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December 14, 2005: Asia Pacific Peasant Women Denounce the WTO

by Becky Tarbotton

Carmen Buena hasn’t been able to return to her home-village in nearly two years because she fears for her life. Carmen is a sixty year old Phillipina farmer and mother of five children who cultivates two hectares of land that is not her own. After paying for the cost of expensive inputs, and handing over nearly half of her earnings to her landlord, she says that she hardly has enough money to pay for her children’s school supplies. Add to this the almost non-existent government supports for agriculture and a market flooded with cheap food imports and there is hardly any point in farming at all. “Nowadays” says Carmen “life for peasants in the Philippines is very very hard”.

Carmen is also an organizer with the National Federation of Peasant Women in the Philippines and she her this is why her life is threatened. In the past year alone, 200 farmers resisting the unfair distribution of land in the Philippines and have been killed because of their attempts to push for land reform. There is no question for Carmen that her experience as a woman farmer, and the fate of her sisters in the Philippines is directly connected to WTO policies of trade liberalization that are threatening small farmers around the world. “The policies of the WTO have really made life miserable for peasants and we need to expose these things to the world and to the WTO. The voices of peasant women need to be heard”.

Carmen’s story was one of several that was shared today at the Asia Pacific Women’s Village in Victoria Park, an “open space and meeting point for gatherings, dialogues, and rest for women who have come to protest the WTO and trade liberalization.” The village was opened this morning by a circle of women representatives from Thailand, Sri Lanka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, the Philippines, Mongolia, Kurgystan and Bangladesh, singing, dancing and denouncing the WTO in each of their languages. Each morning, for the duration of the Ministerial, women will gather to share stories about how trade liberalization and the WTO has impacted their lives, and what they are doing about it.

Following Carmen Buena, Maggie from India spoke about her group, the Tamil Nadu Dalit Women’s Association, who are fighting to keep their agricultural land from development and are challenging the government’s seed bill that prevents peasant women from saving seeds. A representative from the Tamil Nadu Organic Farmers Movement echoed Maggies’ criticisms of the seed bill and stressed that even the Indian Parliament has little control compared to global institutions such as the IMF, World Bank and WTO that are forcing the government into trade agreements that prevent the government from developing policies to protect it’s own farmers. She went on to remind the gathering, that in the past ten years – since the inception of the WTO – 25,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide and a further 24,000 have died of hunger due to skyrocketing debts.

The commonalities in these three women’s stories was chilling – each telling tales of displacement that in most cases ultimately ends with women farmers being forced off their land and into cities or to other countries to become migrant workers with few rights and no security. The links between the WTO’s agricultural agreements (the Agreement on Agriculture), the proposed deregulation of trade in services (through GATS), the destruction of small farming systems, the death of farmers and the displacement of their families are threads that bind women farmers around world to each other in spite of vast differences in language and culture. But as the first day events at the Asia Pacific Women’s Village drew to a close and the group sat together sewing a quilt made up of patches brought by each women’s delegation bearing slogans such as: “Junk WTO!” and “Don’t Globalize Hunger!” and “Down down WTO!” the smiles, laughter and grace of the gathering reminded us that, in the words of a woman farmer from Tamil Nadu: “With all this energy and support, our journey will continues. It will continue”.

Women’s events during the WTO: The Asia Pacific

Women’s Village is open from 13 – 17th December, 10am to 10pm. Victoria Park, Hong Kong. Each day will open with an hour of stories from women. A Women’s Tribunal will be held on December 16th from 9am to 3pm at the Boys and Girls Club, 3, Lockhart, Wanchai, HK, followed by the Women in Purple March against the WTO, meeting just following the Tribunal.

Contacts: The Asia Pacific Women’s Village is organized by the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development: