Rural Women’s Day: it’s not only for women

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International Day of Rural Women is a day to celebrate rural women for their knowledge and thrive to make a change. Photo: Manon Koningstein (CIAT)
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October 15th is the UN-declared International Day of Rural Women, an invitation to celebrate women and a reminder about the importance of rural feminism. 

Edited by Shadi Azadegan

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 58 million women live in the rural areas of Latin America. They play crucial roles ensuring food and nutrition security, eradicating rural poverty and improving the well-being of their families, yet they continue to face serious challenges as a result of gender-based stereotypes and discrimination that deny them equitable access to opportunities, resources, assets and services.

It is for this reason that October 15th has been declared International Day of Rural Women by the United Nations Organization (UN). It’s a day to celebrate rural women and leave behind their portrayal as victims; a day to look beyond limitations to acknowledge the valuable opportunities they bring about; to present them as empowered agents of change rather than as marginalized groups; and, above all, that it’s not only about women, but about men and women working together.

It is exactly this message that 15 young rural women from Estelí, Nicaragua strive to convey.

During an 8-day workshop on Participatory Video (see more on this tool here), the group made a video titled ‘Subjects of Change’, presenting themselves as active promoters of transformation through their own, distinct concept of ‘rural feminism’ in Nicaragua.

Rural feminism

According to the young women’s understanding, this kind of feminism refers to women in charge of their own lives, taking into consideration the specific circumstances they face in a rural context. These women are no victims; they are powerful, know what they want, and, above all, they know what needs to be done.

                                                                        Photo: Manon Koningstein (CIAT)

Consequently, rural organizations in Latin America are working on defining their own concept of feminism, one that takes into account alternative economic models as well as their own concerns and viewpoints, which are not always in line with those of women in urban areas. Examples include owning land, engaging in income generating activities, studying, attending workshops, and deciding if and when they would like to get married and/or have children.

Striving for social change

The term “rural feminism” “scares people, because many think that feminism means women on their own, fighting against men; that it’s two different sides,” said the group. As mentioned by one of the men interviewed during the workshop, “in the beginning, I thought that the organized women were a group of women that is angry with men, that they wanted to take everything away from us. Later, when I started to get more involved in the things they are doing, I realized that they are just working for their own rights”.

However, this does not mean that rural feminism is all about women.

We don’t mean to work individually, and forget about our husbands and families. But we think that we have equal rights. It was important to create, build and strengthen a society in Nicaragua where men could think about relating to women and other men in a different way. We wanted an institution where we could create a different set of rules, and where men could be present,” participants explained during the workshop.

“Often we hear that we are a ‘bunch of feminists’, a ‘group of lesbians’ or ‘angry women’. It’s been hard to continue our work under circumstances of such misunderstandings, but it also gives us even more spirit to change this way of thinking,” various women said during the workshop.

The young women who participated in the workshop concluded their message by saying that there is still a lot of work to be done, but that the most important thing is for women to get organized, to stand together and to work side by side. “We cannot do this alone, we need each other. There is still a long battle to be faced, which we can win; I am sure of it; but not alone.”

Empowerment and organization are crucial for rural feminism. Photocredit: Manon Koningstein (CIAT)

Photo: Manon Koningstein (CIAT)

Background information

The workshop took place in May 2015, and was conducted by Manon Koningstein and Shadi Azadegan, as part of a collaboration between CCAFS, the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the CGIAR Research Program on Integrated Systems for the Humid Tropics (Humidtropics) and with help of the local partner Fundación Entre Mujeres (FEM). The workshop took place in Estelí, in the North-center region of Nicaragua.

During the entire PV process, young women were at the forefront of the project, with all decision-making in their hands. They have the power to choose the subjects of the project, which in the end was chosen as their title as well, and who will be allowed to see any footage they produced. This way, the project culminated in a sense of empowerment, a safe space for dialogue and critical thinking, an improved capacity to develop themselves and their livelihoods, and a valuable set of income-generating skills that can be shared with others. Any film they produce will also serve to provide tangible evidence to lobby government and help create positive change.

Learn more

Download policy brief: Supporting women farmers in a changing climate: five policy lessons