8 March 2008/Tamil Nadu-The first ever Asian Rural Women's Conference came to a successful conclusion with bang as participants traveled in vans, buses and lorries on the Women's Caravan through the main highway to Chennai. Vibrantly decorated vehicles carried international and local delegates who chanted slogans and calls for women's rights, liberation and empowerment to curious passersby, who were given pamphlets about the issues raised at the conference.
The Women's Caravan significantly traveled along the main arrears where land had been taken away from the people to facilitate the setting up and expansion of special economic zones (SEZs). These zones have been fast emerging all over India, where mostly foreign companies were provided all kinds of facilities to run their operations, making huge profits while many of the local Indian population faced forced evictions off the land and denied the right to grow their own food; and landless labourers and farmers were denied access and rights to land and other resources. Special stops were made at the site of three major TNCs: the Motorola 'junction', glass making firm Saint Gobain, and Nokia.
Estrelita "Ka Lita" Mariano, of the Philippines Women Peasants group AMIHAN, told workers and passersby that, "We are here supporting the struggle of the farmers against multinational corporations like Motorola. These corporations should not grab the land of Indian farmers, because these are the lands where the poor grow many crops for their living". Calling out her solidarity message, 'Ka Lita' asserted that, "By taking away their lands, the transnational Corporations are taking away the roles of the women by preventing their access to land and resources".
For those still able to hold on to land came a cautionary and hopeful message from Thailand. Ms Kalasin of the Alternative Agriculture Network, Thailand stated that, "The women of north east Thailand have been evicted from their farms by dependency and indebtedness, due to costly inputs such as pesticides. So now, Thai women are developing alternative farming by completely stopping the use of pesticides!"
The injustice of low wages and poor treatment of domestic and migrant women workers was raised by Juliet Lee of the Committee on Asian Women (CAW), "You think that China is better off. However the situation of labour and labourers in our country is not better but quite bad, particularly women labourers. We earn less than the minimum wages. We have no job security and our situation is very weak. We want our government to reform labour laws and give us our rights".
The Women's Caravan culminated in short March and public Rally in Sri Perampudur town. International delegates called out slogans and chanted calls for justice, rights, peace, an end to violence against women, and liberation.
Over 7,000 local women from all over Tamil Nadu came together to greet the international delegates who joined them in this historical gathering.
Fatima Babu, activist from the rural fisherfolk community, warmly welcomed the international guests from 21 countries. She stressed the need for political changes to improve the situation facing rural women, and called on women to struggle for better policies related to their rights. Malathi Maitri called for the end of violence against women, and challenged all present to fight against all forms of violence that women still faced. She also commented that SEZs were a form of violence to women's ability to survive, to make a livelihood, and feed their children. Facing similar forms of discrimination as dalit women, the Boroko League Sisters of Japan, called out their solidarity to, "Live together and fight together! Liberation of the women!"
World renowned activist and writer, Kamla Bhasin, roused the crowd, "We are very lucky that today we are celebrating the real International Women's Day. So, please show your solidarity and unity by a big clap. Today let us remember our foremothers and forefathers on whose shoulders we stand today; and rededicate ourselves to justice, equality and peace. Today, let us re-dedicate ourselves that we will not forget our duties and responsibilities and that we care continue to care and nurture the mother nature". She also reiterated a strongly felt vote of thanks to the local organisers, "I wish to congratulate the women of Tamil Nadu who have hosted the first Asian Rural Women Conference - Tamil Nadu Women's Forum, Tamil Nadu Dalit Women's Forum, SRED and the women of Tamil Nadu. As Indians and as Asians we are proud of you!"
Sarojeni Rengam, Executive Director of the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Asia and the Pacific wrapped the inspirational evening by sharing the Asian Rural Women's Declaration. ###
Contacts for co-organiser
Pesticide Action Network (PAN) Asia and the Pacific:
Marjo Busto Quinto, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / or email@example.com
Tel. in India: +91 9791866484 (Arakkonam) calls only.