The women's collective organization that emerges mainly in non-urban territories in Latin America have mobilized in the last two decades a set of actions, reflections and political-epistemic proposals at the interface between agroecology and feminism

Women, food sovereignty and
agroecology in Latin America

di Bruna Mendes, Marcia Tait, Laetícia Jalil

Coming from a trajectory of struggle for land and resistance in the territories, which long precedes the current historical moment, the women's collective organization that emerges mainly in non-urban territories in Latin America has amalgamated contributions to thinking about policies to overcome the current moment of crisis.

In Brazil, since the 1950s rural women have had records of their political action in the process of struggle for land. Names such as the unionist Margarida Alves and the leader Elisabeth Teixeira in the Peasant Leagues are landmarks of that historic moment. However, it was during the period of re-democratization in the 1980s that the organization of rural women gained space and visibility as a new political subject, building its own political agendas to demand recognition as rural women workers. Since then, acting in mixed or autonomous movements, they have articulated actions aimed at claiming better conditions for the rural population before the State and simultaneously building paths for the recognition of their role as workers.

Their main historical demands were access to social security, especially retirement, maternity leave, right to unionization, expansion of possibilities for productive autonomy, mainly through access to land, including titling and policies for the development of agriculture and production. It is worth mentioning that despite these achievements, it was only after the 2000s that public policies specifically dedicated to rural workers emerged.  

In addition to these claims for rights and better living conditions that have a relationship with the rural context, their claims and organization also addressed broader contexts of vulnerability or economic and social marginality. Rural women as well as popular women in the outskirts of cities are mobilized to fight for basic infrastructure issues for their localities, such as water, electricity, food, roads, schools and transport. In the contexts of land occupation and mobilization of rural and peasant movements, women have a recognized role in the process of guaranteeing food and the structure of the encamped families through their collective work, and sometimes this is their first experience of political insertion, opening up possibilities for future actions by women in the settlements. 

These efforts undertaken by women in the quest to give visibility to their work and their political agendas also motivated the creation of exclusively women's movements in the 1980s in Latin America, such as the Peasant Women's Movement (MMC), Rural Women's Movement (MMTR) and the Movement of Coco-babassu Breakers in Maranhão, created in Brazil.

The mobilization of rural and peasant women in Latin America around food security and food sovereignty and agroecology have tensioned and politicized themes that concern survival and human and planetary existence itself. And this constitutes a two-way street: their struggles strengthen the politicization of human life, while the organization through agroecology and food sovereignty politically support and strengthen organized women.

Food security and sovereignty are directly related to the development of agroecology and concern the realization of the universal right to regular and permanent access to quality food, in sufficient quantity, without compromising access to other essential needs of education, culture. Food sovereignty implies considering the cultural, political dimension, worldviews, a broader vision that encompasses the evolutionary development of food systems together with populations and their different sociocultural dimensions. From a gender and human rights perspective, food sovereignty implies aspects such as: questioning the power relations linked to access to natural resources, protecting and rescuing ancestral knowledge linked to food production and preparation, participating in decision-making at different levels of the productive chain; producing in decent working conditions and with the possibility of accessing healthy food; and assuming roles of co-responsibility between men and women regarding reproductive and care work. 

Food sovereignty and agroecological agriculture are not just about a few social groups or specific problems for women. It is necessary to be clear that the great modern agricultural industry does not feed the population. In Latin America in 2016, according to FAO, 6.6% of the population suffered from hunger (undernourishment) and the production of food that goes directly to people's plates was primarily supplied by family farming. In our continent, crops in the hands of small farmers represent more than 80% of the total and are responsible for 30 to 40% of the regional agricultural GDP, being the biggest generator of employment in the rural area. 

It is important to highlight the alliances that have been strengthened in the political and public sphere, the relations between gender and agroecology and the agendas of indigenous women. In Brazil, a very symbolic action that indicates the approach between indigenous and peasant women was the recent link between the First Indigenous Women's March and the Margaridas´ March, both held in August 2019. The Margaridas´ March has been taking place since 2000 and it is considered the largest organized action by women in Latin America and has the participation of rural women, peasant farmers and supporters from all over the country. The historical roots of the relationship between peasants and indigenous people also appear in the designations of theorists in the Latin American context. 

Undoubtedly, the set of possibilities for articulation between agroecology and women that we have presented in this article constitutes only a part of a much broader scenario of ongoing actions that rural women, indigenous peasants, riverside people, militant academics lead.

What we still think is important to highlight in this closing is the plurality and, at the same time, the ability to converge the collective actions of women in the field of food sovereignty and agroecology in Latin America. These women, even though to a large extent continue to act outside the urban context and the most visible feminisms, have contributed to advancing proposals for sustaining life based on their political articulations and organizational capacity. What indicates the existence of multiple possibilities of paths and confluences that are formed through praxis and an axis of radical criticism of the predatory way with which we have established our human relations and with what we understand by nature. They have accomplished this historically, politically and on a daily basis, conceiving and maintaining concrete forms of confrontation and production-reproduction of life.

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