Feminism without borders

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The EP wants to include a gender equality chapter in future and existing trade agreements. [Shutterstock]

One week ahead of International Women’s Day, Ángela Vallina writes about the need for a “feminism without borders” so that we can learn from each other’s struggles and bring about meaningful change for the next generation of girls in rural areas.

GUE/NGL MEP Ángela Vallina (Izquierda Unida, Spain) is the co-rapporteur on the European Parliament recommendation to the Council on the EU priorities for the 62nd session of the UN Commission on Women to be voted in plenary on Thursday, 1 March 2018.

Inés Condori was one of the estimated 270,000 indigenous women forcefully sterilised by the government of Alberto Fujimori in Peru between 1995 and 2001. On a recent trip to Peru, I met with indigenous rural women who, like Condori, have been fighting for reparations for these atrocities.

I could not but be inspired by their strength and determination in the face of decades of government failure to deliver the justice they deserve.

Condori had just given birth to her fourth child in 1995 when she went to the hospital for a check-up. She travelled for several hours from her remote village to the south-eastern city of Cusco. She remembers seeing several women lying on the hospital floor, some screaming and vomiting.  She wanted to escape.

The hospital staff gave her an anaesthetic with a promise that after she would be “young again”. The next thing she remembers is waking up in excruciating pain that lasted for a year. Her stomach had been stitched. She still doesn’t know exactly what they did to her, but that day changed her life.

Condori lost her income. She could no longer work the fields to support her family. At one point her family could not even afford to eat. Many of the women who were forcefully sterilised were abandoned by their husbands and ostracised by their communities because they were considered unproductive, unable to bear children or fit for work.  

In 2014, Fujimori and three of his health ministers were acquitted of any blame for Peru’s forced sterilisation programme that targeted rural indigenous women. Subsequent governments and the international community have all failed to bring accountability to those responsible for the crimes against humanity.

Current Peruvian President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski pardoned Fujimori at the end of last year. While citing ‘humanitarian reasons’, he completely ignored the real humanitarian considerations of his victims who are still waiting for truth, justice, and reparations.   

The inhumanity of the actions against them, the impunity for the crimes, is a reality for so many rural and indigenous women from around the world. This month I am travelling to New York for the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women, which will focus on gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls. As a representative of the European Parliament, I want to see a radical shift in policies and societal attitudes towards rural women. Like in Peru, rural women are at the forefront of this global struggle.

Seventy-eight percent of the world’s poor live in rural areas, and women suffer disproportionately from poverty. Land is one of the most valuable assets in rural areas but women still do not have equal legal rights to land ownership in many countries.

The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals acknowledge the importance of property rights for women, especially in rural areas. Yet there are many barriers to land ownership, particularly for indigenous women who are often the target of deliberate discriminatory state policies like those of the Fujimori government in Peru.

These include weak laws or lack of implementation, patriarchy, customs and traditions that vary from country to country and even town to town. Land ownership can help women take control over their lives and be a vehicle for greater female involvement in decision-making. Likewise, women should have equal inheritance rights, equal access to means of production, land, water, and seeds. This could be key to their economic empowerment.

Another issue that must be tackled is universal access to public services in rural areas. When resources are lacking, men are often prioritised over women for access to services like health and education. Forced to travel longer distances for services, women face high costs and dangers, as Condori’s case shows.

These difficulties may result in higher mortality rates for women, especially maternal mortality and lower levels of education. Every day, approximately 830 women die from preventable causes related to pregnancy and childbirth, this is simply unacceptable.

Underpinning all of this is the issue of justice for rural women. I want to make sure that their struggle for justice has centre stage in New York. The compound effect of deprivation faced by women in rural areas is often translated into increased violence against them, both within their communities and from the state.

Sexual violence against women and girls in rural areas continues to be a serious problem, with perpetrators escaping justice simply because the victims are women. In Peru, despite the Humala government declaring forced sterilisations an issue of national interest in 2015, the perpetrators still walk free

But change is possible. Throughout the world, women in rural areas continue to fight for justice and for equality. To gain inspiration, I and my colleagues at the GUE/NGL group are hosting the 2018 Feminist Forum at the European Parliament (6-8 March).

As part of the week-long programme, and ahead of the 62nd Commission on the Status of Women, we will have the honour of welcoming Inés Condori and hearing directly from her and other women leaders about their stories of struggle.

We all have a lot to learn from each other if we are to banish the horrors of the past, bring about meaningful change for the next generation of girls in rural areas, and unite our struggles for a feminism without borders.