Coronavirus can’t stop our activism and fight for trade and economic justice
The Women Studies and Resource Centre (WSRC)
The Women Studies and Resource Centre in the Philippines has been organising with women workers in Mindanao to hold corporations accountable to International Labor Standards, and other existing UN agreements and protocols on human rights, economic justice and social justice. Using the body clock exercise provided during the 2nd WITCH FPAR training, women union workers of SUMIFRU shared their life experiences of working from 12 to 20 hours a day with little time left for families while never having been recognised as regular workers. The wages that they receive did not even compensate their hours of laborious work and were provided just for the workers to feed themselves to have enough energy to get back to work the next day. Coronavirus has added other layers of hardship on these women. After 6 months of community lockdown, costs of living, burdens of care work, stress, as well as government’s repression have all increased. WSRC researcher said that “Behind the all-smile faces are the strong determination to fight against unfair labour practices and contractualisation. They continue to stand and fight not only for themselves and their families but for all the workers.”
As a food sovereignty group of the Korea Women Farmers’ Association (KWFA), Sisters Garden has been focusing their FPAR on understanding, documenting and investigating the impact of currently dominant trade system of neoliberal policies and transnational corporations-controlled food distribution system on women, particularly peasant women and alternative solution such as sustainable agroecology, food/seed sovereignty and rural communities. The pandemic has created ups and downs for the organisation and community. For example, researchers based on Seoul have not been able to meet with the communities in Uiseong regularly, while communications have moved online with group chats and webinars. Moreover, at the collectively-used land, due to COVID-19 restrictions, group activities have been interrupted and discouraging comparing to individual ones, leading to concerns over motivation. The initiative from members to keep the spirit up is planting indigenous soybeans, meet up in regular bases and organising fundraising activity to support marginalised women in the community.
Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT)
Pakistan Kissan Mazdoor Tehreek (PKMT) is a mass-based alliance of small and landless farmers including women farmers. Through this FPAR, they have been closely monitoring the extensive corporatization and trade liberalization in the milk sector in Pakistan, particularly in the Punjab province and its impact on women as livestock caregivers, especially for milk collection. Many visits and activities were planned but they had to be either deferred or cancelled due to the pandemic. Despite the circumstances, extensive community engagement happened in September and October, particularly on the International Day of Rural Women. The researcher, Ayman, was infected and recovered from COVID-19 herself but has continued working right after. In the FPAR community in Ada Shabil or Dhaku, local transmission had not been serious, but women’s livelihoods have been severely affected, with income halving for most of them during the pandemic. From group discussions during community visits, it has been found that the community in Ada Shabil who have access to land were able to harvest wheat and store it or exchange it for other commodities and feed their families more easily, while the group in Dhaku struggled to find enough agricultural work to sustain themselves; inability to find work during the wheat harvest has huge repercussions for food security. However, the importance of livestock in the rural context can be understood from the fact that women from Dhaku depended exclusively on milk sales when there were no alternative avenues of income. Despite restriction from the pandemic response policy, the women’s interest in joining the FPAR has remained high despite all the challenges. In the face of hardships and potential loss of livelihood due to the implementation of pure food laws in the country, milk sellers are exploring ways to join or create a union. During the Covid crisis, it has become ever more crucial that women farmers and agricultural workers have access to and ownership of productive resources that ensure food security and decent livelihood.
Gabriela Youth has been working with the people of Tondo in Manila to demand decent and affordable housing in the face of mass demolishment of their community and displacement in this FPAR journey. COVID response policies in the Philippines have been militarized with high levels of surveillance. Consequently, the community struggles to overcome the difficulties of losing their daily livelihood; our researcher and mentor have to navigate on top of pandemic-induced travel difficulties. She has been staying with the community, who have taken her in with open arms. Sometimes, when women are too tied up with household chores to join meetings, she shares some of the burdens before going ahead to the meetings with them. While lobbying, picket dialogues and other forms of mobilisations were limited due to the strict community quarantine protocols, the local women leaders still actively looked for opportunities for political engagement.