Rural Women’s Assembly (RWA) of Southern Africa gathered together at Wits University, in Johannesburg from 26-29th November, 2019 to reflect on the ten years since our founding assembly in 2009. We have much to celebrate:
Today, RWA exists in South Africa, Mozambique, Malawi, Lesotho, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mauritius. We represent rural women in their great diversity – as small-scale farmers, farm workers, peasants, poor landless women, fishers, indigenous women, care givers, people living with disabilities, cross-border traders and LGBTIQ of Southern Africa, young and old. In this great diversity of language, culture, sexuality, histories and experiences we have managed to forge unity and solidarity
The first Rural Women’s Assembly in 2009 selected “We are the Guardians of Land, Life, Seed and Love” as the slogan to guide our approach and relation to nature and humanity. For the RWA we have identified land not simply as an “economic factor” but as a place of belonging, as a common territory, as our identity, our heritage and most importantly as life and therefore we have started a process of redefining, reshaping and reimagining our relationship to land. This relationship to land is also at the centre of our challenge to patriarchy and power.
Our commitment to our world and our nature in times of climate and capitalist emergency
The world in which we find ourselves today, only one decade after our founding assembly is a harsher world, scientists tell us that we have already crossed a series of tipping points. This risk is “an existential threat to civilisation”, they say, meaning “we are in a state of planetary emergency”. We know this well as our members in many parts of Southern Africa have lived through many disasters such as cyclones, hurricanes, extreme drought and floods.
Our focus on who controls land and access to the means of producing food has brought in a strong awareness for us of the way capitalism and patriarchy have impacted on food sovereignty. We have come to realize that our right to land cannot be separated from our right to food and water. By controlling and destroying our rights to food, clean water, natural resources, indigenous knowledge and seeds, capitalism perpetuates violence against nature and society.
Patriarchal Capitalism is an expression of violence against women. Our struggle is also against systems of male dominance, discriminatory aspects of traditional culture, traditional authority and private property. These systems manifest in high rates of child marriages, polygamy, disinheritance of women’s rights to land and gender-based violence.
We demand legal reforms to ensure that the people who live on the land have user rights and security of tenure. We condemn governments’ silence on this, and also question the role of traditional authorities who do not condemn these exploitative norms and practices.
In our evolution as RWA, our focus as custodians of seeds has become a pivotal point of resistance and alternatives to the poverty, food insecurity, inequality and violence that so many in our countries face. Africa faces a huge threat to its extensive mineral wealth and to its rich and diverse seed, food and farming systems, as multinational seed companies lay claim to seed varieties as their private possessions.
Africa’s natural inheritance, all living resources and future of its lands, forests and oceans that are interconnected are threatened by the gross extractivism that started with colonialism and now continues to be perpetuated by international corporations and our own governments in partnership with large capitalist interests. This mining of our ecosystems and our natural wealth is steadily killing our living continent.
Our governments move blindly towards a regionally seamless and expedited trade in commercially bred seed varieties for the benefit, mainly, of the foreign seed industry. RWA calls for food sovereignty and challenges corporate capture on food and seed systems.
RWA says No to GMO seeds! As small scale farmers and producers of traditional seeds, we will defend, protect, share and control our indigenous and local seed systems. As RWA, we will endeavour to scale up indigenous seeds multiplication from household to community to national to Southern Africa regional level. We will advocate for the development of stand-alone indigenous seed policies. RWA will continue to fight against the criminalization of local seed saving and exchange. We will also preserve indigenous knowledge for future generations.
Rural women farmers know how to deal with insects without using pesticides, herbicides and insecticides. We also say NO to chemicals that harm our lives, our climate, and to the privatization of commons.
RWA rejects the notion that simply putting women in government on a 50-50 basis is sufficient to change power relations in these institutions. We require a commitment from all governments in the region to work towards the elimination of the system of patriarchy that perpetrates oppressive power relations between and feeds the on-going discrimination against women and girl children in our households, our communities, our workplaces and in all spheres of government. Patriarchy denies women and men their humanity. We strive to change all unequal power relations that deny our human dignity and freedoms.
Going Forward: Confronting the struggles and building alternatives
In the process of building our movement, there is a deep recognition that it is not only men who are the carriers of patriarchal ideologies and values, as women, we too have internalized patriarchal norms, culture and religion. It is through political formation that a feminist consciousness is created based on an understanding of patriarchy and unequal power relations. We learn through struggle and reflection on our own experiences. It is in the struggle that we develop our consciousness and become the new human beings upon which a new society can be founded.
The RWA recognizes that we only have one home and that everything on our planet is connected through the web of life. Rural Women are building new ecologies and networks of solidarity as expressed in the evolving slogan of guardians of life, seeds, love, land and oceans based on protecting the source and developing systems of sufficiency.
RWA continues to place emphasis on the importance of globalizing this struggle, building hope and solidarity.