Women in struggle sustain life in rural and urban areas

At he 3rd Continental Assembly of ALBA Movements, women from a cross-section of struggles talked about solidarity and their striving to build a better world

May 24, 2022 by Capire

During the 3rd Continental Assembly of ALBA Movements, Capire collected stories and experiences from several women who organize daily to sustain life in their communities. They are women in collective and community spaces and movements, as well as women who are currently taking part in government, both in the legislative and the executive branch.

In light of the economic crisis created by the neoliberal government of the former president Mauricio Macri (2015-2019), as well as the difficulties imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, grassroots feminist movements have organized resistance and alternatives. Women are on the front lines of this process, securing care, health, basic education, food, and family-based agriculture. These are the women who sustain the economy. They are the ones making sure human and nonhuman lives can exist and grow.

Solidarity, Health, Education

According to Sol de la Torre, a councilwoman from Mar del Plata and a militant of the Pátria Grande Front and the Mala Junta collective, during the pandemic, not being able to go to school had an impact on a lot of children’s learning process. So her collective organized a “general call, and many sisters responded to it.” She added, “What we do is we teach literacy skills to adults and we provide children and teenagers with supplementary instruction to help them get back to the school dynamics and prevent school dropout.” They also created a health care brigade, which visits provinces and territories the state does not reach, counting on the participation of people who work as nurses, psychologists, and medical doctors.

Political education is one of the pillars of the actions conducted by the Mala Junta collective. “At our Berta Cáceres Feminist Organizing School, we have come together with the sisters who work in the territories and who often are able to receive a complementary social wage, as they are acknowledged for their work tackling violence. We also strive to have care work recognized, and this is why we have come closer to the leaders of community and care spaces, of community kitchens, of spaces dedicated to children, of education and healthcare brigades: to strengthen grassroots feminism built from solidarity in the neighborhoods.”

María Rosa Domes is a member of the Evita movement in Ezeiza, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. She is one of the organizers of a community kitchen, where she provides educational support. “You have ten-year-old children who can’t read. Children who can’t write. This is very worrisome.” She added, “I conduct didactic activities, but I do it based on learning—that is, it’s not dice games to entertain them, but to teach them letters, numbers, figures. It may seem like it is not much, but to us and our neighborhood, it is very important.”

Domes explained how building solidarity is a continuous effort taken every day, and a task of the people: “If something happens to a comrade, to a neighbor, we will be there. We take into account the basic needs of everyone. The capitalist does not feel solidarity. The people who have less are the people who foster the most solidarity.”

“The moments where we meet are fundamental, and it is fundamental for young sisters to be joining in these processes, to support our position that it is possible to remain in the territories, you don’t have to leave the countryside, you can continue to produce. At the same time, we can have joint efforts with sisters from other social organizations,” said Cecilia Rodríguez during the panel on youth struggles at the Assembly. Cecilia is part of the National Indigenous Peasant Movement and the youth wing of La Vía Campesina, organizations which have building towards food sovereignty, agroecology, full land reform, and popular peasant feminism.

Cultivating Diversity

“Especially in the pandemic, it was women who organized to make and hand out food. Sisters who said ‘let’s donate our food, or sell it for five pesos,’ which is nothing here,” said Elsa Yanaje, a farmer and leader of the rural sector of the Excluded Workers’ Movement. Elsa lives in an area in La Plata known as the “green belt,” because of its massive fruit and vegetable production all year round.

Around 5,000 families are part of the organization, which has expanded across territories and provinces since it first emerged seven years ago. The Excluded Workers’ Movement brings together “so many sisters and comrades who experience this exclusion, of not belonging to the state as a producer, as a worker.” Organizing grassroots movements is the only way to be heard, to fight for a society free from exclusion. As Elsa said, “we are excluded from public policies. In Argentina, every time there is a climate catastrophe that threatens production, big landowners are the first to ask for help and the first to get it. Meanwhile, the small ones are excluded.”

“Families must be guaranteed the ability to produce with dignity, and that has to do with agroecological production,” Elsa argued. This is why the Movement has been working to organize its own seed banks, boosting experiments in sustainable biotechnology and creating spaces for political education. “The issues faced in the countryside are not faced only by those who live in the countryside, but they also involve those who buy from us, and they have to know where [the food] comes from, how we produce it.”

As Cecilia put it, “agreocology is not a trend—it’s a way of living, it is something that has to do with those of us who have decided to continue to produce in the territory. It is shared, articulated knowledge. Agroecology is a choice that we make and that keeps our comrades of all genders healthy in their territories.”

Agroecological production is based on the people’s right to land. In La Plata, farmers usually grow their production on rented land, with contracts that don’t give them the right to produce completely agroecologically, but rather following market demands, which require fast-paced production and pesticides. This is why Cecilia argues that “one of our struggles in particular is the right to land, as agribusiness is advancing and commercial production is forcing us out. Productive areas are being urbanized, our production is not respected, and many of us are disappearing.”

Women’s central role in the struggle and the labor

During the panel on youth at the Assembly, Ofelia Fernández, the youngest councilwoman of Buenos Aires, talked about the importance of feminism, “I think the parameters of reality, after all that has happened to us and the world, are not the same anymore. We are not the same anymore. We must think about where we can reinvent or relaunch our agendas. One of the movements that has been very powerful is the feminist movement. The feminist movement drew many conclusions after the pandemic, for example, that care must be secured and recognized.”

Ofelia postulated the importance of looking at care in a broad way, in society as a whole, in order to be able to value it and change it: “Not just care in the sense of ‘what they call love is unpaid work,’ but also community-based care, at the community kitchens, handing out food and meals. During the health crisis, we have seen that the most precarious labor is in the health care and nursing industries, which, not coincidentally, are the most feminized fields.”

Strengthening feminism means boosting women’s organizing, but also their main roles in the struggles of the people and mixed-gender movements. “We are proud to have sisters who are directors, spokeswomen, leaders all across the country, sustaining each particular production unit,” Elsa said. She argued that her organization has become more open to women in recent years, as assemblies and other spaces of participation have been organized. She added that “women are life in this sense, as they make a great effort in everything they do: resisting, persisting, being brave to say it out loud. We won’t silence ourselves anymore, and this is something we are very proud of.”

Strengthening feminism means promoting women’s self-organization, but also their central role in the struggles and in the many popular movements. “For us it is a source of pride to have comrade referents, spokeswomen, leaders who are all over the country, supporting each particular productive unit,” said Elsa, who believes that in recent years the leadership of her organization has become more welcoming towards women, with the organization of assemblies and other spaces for participation.

For Elsa, “women embody life in that sense, when they infuse their strength into everything they do: in resisting, persisting, in having the courage to be able to speak in loud voices. We are no longer silent, and that is a great source of pride for us.

At community kitchens and brigades, María Rosa Domes says that men and women work together, without discrimination. “Neoliberalism and disunity are very strong in Argentina. This bothers us a lot, and this is why we try to integrate everyone. We organize spaces for political education, which are very open to the neighborhood and to broader society. Our role is to promote the idea that we are all one.”

According to Sol de la Torre, in Argentina, work has been consistently systematized. “There is a sexual, racial, and class division that makes the important work—the work that sustains life—the least acknowledged and the lowest paying. All education and health care work is carried out by women,” she argued, adding: “Meanwhile, with such a strong feminist movement, we have had many victories in Argentina, such as the recognition of domestic workers, which goes hand in hand with a program that aims to get these women formally hired.”

Feminism is present in all of these spaces of resistance. It is through their boldness and critical perspectives that women integrate the struggles for the reorganization of labor and the uplifting of life. Ofelia Fernández argued, “We need creativity and self-esteem to believe that there is an alternative process for the country, the continent, and the world; to believe that we can be the generation that will build a new era. This is what we search for: coming together and sharing pathways and horizons. This is a necessary contribution, a first step, but we must keep moving forward so that soon we will be able to say that politics does not have to produce misery—quite the contrary, it produces happiness.”

This article was written by Helena Zelic and originally published by Capire.