed by the plantations to avoid promoting the women maintenance workers into permanent or regular status. There were no work contracts or written agreements provided to the women workers as well.

Sprayers were paid an average of USD 4.5 to USD 6 per day, where they work 6 days per week, from 7 am till 2 or 3 pm. Though they were paid a very low wages compared to the workload they endure daily in humid and hot weather under the burning sun, they continued to stay and work in the plantation. They were forced to stay because almost all were uneducated and unable to look for other better jobs elsewhere. Apart from that working in a plantation give the workers a secure home for their family , provided by the plantations.

Impact on children

Another crucial concern from the findings was how the use of HHPs in the plantations have been affecting the people living nearby it especially the children. There was a case of a healthy three-year old child who has become mentally ill upon being exposed to the pesticide drift as a result of the aerial spraying in a banana plantation in Mindanao.

Meanwhile, three cases of acute poisoning were found in one of the oil palm plantations in the Indonesian province.

Deeppa Ravindran, the Pesticides Programme Coordinator of PANAP said, “The major concern is really the people especially children for they are the most vulnerable. Many living inside and within the 10-meter radius of the banana and oil palm plantations have been exposed to aerial spraying of pesticides while doing their laundry in the rivers and some even while eating.”

Addressing the violations

Key findings in the reports reveal multiple violations of national and international regulations on occupational safety and health (OSH), of Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the UN “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework for Business and Human Rights, International Labour Standards and provisions mentioned in the International Code of Conduct on Pesticide Management.

ILO’s Chemicals Convention (c.170), for instance, states that workers have the right to be informed about the chemicals they are using in the workplace and of their hazards, and that employers have the obligation to provide workers with such information and precautionary measures.

Given the failure of the plantation owners or employers to protect the safety and health of their workers and the pattern of labour rights violations in plantations, PANAP called for further “protection of labour rights and promotion of safe and secure working environments for all workers, including migrant workers, in particular women migrants, and those in precarious employment” as stated in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

PANAP added that concerned governments, plantations, corporations, institutions and agencies should not only monitor compliance on health and environmental impacts of pesticides but also ban and phase out HHPs, while ensuring that the sales and trade of these pesticides come to an end.

Take Action >> Protect Children in rural communities against pesticides

Reference:

  1. Center for International Environmental Law. (2015). Human rights impact of hazardous pesticides. Retrieved from http://www.ciel.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/HR_Pesticides.pdf

Report Links:

  1. Community Monitoring in Mindanao, Philippines >> http://panap.net/2017/01/01/community-pesticide-action-monitoring-mindanao-philippines/
  1. Price of Indonesia’s Palm Oil >> http://panap.net/2017/04/28/price-indonesias-palm-oil-vulnerable-exploited-women-workers/

#PesticidesFreeWorld #CorporateAccountability #ProtectOurChildrenFromPesticides #ProtectChildrenNotProfits

For more information Deeppa Ravindran, Program Coordinator, deeppa.ravindran@panap.net

 

 

PAN International statement on amendments to the Rotterdam Convention

On behalf of PAN International, Sarojeni Rengam from PAN Asia Pacific delivered the intervention on amendments to the Rotterdam Convention

Thank you Mr President.  PAN would like to thank the Rotterdam Convention secretariat and the Governments of Australia and Lativa for supporting the intercessional process and we appreciated the opportunity to participate in it and contribute positively.

PAN International a network of 600 organisations in over 60 countries is concerned about the situation in recent years, where a small number of Parties have been able to block the listing of certain pesticides and chemicals even though they meet the Convention’s scientific criteria and where a majority of parties have supported their listing. The treaty promotes information sharing for listed chemicals, and in blocking their listing, developing countries are denied the information and technical support to deal with them to protect the health of their people and the environment.

PAN supports amending the convention to allow listing by voting if a small number of countries continue to undermine the integrity of the Convention by using spurious reasons not consistent with the treaty to prevent other countries having access to information on the risks posed by certain pesticides and other chemicals.

Over the last 4 COPs we have urged parties to honour the intent of the Convention and agree listing in a spirit of consensus, but increasingly we see the majority of countries denied their rights, and the rights of the men women and children in their countries, by a very few. That is not the spirit of consensus. Consensus requires all parties to take responsibility for their decision – it does not mean holding the majority to ransom, it means stepping aside even if you don’t agree, especially if your reason is inconsistent with the treaty.

In the absence of a will by all to exercise responsible consensus, we would see an amendment to allow voting as necessary.