Rights of rural women have seen uneven progress in Latin America

Access to quality education, productive resources, technical training and participation remain challenges shared by rural Latin American women to close the persistent gaps in gender equality and realise their full potential under equal conditions.

Mariela Jara

IN a remote village in the Peruvian Andes, Bonificia Huamán managed to overcome adverse weather conditions with a small greenhouse, where she grows vegetables at 3,533 metres above sea level. This has improved her family's diet, which she is very proud of.

The downside is that Alina, her second-oldest daughter, aged 17, left high school to help her with the enormous workload that, as head of household, she assumes every day on her farm and caring for her family. She supports her three daughters and son, as well as her oldest daughter's son.

'School costs a lot of money, uniforms, school supplies, I can't afford it,' Huamán, 47, told Inter Press Service (IPS) sadly during a meeting with her and other women farmers in Llullucha, home to some 80 Quechua families, within the rural municipality of Ocongate in the southeast department of Cuzco.

'This is a reality for rural women in Latin America, in the face of which governments should act with greater emphasis in order to move towards sustainable development, which is a commitment undertaken by the countries of the region,' United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) representative in Peru, Maria Elena Rojas, told IPS.

Access to quality education, productive resources, technical training and participation remain challenges shared by rural Latin American women to close the persistent gaps in gender equality and realise their full potential under equal conditions.

It is estimated that in this region of just over 640 million people, 48% of the rural population is female, amounting to 60.5 million women.

Of these women, 40% live in poverty, a problem that has been aggravated by the effects of climate change on agriculture, which impact on their health, well-being and security, according to FAO studies.

In spite of their work - on their farms and raising children, securing food, and caring for the sick - they receive no pay and lack incomes of their own, the studies point out.

Bolivia, where 1.6 million women live in rural areas, according to the National Institute of Statistics, is one of the Latin American countries which have seen a growing feminisation of agriculture.

'These women produce about half of the food we consume in the country,' said Wilfredo Valle, head of the planning area at the Bolivian non-governmental Training and Service Centre for Women's Integration (Cecasem).

Speaking with IPS from La Paz, he added that despite being pillars of production in the countryside, they do not receive remuneration. And when they do generate an income, they have no say in the family budget, which is still controlled by men. This situation is an obstacle to breaking the circle of poverty.

Added to this problem is the unequal access of women to land ownership and use. The region's statistics show that the lands they manage are smaller, of poor productivity and legally insecure.

The Third National Agricultural Census of Ecuador records that 45.4% of farms are headed by women, and 62.8% of these are less than two hectares in size.

This inequitable trend in access to and control of productive resources is also evident in Peru, where, according to official figures, rural women are in charge of lands of 1.8 hectares in size on average, while the average size of the farms managed by men is three hectares.

How can progress be made along the path of addressing the complex web of discrimination faced by rural women? For Ketty Marcelo, from the Amazonian Asháninka people and president of the National Organisation of Indigenous Andean and Amazonian Women of Peru, they must first be recognised as subjects entitled to rights.

'The countries in the region must acknowledge our existence as rural indigenous women and take measures to ensure that our rights are respected … And in order for that to happen, we must break down the barriers of patriarchy,' said Marcelo, an activist from the community of Pucharini in Peru's central rainforest.

In her view, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the targets included within them for achieving gender equality, is a mandate for the countries, but is also a double challenge for rural women in the region.

'We are invisibilised and a great deal of advocacy will be necessary in order for our problems to come to light; the SDGs are an opportunity to place our agendas into national policies,' she said.

In this vein, Wilfredo Valle underlined three challenges for governments in the context of achieving the SDGs. These are: 'improving literacy rates among rural women, because with a higher level of education, there is less discrimination; guaranteeing their access to land and to title deed; and ensuring a life free of violence.'

Latin America and the Caribbean, considered the most unequal region in the world, has the Regional Gender Agenda for 2030, established in 2016 by the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

It constitutes a roadmap, according to ECLAC, for countries to protect the human rights of women 'regardless of their age, income, sexual orientation, gender identity, where they live, their migratory status, ethnicity and race, and their physical and mental capacity.'

It is also in agreement with the SDGs and, through the fulfilment of its 10 core targets, puts gender equality at the centre of sustainable development.

Although there is an international normative framework in the region that has given rise to national plans and policies aimed at achieving precisely the SDGs on gender equality, actions to make this human right of rural women a reality are urgently needed, experts agreed.

'The 2030 Agenda gives countries the opportunity to empower girls and women, eradicate illiteracy, secure them title deeds and loans, to develop their potential, rise out of poverty and fully exercise each of their rights,' said FAO's Rojas.

'We know the gaps exist, but we need public policies to visibilise them,' she said. To that end, 'it is necessary to work on statistics with a gender perspective so that state measures really contribute to improving the reality of rural women.'

A mixture of political will and strengthening of institutional capacities that would transform the lives of rural women in the region, such as Bonificia Huam n and her daughter Alina, is needed so that the enjoyment of their rights becomes a daily exercise. - IPS                                     

*Third World Resurgence No. 326/327, October/November 2017, pp 66-67