More than a thousand rural women are coming together in Palavoy, Arakkonam (District Thiruvellore, Tamil Nadu) on 6-8 March 2007 for the Asian Rural Women's Conference (ARWC). They will gather to share and strengthen the rural and indigenous women's movement, and to build and assert women's leadership and their human rights. This is the first time ever that rural women are specifically collecting in such large numbers in India on the occasion of the International Women's Day.
The historic gathering is hosted by Tamil Nadu Women's Forum (TNWF), Tamil Nadu Dalit Women's Forum and Society for Rural Education and Development (SRED). About hosting this unprecedented event, Fatima Burnad, Coordinator of TNWF, comments, "We are excited to have rural women from all over Asia come to meet here at Arakkonam. This conference will provide a global perspective to the local issues and expose both the vulnerabilities as well as strengths of the rural women, which otherwise gets ignored."
"This is the beginning of uniting the rural women. With the impact of globalization felt by rural women, the poverty felt by rural women and the ongoing struggles in their countries, it is important to not only learn about these different situations and struggles but also have unity for collective action and networking." says Emily Cahilog of the women's rights coalition, GABRIELA, based in the Philippines.
The three-day event will feature speak-outs and testimonies from rural and indigenous women from all over Asia, symposiums and forums on rural women's issues and their intersections with Environment, Land Rights, Globalization, Fundamentalism, Class and Caste Divisions, Militarization, and Strengthening the Women's Movement. Sarojeni Rengam from Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Asia and the Pacific (Malaysia), which is providing the secretariat support for the conference, justifies the wide gamut of issues to be addressed. "We all are here from different regions, so it is a conscious decision to include issues that affect rural women that otherwise gets marginalized. It is essential to provide space on these issues, leading to strategies and collective action," she said.
The harsh realities of globalisation and global mobility of people in search of work will feature strongly. Nova Nelson of CARAM notes, "The disintegration of the rural economy has forced rural women to seek livelihoods through migration. Rural women who are pushed into migration are confronted with the most severe degrees of marginalisation. The ARWC will not only provide a platform for CARAM to engage rural women in addressing their realities in the nexus of globalisation and migration, it will also ensure the development of community oriented solutions". CARAM ASIA focuses on migration, and vulnerabilities to HIV and treats facing migrant workers health.
Shamima Akhtar, a former migrant worker from Bangladesh, adds: "I am here to share solidarity, say no to forced migration of rural women and to reclaim the rural economy to ensure livelihood in our communities."
For P. Logeswary from Sri Lanka, who is leading the largest delegation of 32 minority and plantation women, "the Conference is very important because it provides us a space we otherwise would not have, to voice out our struggles against ethic marginalization; the impacts of the on-going conflict; and our struggles as plantation workers. As women workers we have no rights, we are treated and paid very badly and we suffer terrible health effects from pesticides and other chemicals".
The conference aims to build perspectives, engender unity and solidarity among women and with other movements. It seeks to forge new visions and thinking on feminism, liberation, emancipation and the rural women's perspective on socio-economic liberation and food sovereignty. An organic food festival, films and other cultural presentations from various countries would be part of the programme.
On the International Women's Day, a caravan will weave through the streets from Arakkonam to Sriperumbudur and culminate in a public assembly of ten thousand rural women rallying to reclaim their right to speak out, be heard and be seen.
"The build-up of synergy from this conference will go beyond to develop into symbiotic partnerships that will lead to more intensive debates and discussions on and a better understanding of the women's issues and help bring out the women's agenda much more strongly in future," concludes Rengam.
Contacts for co-organiser
Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP):
Jennifer Mourin, Email: email@example.com
Tel. in India: +91 978 78 12095
Marjo Busto Quinto, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / or email@example.com
Tel. in India: +91 9791866484 (Arakkonam) calls only.