World Rainforest Movement

Brazil: For whom and why do women struggle?

What is happiness? We can find many answers and we may even consider that being happy is a strictly personal matter. However, at least two aspects of happiness are universal: we all want it and it would be hard to find someone who could declare him/herself happy when confronting hunger, homelessness or when lacking access to the knowledge constructed and accumulated by humanity.  

How are we in terms of the ‘happiness index? From the standpoint of being a woman, poor, very poor. From the standpoint of being peasants and working women, very poor. From the standpoint of being mothers, poor. 

Poor, why?

In the home, domestic chores are still considered “feminine tasks,” while men who say to have already overcome male chauvinism “help out,” but do not take on these chores as their own. Attributes commonly assigned to women are used to discredit and belittle people, for instance as in some of the sayings of football fans. To be a “little woman” is to be nothing, it is to be a slave, an object.

To be a mother is not only to “suffer in paradise.” Very few work places, schools and public and private spaces have child care centres so that mothers can effectively be in activity, whatever this may be. On looking for a job, the question “do you have children?” can be the beginning of ruling you out. In general the individualism that has been so cultivated in modern times does not recognize children as a collective responsibility, as persons whose welfare must interest everyone. Children are uniquely their mother’s responsibility. 

As workers we still receive less for the same work outside the home. Many heads and bosses also consider women workers as sexual objects. And as peasant women, we suffer directly from the negative impacts of the advance of capitalism on rural areas, in the way of proceeding of transnational agribusiness companies.

In addition to all this, we are subjected to violence every day and, what is even sadder, with a high rate of this violence practiced by fathers, husbands, sons, uncles, grandfathers…that is to say, violence born inside the family. 

Let us go back to the issue of peasant women. It might seem that a “natural” course of human development is for trades to disappear, as with the Industrial Revolution, so the disappearance of peasant women would also be “natural” as “modernity” advances in rural areas. It might also seem that city inhabitants have nothing in common with what happens out in the countryside, such as the violence of agribusiness companies against peasant women and men. 

Considering what we eat, we can see two options in the cities: “industrialized” food and “natural” food. By industrialized food we refer to the fast-food chains and ready-made meals produced by Bunge and other corporations. By natural food we are talking of milk, cereals, fruit, vegetables, and so on, 60-80% of which are produced by peasant women and men. 

The effects of both food options are there to see. High obesity, cancer, suicide, and depression rates and a wide variety of illnesses based on McDonald type diets.  We never hear about people getting ill from eating healthy food produced by peasants.  

For this reason, the task of producing food which is essential for the happiness of any person cannot be a business and, throughout history, peasant women have been protagonists in guaranteeing food for all. 

The business of transnational companies such as Monsanto, Syngenta, Nestlé, Bayer, Cargill, Dupont, Basf, is not to produce food, but to produce profit. Along this eternal profit-seeking path, they are trying to exterminate peasants. And those first hit are peasant women. 

Where agribusiness advances, peasants retreat. The few remaining jobs are held by poorly paid and much exploited men. For women the alternatives are to migrate to the cities, remain at home, in total dependence or to become prostitutes.

For society as a whole, this means fewer jobs, less food, less housing and more violence. What happiness can this model build, if even the pride of knowing and being able to produce food and peasant identity, inherited and perfected by each generation, can be stolen by agribusiness companies?

When a company patents a seed – an asset of the peoples that should be at the service of humanity – it is stealing the knowledge built up over time by peasant women and men.  

In various regions of Brazil, pulp mill companies are expanding their green eucalyptus deserts. In Bahia, in Espiritu Santo, in Maranhão, in Rio Grande do Sul, Stora Enso, Votorantin/Fíbria, Suzano, are evicting indigenous peoples, Afro-descendent people, peasant men and women from their lands and installing their cloned armies, under the form of eucalyptus trees and under the form of soldiers. 

We, peasant women, indigenous women, black women, women from the Landless Movement and Via Campesina, are rising up against the transnational companies’ death project.  On this 8th of March we are reaffirming our struggle because 8 March is a day for roses, but it is still a day to continue struggling, to topple down eucalyptus trees and the hunger they represent.  

We proclaimed in our manifesto that “It is not only food that we want, we want healthy food, we want food sovereignty!” In Brazil, according to research carried out by the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), 80% of the people without access to income are women. Changing this situation involves building up food sovereignty.

What is Food Sovereignty? It means that the people – women, men, young people, senior citizens – decide what they want in their food and it means being able to produce and consume healthy food in the necessary amount and in accordance with their culture.  Food sovereignty implies a cultural transformation, in which new relationships between people are contemplated. 

Some people attempt to disqualify our struggles, calling us delinquents and ignoramuses, they compare us to those who acted by destroying machines when the blood of textile workers started to be shed during the Industrial Revolution.

What is our crime? Cutting down eucalyptus trees to plant food? Preventing collective assets from being stolen, such as seeds, rejecting patented transgenic seeds? Proposing to build a society with bread, water, air, education for all? Is this the crime and the ignorance?

In order to build food sovereignty, we need to fight against agribusiness and the encroachment of the green eucalyptus desert. Food sovereignty is the basis of the happiness of peoples, as it implies abundant, healthy and accessible food and new relationships between people and between people and the environment.

Men, you need to bear in mind that a woman who lives with and who struggles next to a man who declares himself “machista”, is like a slave living with someone who declares him/herself to be pro-slavery. What kind of a relationship of equality and respect can exist in such a situation? 

When we struggle for a new society, with food sovereignty, we struggle for our personal and collective happiness. On International Working Woman’s Day we continue to struggle for food, but it is not only food we want, we want food sovereignty, we want to enjoy a happy life in our countryside.

By Janaina Stronzake, MST de Rio Grande do Sul, e-mail: