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

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

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

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

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

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).


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:

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.


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.”


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.


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:


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!


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.”


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 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.


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.


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.



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.”


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.


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:

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.

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




Replacing chemicals with agroecology increases Cambodian farmers’ income by four-folds

Despite the bans, restrictions and withdrawals of highly hazardous pesticides over the past few decades in Asia, many workers are still continuously being exposed to highly hazardous pesticides. A recent report has highlighted the sad plight of Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand. Working in farms that extensively use chemical pesticides, they are not given health-screening guidelines, or language training to understand the Thai warnings on pesticide containers. Most (80%) of them do not wear proper protective clothing.

Backpack sprayers are doubly at risk since they get in contact with the easily absorbed fine vapors. A high 75% of the workers have abnormal blood cholinesterase levels. Indicative of organophosphate pesticide poisoning, their symptoms include dizziness, headaches, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

In recent years, land conversions have further forced farmers to work as laborers and as pesticide sprayers in Cambodia. A 2015 study by the Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community shows that at least 200,000 farmers are displaced and dispossessed due to massive conversions and deforestation brought about by rapid agro-industrial development and mining.

Agroecology-based agriculture which is free from pesticides has been documented to offer better option for labor, rural farming communities, and the consumers. Although laborious and may take time, conversion to chemical-free farming must be initiated for it brings about tremendous benefits.

Agroecology frees us from the many consequences of pesticide use such as cancer, endocrine disruption, mental retardation, and organ failures among others. It frees households from the burden of having illnesses that drain not only finances but also emotions as one is left to bear the suffering of having to endure watching loved ones slowly deteriorate. On a larger scale, it frees governments from the “cost of inaction” that may reach billions of dollars.

A recent study by  Scholz  (2016) on the impact of Centre d’Etude et de Développement Agricole Cambodgien’s (CEDAC) interventions found that organic farmers that are part of its network have on average 4.8 times more income compared to non-CEDAC farmers. CEDAC’s organic farming bundle primarily aimed to address rural poverty, includes awareness building on the hazards of pesticides; hands-on training on organic farming and Participatory Guarantee System; and linkage-building with local and international markets.

CEDAC is one of the Pesticide Action Network in the Asia-Pacific’s (PANAP) partner organizations. It’s innovative approach started with the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) in 1999, which facilitated farmer trainings on organic and good agricultural practices and helped build farmer knowledge. With its success, the SRI was mainstreamed in the Cambodian government’s strategic development plans. CEDAC’s target group consists of subsistence growers who are able to produce a minimum surplus of 500 kg jasmine rice per producer group. As of now, CEDAC is in 22 out of the 25 Cambodian provinces.

One of the farmers who benefited from CEDAC’s and PANAP’s activities is 38-year old Nhem Sovanry who has 1.5 hectares of rice fields and 800 square meters of home garden. Sovanry is very happy to see farmers practice what they have learned, and see how it contributes to their own livelihoods.

“If farmers in Cambodia practice organic farming, families will be self-sufficient just like us. Farmers should understand the basic principles of farming: one has to have a pond (or water source), paddy field, home garden, and animals such as chickens or cows. With these four elements, including hard work, one can be a successful and self-sufficient farmer,” she said.

CEDAC has made organic farming economical by using group certification. Group certification is where farmer groups implement an internal control system and are certified collectively by a third-party certification body. Certified organic rice fetches a premium price and is thus, more profitable to farmers.

“At first, it was difficult to take care of the crops and collect the fertilizers. But the value of the vegetables has grown and the selling price has increased,” said Sovanry happily.

Sovanry and other farmers are part of the independent national farmers’ association network known as the Farmer and Nature Net. This network is comprised of 1,249 village-based farmer associations across 12 provinces in Cambodia that supply products to local farmers’ markets. Stories of Sovanry and 25 women who are taking the lead in agroecology are featured in Stories from the Field.

CEDAC also organized the women vegetable farmers of Kampong Speu province. Through sustainable organic farming, members of the Women Organic Vegetable Producer Group now enjoy better living standards.

(Watch the video of Sovanry and other famers here.)

Ten CEDAC shops have been formed in Phnom Penh as a result of pioneering efforts to link small food producers to the wider market. These shops aim to ensure that safe food is supplied to Cambodian consumers and to improve locally produced food.

Overall, the Cambodian experience shows that organic farming must be coupled with interventions similar to what CEDAC has adopted.  Through the CEDAC approach of replacing chemicals with agroecology and contract farming, we may finally achieve a pesticide-free world.



Kijewki L. 2017. Pesticides pose risk to workers, research finds.

Scholz B. 2016. The economics of organic farming: A comparative analysis in Takeo, Cambodia. A Master’s Thesis submitted to Philipps-Universität Marburg, Germany.  85pp

PANAP. 2017. Stories from the Field. Penang, Malaysia.

PANAP 2017. Women Organic Vegetable Producer Group.



International Women’s Day: Inspiring stories of women vs. pesticides

Press Release

“Farmers are unable or unwilling to focus on environmental or health issues so long as they are experiencing poverty. They are less willing to experiment, because they are afraid of risking yield,” said woman farmer Khonsawan from Nongno Village in Laos.

But the story of Khonsawan and other women farmers also show that change in behaviour can be inspired even by just one positive experience or example that farmers can witness for themselves.

As techniques and environmental health improve, so does the quality and quantity of their produce. These stories show that the advance of ecological agriculture practices are always accompanied with increase in income, as women begin to enjoy savings from not buying chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

Khonsawan’s story and of other women farmers are compiled in the booklet “Stories from the field: Women working towards a non-toxic environment”. This booklet contains a collection of stories of 25 women from five countries who are involved in an inspiring, ongoing campaign to eliminate use of chemical pesticides and promote agroecology in the Mekong Region. It was launched today by the Towards a Non-Toxic Southeast Asia programme as it joins the commemoration of the International Women’s Day.

Towards a Non-Toxic Southeast Asia programme aims to reduce health and environmental risks from chemicals by monitoring, regulating and managing agricultural, industrial and consumer chemicals. It is an initiative of the Swedish Chemicals Agency (KemI), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP), and The Field Alliance (TFA).

The impact of the programme and experiences of the partners are captured and summarized in 25 stories contained in the booklet. “The booklet provides positive examples that women and men, communities and organizations across the region can learn from, be inspired by and hopefully develop further” – Jenny Ronngren, Adviser/ Programme manager of International Unit, Swedish Chemicals Agency.

On average, women in Asia represent 40 to 50% of the world’s agricultural labour force. Their role in food production exposes them to pesticides. “Women are exposed as pesticide applicator and in other ways, including while working in the sprayed fields, during cleaning the spray tanks or when laundering clothes used during pesticide application. Unfortunately, women farmers and workers are discriminated and often do not have equal access to resources, education, training or information.” – Sarojeni Rengam, Executive Director of PAN Asia Pacific.

This inequality has created gaps on how women understand the impact of pesticides on their health and their communities’ health as well as on the environment. They are also rarely involved in training and lack information on pesticide risk reduction initiatives or on safer pest management methods that includes ecological agriculture.

Thus, the programme throughout its implementation has introduced various tools and interventions consisting of Farmer Field Schools (FFS) – Integrated Pest Management (IPM)/Pesticide Risk Reduction (PRR) trainings, Community-based Pesticide Action Monitoring (CPAM), Rural Ecology and Agricultural Livelihoods (REAL) programs, policy advocacy, research and outreach, among others to actively address this gender gap.

The equal and meaningful participation of women in all activities conducted by partner organisations was ensured. This is in recognition of women’s marginalisation and double burden, made even more acute by the effects of uncontrolled use of toxic chemicals on their livelihood, health, environment, family and community.

It also fuelled most of their drive to inform other community members, including their husbands, on the harmful effects of pesticides. Significantly, these stories resonate with how pesticides use is most successfully reduced or even eliminated when accompanied with trainings and educational campaigns that introduce ecological agriculture practices, such as Farmer Field Schools-IPM and System of Rice Intensification. – Johannes Ketelaar, Chief Technical Advisor, FAO Regional Pesticide Risk Reduction Programme, FAO Regional Office for Asia and Pacific

Furthermore, organic produce are able to fetch higher prices at the market. In Peak District, Laos, SAEDA (Sustainable Agriculture & Environment Development Association) held trainings that led to the creation of the Organic Farmers Association, which now helps women market their produce. Additionally, the initiative contributed to increased consumer awareness and support for agro-biodiversity.

“Women farmers found most useful trainings that teach them how to make botanical pesticides and natural fertilizers, do composting, crop rotation, red-worm farming, and other techniques that reduce, if not totally rid them of dependence on chemical pesticides and fertilizers. In transitioning from chemical-intensive to IPM or even organic production, farmers in the beginning tended to be discouraged by the results. But as the women practiced and improved upon these techniques, the results only became better and more impressive, attracting the interest of more members of the community” Marut Jatiket, Director of The Field Alliance.

Government or institutional support is seen as crucial by women farmers, especially in the areas of access to water supply and market access for organic produce. Many women have also recognised that in order for alternative pest management to be successful and viable, it has to be applied in large-scale.

As Nguyet from the Hai Phu Commune in Vietnam said, “If I do not apply pesticides for my field while all other neighbours’ fields are sprayed with pesticides, there is no use at all.”

Still, even with the lack of strong government or institutional support, women who have been trained are determined to spread the knowledge and sustain initiatives through community organisations.

“It is very important to become a practitioner yourself, because authority and the power to persuade can only come from actually doing what one preaches,” said Tran Thi Len from the Hai Son Commune in Vietnam.

They gain empowerment not just among their community but also inside their homes. Not a few women told of how their husbands were initially obstructive of their newfound leadership roles, but eventually became highly supportive, especially when their health improved and their family income increased.

On the whole, these stories reflect the happier, healthier, and more enriching lives women lead once unshackled from dependence on pesticides and empowered with knowledge, experience and options with regards to managing their lands and livelihoods. They show the great ability of women in mobilising their families and communities towards a toxic-free environment. ###

Stories from the Field can be downloaded here:


For more information please contact:-

Jenny Ronngren (KemI) –

Johannes Ketelaar (FAO Asia Pacific) –

Deeppa Ravindran (PANAP) –

Marut Jatiket (TFA) –