Women’s Front: The impact of global hunger


By INNABUYOG-GABRIELA

Groups of women, mostly activists working with rural and indigenous women gathered for a workshop in Hong Kong this June 18, to discuss about women and the global hunger. This is part of the International League of Peoples Struggles (ILPS) event on its Third International Assembly.

The ILPS is a broad-anti-imperialist organization which was established in May 2001 and has 18 study commissions on various concerns, one of them indigenous peoples, national minorities and nationalities and another women. Innabuyog will be attending to share how indigenous women are hit by the worsening food crisis and the increasing global hunger and poverty, in the women’s workshop.

Women contribute to the production of food for the whole world, whether as direct (agricultural) producers, agricultural workers, or food factory workers. From preparing the land up to bringing the produce to the market, women are part of the process. Between rice planting and harvesting for example, women often have to find extra source of food for the family while waiting for the harvest, making them non-stop producers of sustenance.

According to the US Census International Database, current world population is estimated at 6.7 billion. While there is enough food to feed everyone, an estimate of more than 850 million people are severely food insecure (Ibon, nov 2007, p. 5) and 70% of this are women and girls according the UN World Food Program. Current studies by the World Bank shows that an estimate of 100M more people in each continent are pushed into hunger.

Protesting food crisis

Last year skyrocketing prices of basic commodities such as oil, food and utilities drove the usually peaceful Buddhist monks in Burma to stage protest actions demanding government intervention which in turn reacted by killing and abducting thousands of protesters.

2008 ushered in a number of food riots and protests actions over high prices from all parts of the world—Mexico, Haiti, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivorie, Egypt, Guinea, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Senegal, Uzbekistan and Yemen.

In the Philippines the price of rice, the country’s staple food, rose up to more than 100% in a span of two weeks forcing women and children to line up under a 40-degree Celsius heat of the sun for at least two hours to buy a maximum of three kilos of cheap rice sold by the government.

Poverty

Imperialist plunder of poor and developing nations has exacerbated the conditions of the working class people of the world and tripled the burden of women. Neo-liberal policies have practically crushed the vital industries and agricultural economies of the Third World resulting to the massive displacement of people’s jobs, homes and livelihoods. More than one billion people in the world today, the great majority of whom are women mostly in the developing countries, live in unacceptable conditions of poverty,.

The issue of hunger among women is rooted both in the economic programs and policies implemented by governments as required by need and greed of imperialism and by the feudal-patriarchal culture that prevails in many countries.

Food production in Third World countries is in chronic crisis. Backward agricultural production, land monopoly and an export oriented and import dependent economy has been keeping farmers from producing enough rice for local consumption. Imperialist globalization has exacerbated this crisis by imposing land and crop conversion resulting in less lands available for food production. The existence of food/rice cartels and global warming is also affecting the output of farmers both in third and first world countries.

Feudal relations

The feudal relations in agriculture between tenant and farmer is carried on/mirrored between a husband and his wife. Despite being a major force in agricultural production, women’s work in general is considered only as an “added” force to the men’s work. Their work at home is considered the main responsibility of women and is unpaid because it “comes with being a woman.”

In the simple distribution of food among the members of the family, the best and most nutritious food is given to the men because they do the hard work and that they earn for the family.

So that during crisis women have to divide what they have among the husband and the children first and will make do with whatever is left—if there is anything left at all.

In many countries women, who are not allowed to own lands and other properties in their names, are considered properties of father, husband or brother. The chances of women owning and tilling land have become next to impossible due to globalization policies of land conversion.

Chronic hunger

Families are being poisoned by eating unknown fruits or root crops because of extreme hunger. In the Philippines for example, women and children scavenge for leftovers from fast foods and restaurants to re-cook and eat, this is known as “pagpag”. Governments’ lack priority and interest in providing health care and education services to women instead allots majority of its budget to paying debts to teh IMF-WB and military services. Thus chronic malnutrition, health ignorance and diseases are passed from mother to child.

The loss of jobs and livelihoods in the countrysides resulted in an unprecedented phenomenon of migration to cities and other countries. Women, as family caretakers, have fallen prey to illegal recruitment and trafficking forcing them to work in deplorable conditions and inhumane wages. Women working in sweatshops and export processing zones are more vulnerable to sexual harassment and intimidation because companies who operate as such are not required to comply with labor laws such as minimum wage, union membership, etc.

In a March 8 statement in 2006 , Prof. Jose Ma. Sison wrote, “US-led imperialism pretends to be an advocate of women’s rights while transforming them into chattel for multinational corporations and commodity for the labor and sex markets. US-led imperialism proposes to bring “democratic rights” to women even as it maintains by brute force, in alliance with local reactionaries, economies that create an endless supply of impoverished women to exploit in their own homes or in sweatshops.”

The burden of feeding the family lies in the hands of women—whether there is food or not. Many have resorted to anti-social activities such as theft, drug trafficking, and prostitution, or even pimping their own children to paedophiles, just to survive a hand-to-mouth existence.

Baby making is becoming popular among young women in urban poor communities. Women as young as 13 are offering their wombs for childless couple in exchange for a meager sum of money and food for the next nine months of pregnancy. Chronic food crisis in fishing and agricultural areas gave birth to a kind of prostitution called “palit-bigas” where women prostitute themselves in exchange of a kilo of rice or “palit-isda” for a kilo of fish.

Battered women, when asked why their husbands hit them, would answer “he is hot tempered because we do not have money to buy food.” Although economic crisis is never an excuse for violence in the family, beating women is always a good reason for men to bend their anger and frustration.

Because of the current food crisis people more and more people are experiencing chronic hunger. And because they are hungry it is natural for them to seek ways to feed their familiesb and demand responsibility and action from their governments.

While people are getting hungry we expect that imperialist hegemony and control will take more vicious forms, structures and modes to subvert the people’s will and resistance. It will mount all and every form of assaults to perpetuate itself.

But women are breaking in from the sidelines and are more actively participating in the anti-imperialist movements in their countries. Women realize that only they can liberate themselves. By breaking loose from religious taboos and patriarchal culture, women who comprise half of the world’s people have engaged in various roles to fight and struggle against hunger and violence brought about by imperial hegemony and worldwide fascism and chauvinism.

Women from both the capitalist and developing countries have to join hands in order to fight imperialism’s onslaught and demand responsibility from puppet governments and imperialists for the crisis that is starving millions of people. Their coming together will yield a wealth of data and information on the current food crisis and its effects on women and children. This will provide the context and landscape wherein the anti-imperialist movement is advancing. In like manner, sharing experiences, tactics and strategies will serve as an important link to strengthen the bonds, unity and struggle of the world’s women in the fight against imperialist attacks on women’s life and livelihood. #

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