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By Esther Vivas
The role of peasant women has been key in the countryside. Women who took care of the land, daughters and sons, the house, the animals. Despite the years, and the changes produced in rural areas, they continue to have a significant weight in family farming. It is estimated that 82% of rural women work in the field, according to data from the Ministry of Agriculture, yes, the majority as spouses or daughters, invisible, without rights, formally considered, and in statistics, as "help family". Which means that they do not contribute to social security, they do not have access to compensation for unemployment, accident, maternity, a decent pension, etc.
In these circumstances, the woman lacks economic independence, as she does not obtain personal and direct remuneration for the work she does, and depends on the husband who owns the farm. This is a situation that occurs frequently in small farms, with low income, and without the possibility of being able to pay two social security contributions, consequently it is chosen to pay that of the man, to the detriment of the woman. Mari Carmen Bueno from the Field Workers' Union makes it clear: "We were not even considered day laborers, we were housewives according to the statistics and among ourselves we were not aware of being workers."
Land ownership is a clear source of inequality. 76% of farms are owned and operated by a man, compared to 24% in the hands of women, according to the 2009 Agrarian Census. A percentage, the latter, which has recently increased, as explained from the Ministry of Agriculture, because in many elderly couples, the death of the spouse means the transfer of property to the wife. It is not easy to find young or middle-aged women holding farms. It must be taken into account that the customs usually consider the first-born son and baron as the legitimate heir of the estate, the woman, therefore, only inherits it if she has no siblings.
In cases where women are in charge of the exploitation, it tends to be smaller, less profitable and is located, for the most part, in disadvantaged or mountain areas. One figure clearly illustrates this: 61% of women who own land holdings are marginal plots of difficult economic viability, who need another job to survive and who, according to the White Paper on Agriculture and Rural Development, have increased risk of disappearing. In Galicia, for example, there are a quarter of women who own farms, and 79% are owners of small farms.
Decision-making in the field, likewise, falls largely on the man. In the family unit there is a clear division of tasks according to sex. In this way, those activities of a public nature and responsibility (salaried work, participation in political instances, relevant economic transactions) fall on men, while those of a private nature (domestic work, care for dependent people, food and health of the family) do it in women. A division of roles that gives the peasant, and not the peasant, the power of decision. Likewise, the accumulation of productive and reproductive work, and the non-distribution of domestic responsibilities, prevents women from having available time to participate in spaces of public representation.
Agricultural cooperatives, for example, are highly masculinized. 75% of its members are men, compared to 25% women, and they face significant barriers to access their management bodies, where their participation is only 3.5%, according to the report The participation of women in agricultural cooperatives. The membership and leadership of most agrarian unions are another clear example, essentially made up of men, despite the fundamental and daily work of women in the fields.
Goodbye to the rural world
The rural world, likewise, has suffered a continuous loss of population, which has meant its aging and "masculinization". If in 1999, 19.4% of the inhabitants of the Spanish State resided in a rural municipality, ten years later this percentage had dropped to 17.7%. In municipalities with less than two thousand inhabitants, the fall was more acute, with the loss of 30% of its population, according to data from the 1999 and 2008 Municipal Register. Rural life has been fading. The migration of young people together with negative demographic growth have been the causes. Although it seems that in recent years, this trend has stagnated and there is also a "return to the countryside" by city people, although insufficient, for now, to stop their depopulation.
The rural world is suffering from accelerated aging, 22.3% of its inhabitants are over 65 years of age, compared to 15.3% in urban areas. Young people who want to study go to large cities, and many do not return. At the same time, the number of women between the ages of 20 and 50 is decreasing, as stated in the report Sustainable Rural Development Program (2010-2014) of the Ministry of Agriculture, producing a growing "masculinization" of the countryside.
Women emigrate to cities due to the lack of job opportunities in their municipalities and because of "social resistance" to them taking on jobs traditionally performed by men. Similarly, and as indicated by the Federation of Rural Women's Associations, their departure is also due "to social pressure derived from the presence of gender roles and stereotypes" and the lack of services and infrastructure (nursery schools, health care , public transport, cultural centers) in small municipalities.
Another of the impacts of the industrial agricultural system on peasant women and the rural world is on their health. A few months ago, at a meeting of peasant women in Tenerife, I was lucky enough to meet the dancer Ana Torres and her company Revolotearte. In this meeting, they performed the performance 'Silent Spring', inspired by the literary work of the same name by Rachel Carson, and where they brilliantly portray, through dance, the body and images, the brutal impact of the use of pesticides on the health of day laborers in tomato plantations in Las Canarias. The performance combines an impressive choreography with images and statements from farm workers who explain their experience in the first person.
"I remember. We were on the plain and the plane passed over us, fumigating. And we would get stunned like when a rain falls on you, just the same. All of them full of poison," says one of the day laborers interviewed. And another adds: "I did not know the gloves, I did not know a mask, I did not know how to wash my hands to sit down to eat, because nothing was said there." And one more: "We lived in ignorance. They sulphated, well they sulphated. The foreman told us that this does not kill an animal with bone. And we saw the caterpillars, the lizards ... and we said: 'This is because we have no bone, of course He kills the poor '. And then, you don't think that it can hurt you too. "
In the Canarian Archipelago, according to the investigation of the Toxicology Unit of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the systematic use of large amounts of pesticides in intensive agriculture, including DDT, which was banned in Europe at the end of The 70s, has had a direct impact on the health of its population. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, DDT is a carcinogenic substance: "Chronic exposure to DDT and its derivatives has been linked to various types of estrogen-dependent cancers, such as breast cancer."
According to this investigation, which served as working material and documentation for the work "Silent Spring", the entire Canarian population has levels of DDT residues much higher than the European average. Specifically, 99.3% of the cases analyzed had some type of residue derived from DDT, with women being the most affected. Not in vain, and as the same study indicates, "the Canary Islands have one of the highest incidence and mortality figures from breast cancer" in the entire State. Andalusia is the second most affected autonomous community. There is a direct relationship between intensive agriculture, the use of pesticides and high levels of DDT in the population and the impact on public health, especially in women, and rural women.
Shared ownership law
Faced with this situation of aggression, lack of rights and invisibility, peasant women have organized and demanded changes. A significant victory has been the Law of Shared Ownership of Agricultural Holdings, a long-claimed demand, and finally approved by the Government in September 2011, and which aimed to promote real gender equality in the countryside. In this way, the Law allows peasant women to appear as joint owners of the farm, together with their spouse, to administer and legally represent the exploitation and that their economic returns, aid and subsidies correspond to both. It is about putting aside the concept of “family help” and fully recognizing the work of women on the farm.
However, and as the general secretary of the Labrego Galego Union Carme Freire pointed out, despite the fact that "the Shared Ownership Law represents a giant step forward when it comes to advancing in the recognition of women's rights in the professional agricultural field "This has important shortcomings such as, for example, the fact that" to get that ownership, the partner or spouse must agree that we can be joint owners. It is as if they had to give us permission to make a right effective. " Likewise, the head of territorial policy of the Unió de Pagesos union in Catalunya Maria Rovira considers that said Law benefits the largest farms that can register women without problems in social security to appear as joint owners, and consequently be considered farms "priority", with greater access to aid and tax incentives, to the detriment of small farms. More than two years after its launch, its limits are evident and its effective implementation is still pending. In reality, only about one hundred women farmers, of the 200 thousand who are not holders, have applied for joint ownership, due to the limited interest of the administration in publicizing the measure, and when it is demanded, the lack of information and bureaucratic obstacles make it difficult to do so. execution. The head of the Women's Area of the Coordinator of Agrarian and Livestock Organizations (COAG) Idáñez Vargas dismissed the Law as ineffective and criticized "the absolute failure of this legislative text for its voluntary and non-obligatory nature."
New female peasantry
Currently, a new peasantry is beginning to emerge in the rural world. This is what the doctor in geography and the environment Neus Monllor has defined, in her thesis "Explorant la jove pagesia: roads, practices and attitudes in the marc d'un nou agrosocial paradigm", as "young people who are doing other people's things way, whether they come from traditional agriculture or are newcomers. They are young people who are taking the reins of their activity, who try to be very autonomous and sell their product directly, who take into account the territory and quality ... Above all, this new peasantry breaks with the pessimistic and continuity discourse. "
In this new peasantry, the role of women is relevant and fundamental. In many parts of the State we see new experiences of work in the field led by women, in agriculture and livestock, which take the principles of food sovereignty and agroecology as a standard. At the same time, initiatives are multiplying that propose, in the cities, another consumption model, with a direct and supportive relationship with the producer, such as agroecological consumer groups and cooperatives, where women, once again, play a role. primordial. And let's not forget the urban garden projects and the proposals against food waste that have been gaining weight in recent years, with a very active participation of women. Beyond the necessary coordination between these experiences that are committed to other food production, distribution and consumption, I believe that a feminist look, and reflection, is essential to her work. Some of the difficulties they may face are identical, from a gender perspective. The joint reflections of your women, without a doubt, can mean a step forward.
Where are the peasant women? We asked ourselves at the beginning of the article. The peasant women are here, at the forefront, and treading harder than ever.