October 15 World Rural Women's Day
but who's celebrating?
In 1995, during the 4th World Conference of Women in Beijing, the World Rural Women's Day was launched. Since then, October 15 is celebrated as World Rural Women's Day.
A decade after, who is celebrating?
Not the wives, mothers and daughters of those activists and community organizers who have been victims of political killings under the Arroyo government in the Philippines. Nor those women human rights defenders working in the communities who are living a life of uncertainty of when and where their own death would come.
Not those whose husbands, sons and fathers have been bombed away in the unabated violence in the south of Thailand, as militarist solutions have been employed by then growing authoritarian government of Thaksin, and now the so-called civilian government of General Surayud.
Not those whose husbands have taken their own lives out of poverty and desperation in the farms of India, even as the country claims victory points in globalisation. Nor those whose mothers have committed self-immolation, dying with empty stomachs and hopeless hearts.
Not even those who are still living in tents a year after the deadly October 8 earthquake broke the grounds of Kashmir, swallowing up their loved ones, their homes, their livelihoods; and are kept waiting for promises of better conditions to be fulfilled. Nor those young girls who have been married off to spare them from the unlivable lives in the camps.
Not those who are constantly running away from the military junta of Burma – crossing borders, crossing lines of life and death. Nor those who managed to cross neighboring Thailand, as they face constant threats and harassment from the different agencies of the Thai government.
Not the rural women who are now in the cities of foreign land, toiling their days and nights as caregivers of children and elderly, while worrying about and missing their own.
These are the profiles of the rural women in our region. And I don't see them celebrating.
But on the occasion of the World Rural Women's Day, international NGOs come out with an open letter to the Rural Women of the World – which they cannot read, as they are occupied with their lives and their deaths. Posters are printed with their faces, celebrating rural women's contribution in food production, in caring of the earth, in nurturing life; rural women as subjects of glossy papers, of matt prints, of thought-provoking discourse. Rural women, almost always the subject, almost never the main voice.
Let us shut up for a change and listen.
Hear their solid voices as they shout and whisper the chants of struggle – for change, for life, for freedom. See them with clenched fists, marching feet, loving arms. With fear in their hearts, but determination in their veins, they are organizing themselves as a collective force. Still with empty stomachs, but with hunger for justice; with anger in their eyes and resolve in every step that change can and will happen, they live their lives, and act on their dreams.
With them we work towards the end of all killings – killing of hope, of beauty, of life.
Together we give birth to a new world of life, of beauty and hope.
Then we celebrate – their victory, our victory.
(photos by judy p)