An elderly woman tends to her vegetable plot in the village of Xialuoga, Yunnan, China. Photo by Luc Forsyth/Mongabay
An elderly woman tends to her vegetable plot in the village of Xialuoga, Yunnan, China. Photo by Luc Forsyth/Mongabay

Today, October 15, is recognized as the International Day of Rural Women by the United Nations to commemorate the “crucial role that women and girls play in ensuring the sustainability of rural households and communities.” This year’s theme is “building climate resilience,” and we must use this moment to build the voices and power of rural women to influence the global call for just climate action.

This year’s International Day of Rural Women falls on an especially historical moment, as millions around the world are mobilizing for “climate strikes” to call for bold, accountable action by governments to address the urgency of climate crisis. As Greta Thunberg defiantly told world leaders at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in New York in September, “The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.” In the Asia-Pacific region, rural women’s organizations have been taking action to defend their rights to land, resources, and livelihood in the face of existential threats of climate crisis, and promoting their critical role in building climate resilience by way of bringing about meaningful change in their communities.

In Indonesia, members of grassroots peasant women’s organization Rupari have begun a campaign calling for the revocation of licenses of companies involved in the burning of forest and peat lands to make way for oil-palm and acacia plantations, which creates a destructive haze that has resulted in acute respiratory infections and even death for thousands of people in Riau province. They are calling on the Indonesian government to provide remedies including immediate rehabilitation for the haze victims and to cease the issuance of permits for land clearing activities.

Meanwhile, women of the JIPAR organization in Kyrgyzstan and Sangsan Anakot Yawachon in Thailand are organizing campaigns to raise awareness on their rights to land, food, natural resources, and health and well-being, among others, of rural women, stateless, landless, rural migrants and the lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. The Sisterhood Network in India, in particular, has been organizing a dialogue with government, civil-society organizations and activists to advocate for rural women’s and girls’ rights to land and property and to underscore how they “contribute to agriculture, food sovereignty and nutrition, and land and natural-resources management.”

A Lumad women’s group in the Philippines, Sabokohan, along with other advocacy groups and educators will hold a forum on agro-ecology for the students of Lumad Bakwit (evacuee) school highlighting the significant contributions of women and girls in agriculture, food sovereignty, land and resources, and building climate resilience.

These initiatives stem directly from the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development’s central strategy of conducting Feminist Participatory Action Research (FPAR) with rural women’s groups across the region, a powerful tool where women themselves are directly involved in collecting evidence on what is happening in their communities in order to take action collectively. APWLD firmly believes that feminist movements, grounded in local struggle and experiences, are the key to making real structural changes. With an explicit thrust toward movement building and collective action, FPAR is a potent tool for and by women to hold governments accountable for their situation and ultimately shift gendered sources of personal, political, and structural power.

In recent times, rural women and girls have gained a deeper understanding of how essential their roles indeed are to building climate resilience in their communities, and, conversely, how they are multiply burdened by the adverse impacts of climate change. They are learning how their governments, through actions that exacerbate these impacts in the short term, and developed countries, through historical and long-term emissions should be held accountable for the current crises of climate emergency. Amid the destructive barriers of globalization, fundamentalism, militarism and patriarchy, rural women are beginning to understand and are mobilizing to join the call for climate justice.

More than 25 women’s rights groups and movements from the region have signed up for leading a Women’s Global Strike on International Women’s Day on March 8, 2020, to bring all of women’s demands to the fore including climate justice, decent work and living wages, equitable access to resources, power, and opportunity, and an end to gender-based violence. It is time that women come together, across generations and across different movements, to stand in solidarity with one another and bring the world to a standstill.

The world is indeed waking up, and it will further be roused from its slumber as it realizes that when women stop, the world stops.

This article was co-written with Marjo Busto, a program officer for Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development.

Sharanya Nayak is a farmer and feminist activist from India. She is part of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD)
Breaking Out of Marginalization Program organizing committee. She has been working with indigenous communities of Koraput district in Odisha toward regenerating climate-resilient traditional farming systems and building local skills around reviving traditional livelihoods.

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