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…from the Human Rights Instruments

17 (1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.

17 (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

(Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 17)

1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favorable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment

2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.

4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests. (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 23)

Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

(Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Art. 24)

The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to guarantee that the rights enunciated in the present Covenant will be exercised without discrimination of any kind as to race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

(International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Part II, Art. 2, para. 2)

The States Parties to the present Covenant undertake to ensure the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all economic, social and cultural rights set forth in the present Covenant.

(International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Part II, Art. 3)

1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right to work, which includes the right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts, and will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right.

(International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Part III, Art. 6, para. 1)

The States to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favorable conditions of work ...

(International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Part III, Art. 7)

2. Special protection should be accorded to mothers during a reasonable period before and after childbirth. During such period working mothers should be accorded paid leave or leave with adequate social security benefits.

(International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Part III, Art. 10, para. 2)

The steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present Covenant to achieve the full realization of this right shall include those necessary for:

(a) The provision for the reduction of the still-birth rate and of infant mortality and for the healthy development of the child;

(b) The improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene;

(c) The prevention, treatment and control of epidemic, endemic, occupational and other diseases;

(d) The creation of conditions which would assure to all medical service and medical attention in the event of sickness.

(International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Pt III, Art. 12, para. 1 and 2a, 2b, 2c, 2d)

States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment...The right to the same employment opportunities, including the application of the same criteria for selection in matters of employment...The right to equal remuneration, including benefits, and to equal treatment in respect of work of equal value, as well as equality of treatment in the evaluation of the quality of work...

(Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Part III, Art. 11)

States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in other areas of economic and social life in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights...

(Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Part III, Art. 13)

Discrimination in education and training, hiring and remuneration, promotion and horizontal mobility practices, as well as inflexible working conditions, lack of access to productive resources and inadequate sharing of family responsibilities, combined with a lack of or insufficient services such as child care, continue to restrict employment, economic, professional and other opportunities and mobility for women and make their involvement stressful. Moreover, attitudinal obstacles inhibit women's participation in developing economic policy and in some regions restrict the access of women and girls to education and training for economic management.

(Beijing Platform for Action, ch. IV, para. 152)

Insufficient attention to gender analysis has meant that women's contributions and concerns remain too often ignored in economic structures, such as financial markets and institutions, labor markets, economics as an academic discipline, economic and social infrastructure, taxation and social security systems, as well as in families and households. As a result, many policies and programmes may continue to contribute to inequalities between women and men. Where progress has been made in integrating gender perspectives, programme and policy effectiveness has also been enhanced.

(Beijing Platform for Action, ch.IV, para. 155)



From the very beginning of international human rights standard setting, theUnited Nations recognized that economic equity was intrinsic to a just and peaceful society. Review the extracts quoted above from some of the relevant international human rights documents:

What seem to be the principles guiding the international standards on economic rights?

What is the progression from the UDHR to the BPFA in the content of ‘economic rights’ ?

Which of these rights do women enjoy in your country? do all women enjoy these rights? do all men enjoy these rights?

Is the economic system in your country conducive to equality and economic justice?

How are these economic rights served by the current world economic system?

What economic roles do women play in your country and community?

Do women have equal access to jobs?

Do women and men receive equal pay for equal work?

If there are inequalities, what are they? inquire about the reasons given for them.

Disappearing Women : the Marginalization of Women’s Work

In the 18th century, a group of French writers wrote a book that was intended to give a full scientific picture of the world at the time, with a particular emphasis on technical and economic aspects. Their book , the Encyclopedie , 33 volumes published over a period of 20 years, included 11 volumes of plates and illustrations, and was very influential.

Two centuries later, some scholars started noticing an interesting fact: In the early volumes of the Encyclopedie, one saw women working, side by side with men, at a broad range of farming and industrial activities. They were ‘part of the landscape’. In later editions, the women farmers, brickmakers, miners, metalworkers had vanished from the illustrations: occupations which had been performed by both men and women were now represented as ‘manly’ occupations. Women’s roles as mothers and wives were ‘taken inside’ their houses, and obscured their ‘outside’ roles as farmers, craftswomen, businesswomen. In effect, that ‘authoritative’, and justly respected, description of the early industrial world made the women virtually invisible . The image of women in the West became dominated by their ‘private’ functions. Simultaneously, now that it was defined as ‘private’ , women’s work as housewives and caretakers for their families and local communities fell off the charts.

In reality, of course, the women didn’t stop performing those jobs, and women’s work never stopped representing a sizable contribution to the world’s wealth. In fact, in the modern world, not only women, but children too, have often worked grueling schedules alongside men, and it is only since the late 19th century that attention began to bear on women’s double workshift. But some areas of work were gradually closed off from women altogether. In most European countries, women were blocked from training and certification for the most prestigious ‘male’ professions, especially if they involved new technologies.

But in country after country, women’s labor in farms and factories was an integral part of the economy, and in times of war they kept things going. Women rebuilt German and Russian cities ravaged by World War II. For the past century or so, women civil servants have staffed administrations and women teachers have taught the young.


Colonial governments, took the invisibility of women to an extreme, with the systematic disregard or destruction by colonial administrations of indigenous women’s economies, business networks and decision making bodies, often favoring the patriarchal (supposedly ‘traditional’) interpretation of indigenous institutions in the name of legal simplification. Over the past century, African, Asian, Latin American women have responded and continue to respond with impassioned militancy to the destruction of their livelihoods, just as European women had done in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Accounting for Women’s Work

The growing importance of statistics in the service of the modern nation-states speeded up the ‘vanishing’ of women from economic thinking, except as consumers of goods. One of the main purposes of establishing statistics is to facilitate the collection of taxes and the organization of commerce, therefore, work only counts if it can be assigned monetary value . Work performed at home, or ‘for free’, has remained unaccounted for, including many essential functions without which daily life would come to a standstill. Although this blindness most notably affects women’s work, the same blindness operates when it comes to assigning value to the ‘caring’ areas of social life: education, health, the support of the ‘non-productive’ members of society, or what is called the ‘informal economy’.

Over the years, women have repeatedly called for a true accounting of their ‘worth’ . One of them has been the writer and sheep farmer Marilyn Waring, whose book Counting for Nothing argued for the urgency of rethinking basic economic concepts such as gross domestic products in ways that take human rights and community well-being into account. As an activist, her focus has increasingly been on using human rights instruments in such a way as to assist women’s visibility. Unlike others, however, she warns against the impulse to give ‘market-value’ to activities.


There is a fundamental question in economics about what we value and how we value it. If you ask people what they value most in life... it's (usually) something that can't be bought. Yet if we believe in a strict ‘economic’ evaluation... market pressure (is what) determines value.


In Alberta, you've gone through a rough period where government services have been cut and the responsibility for continuing to carry out a lot of services has devolved to the "community." We know that "community" is usually mom or daughter or aunty or neighbour or some other woman who already works 16 to 18 hours a day. Sometimes she's in the paid work force; sometimes not. There's been no investigation in Alberta into whether quality care or quality servicing can go on in this devolution. There's no investigation about the training or the time available to these people. They are just supposed to take over.

[...] The most important question is not what is the market value of the work they are doing, but do they have time to do it? What inputs do they need in order to do the work adequately? Is it laundry services? Is it domiciliary nursing services? Is it some kind of transport subsidies? Do they need to know how to get dietary instruction to be able to cook special food?

Cathy Cavanaugh– interview of Marilyn Waring Athabasca University, Jan. 1998 http://aurora.icaap.org/talks/waring.htm.

In truth, all work, whether productive work, ‘caring work, or community work , no matter how it is done, no matter how it is paid, is a mixture of ‘public’ and ‘private’ , the meeting place of a complex range of economic, political, cultural and personal factors. The one-sided valuation of women’s work and ‘community’ work is part of a pathological value system that reduces everything to an abstract market value independently of its effects in real lives. It is a world in which making and storing nuclear bombs is’ good for the national economy’ and in which proposals to trade ‘pollution permits’ at the Kyoto Climate Summit could be seen as progress?

One of the organizers of the March of Women 2000, Cecile Sabourin puts it most clearly:

Recognizing women's contribution to the creation of societies' wealth and well-being implies a shift in economic perspective Economic theory, be it liberal, Keynesian or Marxist, defines the economy as that which has a price, a monetary consideration and a trade value. Domestic production is not counted in the evaluation of wealth production, although, depending on the country, it represents from 30%-70% of the gross domestic product (GDP). Domestic activities mostly assumed by women form what some people call the "social capital" of a society, in other words, the strength and quality of the social fabric.

Paradoxically, the potential for socio-economic development depends mainly on non-monetary activities, where production is not driven by the requirement to maximize profits or accumulate capital. Obviously, a minimum level of trust, civility and reciprocity-learned in the social context of family and friends-is crucial to commercial production and trade. Producers of wealth and what is commonly known as the "market" draw on this particular asset that is the "social bond" as if it was an inexhaustible resource, with no price or cost attached. This ignorance of the fundamental role played by the non-market economy in development contributes to rendering invisible and devaluing a large part of women's work in society, to the point of keeping it out of official statistics.

A reappraisal of current forms of production and wealth distribution implies a simultaneous critique of all socio-economic spheres: market, non-market and unpaid

(source: Cécile Sabourin Introduction to Women and Economy Workshop Socio-economy of Solidarity Workgroup of the Alliance for a Responsible,Plural and United World Montreal 7/2000


This question has become especially acute due to the last ten or so years of ‘privatization’.

The growth of Western economies resulted in ‘caring’ activities being transferred to the public sphere: they became services, provided by public institutions. This tendency took off in full force after World War II, and spread to other parts of the world also.

During the last fifteen years, there has been a major restructuring of social services. Services delivered or financed by public authorities are now judged too ‘unproductive’, or too expensive, and responsibility for providing them is shifted back to individual or local communities. The most creative of women’s initiatives during those last fifteen years have been in these areas. The ‘social tissue’ of solidarity and mutuality had been absorbed by the state. It is now in danger of being hopelessly destroyed by global economic and financial forces that see no use in solidarity and mutuality.

In the process of this forced re-thinking of the value of ‘social’ work, the value of all women’s work, and ultimately of men’s work also is being forced into the open.


1. Have members of your group keep diaries of the work they do. How long these diaries are kept will depend on each group; the longer they are kept, the more fruitful they will be. But even when kept for a brief period, such a diary will provide a sense of perspective about the dimensions , varieties and interactions of individual contributions to collective wealth.

At the end of each day, make a list of activities, indicating what was done;

how much time was spend doing it;

whether the work was paid or unpaid;

who benefited from that work;

what was the nature of the payment (cash? barter? wage? salary?‘psychic income’?)

what was needed to do the work: supplies, training, other people’s help, time

if unpaid work, what would it cost to have someone else do the work?

do you think this is a relevant consideration?

is your work‘saving money’ for the household?

if another person did the job, would you give them fair pay?

do other people help you?

does your work rely in other people’s ‘invisible’ work? what was its value?

2. Men’s Work, Women’s Work, Children’s Work, Old People’s Work

what kinds of work do women do in your community?

list jobs held by women- are they paid at the same rate as men, if they do the same job?

are there clear distinctions between men’s work and women’s work?

what are the criteria for men’s work and women’s work?

what kind of work do women do ‘for free’?

what kind of work do men do ‘for free’?

what kind of work do children and old people do?

what kind of work do people cooperate for?

3. Should housekeeping, childcare and the care of the sick and elderly be remunerated?

If not fully remunerated, should they be subsidized?

Does your society provide economic assistance for home makers and care givers?

If so, is it adequate? Are these economic functions undervalued because they are women’s work?

4. Make a ‘tree’ of women in your family and related families, indicating what you know about their work history. If you can, write or tell their stories: paid work, volunteer work, union struggles, the Great Depression, wars and migrations.

What Do Women Do ? The Global Workforce at a glance

Today, women in advanced market economies own more than 25% of all businesses... Estimates indicate that from 1998-1999, women created 10% of all new enterprises in North Africa, 33% of new enterprise in North America and 40% in the former East Germany...Between 65% and 90% of part time workers in industrialized countries are women... 20% to 25% of entrepreneurs in post-socialist countries are women... in Germany, 70% of those females were married, in the Netherlands 80%, and in Bangladesh 90%...

In 1999, women constituted 52.4% of the economically active population in Belarus, a higher percentage than in 1997 or 1998....Brazil, according to the 1996 data for population aged 15-65, labor force participation for women constituted 54.9%, with the most significant representation in southern regions (61.2%). Canada Women are now starting businesses at twice the rate of men, with women starting half of all new businesses. Women own 1/3 of small- and medium-sized businesses. In 1997, women created more jobs than Canada's top 100 companies...The number of women employed in science and high technology occupations increased by 48% between 1991 and 1996... In 1996, women accounted for just over 50% of Finland's 1.79 million employees and for 32% of the total number of entrepreneurs and self-employed workers. They dominated the health and welfare fields, 89.1% of all employees in these fields were women. Women were least represented in engineering and manufacturing... In France 70% of women entrepreneurs take over a family business or have a family member who was previously involved in a business.... Since 1990, women in the new German Länder have been responsible for the creation of one-third of new firms, representing one million jobs and $15 billion turnover per year... 49.5% of women in Hong Kong are active labor force participants in the economy. Women have started more than 40% of all businesses in Hungary since 1990..More than 30% of Iran's jobs in the government sector are occupied by women. 46% are involved in the service sector 35% are involved in industry... 17% are involved in agriculture... 28.3% of Iran's general physicians are women and 20.8% of Iran's medical specialists are women... In Italy, 56.6% of women free lancers, 48% of women professionals and 49.4% of women entrepreneurs are concentrated in the fields of commerce, tourism, and company services...Women in Mali are entrepreneurial: about 80% of Malian women are involved in business, most of it still at the micro level... Women in Nigeria are very entrepreneurial both in manufacturing and in micro-credit. A woman (Ndi Okerekie-Onyiuke) heads the Nigerian Stock Exchange... In 1999, women-owned businesses accounted for 27%, or roughly 31,000 of Scotland's total VAT registered businesses... At least 80% of all of the Persian Carpets made in Iran, one of the country's biggest exports, are produced by women and young girls... Until recently, Armenian women hsd virtual monopolies on the fields of information processing and business management...The Filipino diaspora, of which women are a majority, remits at least 10 billion dollars a year, which is used to pay debts, buy land, feed and educate families... In Sri Lanka, the maids' remittances are the country's second largest source of foreign exchange. There are an estimated 75,000 Sri Lankan maids working in the United Arab Emirates alone...

Rural women, represent more than a quarter of the total world population. Women constitute 75% of the agricultural labor force in Kenya and play a key role in farm management.Women play a major role in El Salvador's agriculture; it is estimated that up to 60% households headed by women in some areas of the country. Globally, women are food producers; they are the subsistence farmers growing food for immediate family consumption. women play a critical role in the production of food for the household, in post-harvest activities, in livestock care, and increasingly, in cash cropping..Women in Uganda constitute 70-80% of the agricultural labor force, but only 30% have access to land of their own and control over its proceeds.

Agribusiness is a leading employer of women in developing countries. Women generally receive lower wages than men for similar work or find that their employers often give their earnings to the male head of the household.

In 1993, approximately 40% of all private agricultural land in the United States was

owned solely by women. In 1998, women operated 145,200 farms, about 7.5% of the US total. The average size of these farms was 309 acres. Average age of a female farm operator in the US 58 years... 78% of women operators were full owners of their farms.

In British Columbia, Canada, approximately 35% of all farm operators were women.



In 1997, women employed around the world in industry and services typically earned 78% of what men in the same sector earned, the proportions worldwide a range between 53% and 97%....

Between 65% and 90% of part time workers in industrialized countries are women.

Women represent 40% of the world's labor force but their share of management jobs rarely exceeds 20%.

In both developed and developing countries, women work 35 hours more than men every week.

Only 5% of all agricultural extension resources worldwide are directed towards women.

(excerpted from: The Global Workforce http://www.ewowfacts.com/wowfacts/chap15.html.)


Women Feed the World

68. Rural women are of critical importance in agricultural production and in the rural

economies of developing countries, playing through a multiplicity of roles: co-farmers or

unpaid family workers on farms or small enterprises owned by the head of the household or other family members; own-account farmers; and/or entrepreneurs in the informal sector. Rural women also work full-time or part-time on large farms and plantations as wage labourers. They also contribute to the subsistence of the household by organizing community-based informal labour- and resource-exchange groups among themselves.

69. In sub-Saharan Africa, women contribute an average of 70 per cent of the total labour expended in food production for the household and for trade. Their contribution ranges from 30 per cent in Sudan to 80 per cent in the Congo. The proportion of women in the economically active labour force in agriculture ranges from 48 per cent in Burkina Faso to 73 per cent in the Congo[...]

70. In Asia, there are considerable variations by country but, overall, women account for some 50 per cent of agricultural production. They constitute approximately 46 per cent of the agricultural labour force in Bangladesh, Nepal and the Philippines, 35 per cent in Malaysia, 54 per cent in Indonesia, and over 60 per cent in Thailand... Asia has experienced a steady increase in female employment in the manufacturing sector since the process of export-led industrialization began. It is not very clear what the impact of the current financial crisis will be on employment patterns in the manufacturing sector and therefore on the extent to which retrenched female labour will revert to the agricultural sector.

71. In the Pacific, women play a dominant role in fisheries and food marketing as well as in the labour-intensive processing of cash crops such as palm oil, copra, coconut oil, vanilla, coffee and cocoa. In Papua New Guinea women make up 71 per cent of the agricultural labour force; in Fiji they constitute about 38 per cent.

72. In most countries of the Middle East and North Africa, women as part of the household labour force play a major role in agriculture. For example, 55.3 per cent of unpaid agricultural labour in Turkey is performed by women; the figure is 53.2 per cent in Morocco, 50.7 per cent in Egypt, 40.7 per cent in Lebanon, 30.7 per cent in Iraq, and 28 per cent in Mauritania.

73. In Latin America and the Caribbean, women contribute an average of 40 per cent to the process of agricultural production, and they are also increasingly employed in the

production of non-traditional export crops.


Improvement of the situation of women in rural areas Report of the Secretary-General

Economic and Social Council Substantive session of 1999

United Nations Distr. GENERAL A/54/123, E/1999/66 7 June 1999


Getting Access to Dwindling Resources

Against these numbers, which suggest women’s sizable contribution to the world’s economies, we need to place the image of great instability together with shrinking access to the resources needed to preserve autonomy, not to mention thriving. Urbanization, deforestation, the pollution of soils, waters and air by industrial activities (including industrialized farming and golf courses) are taking large tracts of good farmland out of production. In order to provide livings for themselves and their families, women in many regions of the world spend up to five hours a day collecting fuel, wood and water and up to four hours a day preparing food. In many communities, women have traditionally been crucial to the provision of water: they are the water carriers and since that role takes them around, they have been responsible for locating potential well sites, which the men then dig. Women irrigate the fields, maintain and desilt irrigation canals and reservoirs. Yet despite this reality, a widespread stereotype among foreign planners and their intermediaries has viewed irrigated agriculture as men’s business; as a result, many women were often not allowed to apply when land was distributed as part of national economic planning schemes.

In the competition between agribusiness and subsistence farming, the principle of profit maximization means that large quantities of water will likely be allocated to the highest bidder or to the sector with the most export-oriented economic opportunities. This reduces women to searching for alternative, increasingly remote water sources, at the cost of considerably more time and energy.

When furthermore bulk allocation ignores large fluctuations in rainfall, and allows the extraction of excessive amounts of water during the rainy season, major problems emerge for domestic users during long spells of drought. In all societies, an adult’s position and status within the household and the local community is clearly related to their contribution to the family income and food supply. In those cultures where the mother is traditionally responsible for food, a mother’s inability to provide for her children is a major setback. Subsequently, when the extraction of water by other sectors or user groups threatens their traditional source of income (rainfed or irrigated agriculture, cattle breeding), women’s position within the household will be weakened.

In some areas, the loss of land is compounded by the pollution of the still accessible land, as is the case in Ogoni land, in Nigeria. In other cases, as in the case of Kenya’s coffee and rice farmers, women are caught between the conflicting demands of their own responsibility to feed their families and the obligations imposed by their government’s assumption of structural adjustment policies which would force them to devote all their labour to cash cropping. Both of these situations are repeated the world over, with minor variations.

In Ogoniland as in Kenya, wives are technically and legally landless but were customarily given the right to farm part of their husband’s land and control the use of the foodstuffs they themselves produced . Women cultivators have historically belonged to collective work groups which applied themselves to large tasks on each other's food plots. However, these groups never worked on men's cash crop plots since the income from cash crops did not cater for women's needs.


Women Resist the Loss of Land

The following is the text of an appeal by Ogoni women calling attention to the plight of their community.


The Ogoni are an indigenous ethnic group in the oil rich Niger Delta of Nigeria. Five hundred thousand people live in an area of approximately 404 square miles. The people depend on fishing, farming and trading for sustenance. This close relationship with the land means Ogoni communities have placed a strong emphasis on the care of the environment, believing it to be the life-giving source of the people and the dwelling place of their ancestors.

When oil was discovered in the late 1950s, the Ogoni were completely unaware of the potential consequences the oil boom could bring. The people of Ogoni were not poor, but had hoped that the oil could make a relatively prosperous situation better. It did not take long for the Ogoni to see that this was not to be the case. Revenues from the oil did not return to the people. Environmental consequences unleashed by oil production became unbearable. Those who have suffered most have been the women and children who, unlike the young men, could not easily migrate and escape to the urban areas.

Traditionally, when an Ogoni woman gets married, her husband is required to give her a piece of land to farm. It is from this farm that she feeds her family and grows food to sell in order to buy other staples. This tradition allowed women to enjoy a measure of independence. The fertility of the Ogoni soil made it very fruitful for agriculture, producing high yields. The bountiful harvests left time for Ogoni women to invest in cultural activities such as art, dancing, singing and pottery.

Now that this piece of farmland is no longer fertile or available, women have lost their source of income and their hope for the future. From the testimonies of older women, it is clear that in times past there were less tensions in the home. The constant acquisition of new territory for oil exploitation and the resulting pollution from the industry has left Ogoni women with no means to feed or support their families. Polluted streams are an added burden for the women who have to travel further away from home to get water for their domestic chores. The destruction of their sources of livelihood by the activities of the multinational oil companies has generated concern for the protection of the environment.

The physical health of the people, particularly the women, has deteriorated. Exposure to gas flares and contaminated water has caused health problems. Ogoni people eat fish from poisoned streams. Most do not have the resources to pay for health care and medicine, and even for those who do, there is not a single fully equipped government hospital in Ogoni. Women frequently die at child birth or give birth to premature babies. The lack of diagnostic medical laboratories in Ogoni prohibits us from knowing the extent of health problems caused by oil pollution. The discovery of oil in the Delta has set our people back, especially the women, who often lack a basic education to address the problems caused by oil pollution.

Florence Obani-Nwibari, Evelyn Obari, and Blessing Wifa The Effect of Shell Oil on Ogoni Women http://www.afsc.org/cro/stl/su2k01.htm.

Landless Women in Kenya Fight Structural Adjustment

Structural adjustment policies insist on increased cash crop production for export. This combines with untrammelled private appropriation of communal lands and public property, under the name of ‘privatization’ and throws small-scale farmers (who are overwhelmingly women) up against an array of enemies. As part of a larger body of work on peoples’ resistance to the latest wave of ‘enclosure of the commons’, the historian Terisa Turner and her colleagues have studied the struggles of two groups of landless women in Kenya to assert control over their own farming labor in the late 1980s and 90s.

The protracted struggle going on in East and Central Africa for control over the land and the crops grown on it has often been described as a series of ethnic clashes, atavistic tribal conflicts and even witchcraft .Turner focused on the material basis of these conflicts and the social relations of power which they express, in particular the relationship between women farmers, their husbands, the state, private companies and the World Bank.

In Kenya, some women cultivators strengthened their command over land and the organization of labor. As these dispossessed women reclaimed resources, they shifted away from the global market to revitalize trade on a regional level. Women in the two communities of Maragua and Mwea in central Kenya reorganized the way they are integrated into household, national and international relationships to emphasize subsistence and ecological reclamation. In this sense, they are engaged, with others, in what Turner calls 'social reconstruction.'

In Maragua, the women of refused to produce coffee, an export cash crop, producing instead bananas and selling them independently. In Mwea, a government rice producing project, women appropriated the inputs, in particular irrigation water, to produce garden crops for their own consumption and sale.


Rural women need independent rights in land... This is our starting point. But the real question is 'how can they get them?' In reality, dispossessed rural people with tenuous claim to insufficient land and resources constitute some four-fifths of Kenya's civil society.Indeed, in Kenya as well as in Brazil or Nicaragua, ‘squatting’ is one of the only ways dispossessed farmers can find a piece of land.


Every woman belongs to at least one woman's group," Alexiah Kamene (1996) told us as if it were the most obvious fact of life. Kamene is a widow who lives in Maragua and grows bananas and vegetables on her one acre farm. She works part-time for a hotelier as a domestic servant and seasonally hires herself out with a group of other women to weed or harvest in the gardens of farmers with larger holdings. "Banana money is better than coffee money. Men do still take the money from women.Single women manage better. You will find that banana traders are mainly divorced or widowed women."


Maragua ... is not a utopia for women who do not own land. But it is better than it was ten years ago when unwaged women dutifully picked coffee which fetched incomes for their husbands, state officials and international merchants. Since 1986 Maragua farming women have taken steps towards a new organization of society in which they, as producers, manage resources, outputs and incomes.

Maragua lies in the middle of a coffee zone, about 80 kilometers north west of Nairobi, Kenya's capital. Maragua Location, a part of Kigumo Division, covers about 220 square miles. Approximately 100,000 people live there. Husbands own most of the small, one to five acre farms in Maragua. Technically and legally, their wives are landless. In practice, peasant women in central Kenya have customarily had the right to work on their husbands' farms and control the use of foodstuffs they themselves produced. Women cultivators have historically belonged to collective work groups which applied themselves to large tasks on each other's food plots. However, these groups never worked on men's cash crop plots since the income from cash crops did not cater for women's needs. On the other hand, women who had been effectively 'housewifed,' worked individually, with children or with casual laborers, on husbands' cash crop plots, but did not control the yield.


At independence in 1963 the government of Kenya lifted colonial restrictions on coffee growing by Africans. In the 1960s and the first half of the 1970s, coffee production on small holdings provided farmers with substantial incomes, and provided the state with more foreign exchange than any other commodity. This was the heyday of the mythic 'heroic small farmer' whose 'rational choice' to produce export crops was the held up by the World Bank as the model for all of Africa.


This mythology was silent about the women who provided the labor which made Kenya the "miraculous" exception to the rest of 'unstable,' 'coup-ridden' and 'corrupt' Africa. The myth of the heroic smallholder was also silent on the bloody repression by British forces of the Mau Mau Land and Freedom Army in the 1950s and the colonial social engineering (via mass concentration camps) of agricultural production relations. These featured continuing coercion, as is illustrated in the Mwea Rice Scheme. The coercive social construction of progressive or 'good farmers' was a process of forced 'husbandization' and 'housewifization' which had at its core land enclosure and the replacement of women's collective work groups by husbands' command over wives' individuated labor power.


By 1986 Kenyan coffee farmers had faced ten years of falling producer prices for their crops. Increasing numbers of women coffee pickers received nothing from the coffee payments directed by the government to male landowners. Women threatened to strike to obtain that their labor be recognized by the inclusion of their name on the bank accounts in which coffee payments were being made. Government chiefs intervened to mediate between embattled wives and husbands. Faced with the women's strikes, the chiefs frequently supported women's demands

At that time, the IMF was introducing the principle of cost-sharing in health and education. This in turn increased the need for cash. This need constituted a coercive incentive to resume and step up the production of cash crops. But from the women’s point of view, it constituted an incentive to take care of their own needs

The Maragua women planted beans between the coffee trees, contrary to

restrictions against intercropping with coffee. They thus provided their families with food

and began the tedious process of renourishing the chemically damaged soil. Finally,

because neither their husbands nor state officials were willing or able to satisfy their needs

to produce food and secure cash income the women took drastic action. In Maragua and

elsewhere in Kenya, women uprooted coffee trees and used them for firewood.

The penalty for damaging a coffee tree was imprisonment for seven years.By late 1986, most women farmers in Maragua had planted bananas and vegetables for home consumption and local trade instead of coffee for export. In Mathira women "uprooted the coffee and they instead planted maize, beans and some grass so they could keep cattle there" (Waithaka, 1997). This pattern was repeated with varying intensity throughout Kenya and the East and Central African regions as a whole.


they broke their relationships of chronic indebtedness and subjection to the state coffee apparatus and established an alternative self-regulated banana trade.

The majority of men made a transition from resisting their womenfolk with threats, violence and divorce to accepting their initiatives. This acceptance, encouraged by factions within African Independent Church, grew into support and participation... Many husbands recognized that their wives' resistance contributed funds and organizational militancy which allowed men to hold onto their land in the midst of expanding and accelerating large scale enclosures....


Landless Maragua women have benefitted from banana production and the money it has brought into the community, for instance through their association in 'merry-go-rounds' with women who have access to small gardens. These revolving micro savings and credit groups based on friendship and trust further promote women's business investments such as the purchase of a goat or a bicycle. The money stays in the community and members of the 'merry-go-rounds' have a strong interest in the financial success of their partners. Barter and social solidarity are enhanced and these in turn strengthen women's capacity to operate cooperative work groups (Ngugi, 1996). Women with no access to land (widows,

divorcees) have formed trade partnerships with women who cultivate bananas. The Maragua women have enhanced their control over land and their own labour in a field in which they are growers, 'middlemen' and consumers of their own crop.


In Mwea, farmers were tenants of a government-run rice plantation inherited by Kenya from the colonial government under whose rule Mau Mau prisoners (who later became free residents) .

Martha Karua and three others representing over 3,000 farmers at Mwea (almost 100% of farm families), rejected new tenancy agreements from ... the government-run National Irrigation Board.... The women claimed that Mwea farmers do not accept the designation of tenant given that the farmers themselves had created the rice paddies at the time of British rule . They ridiculed the new agreement's terms which require farmers to deliver all rice, with the exception of a much reduced quantity of some ten bags per year, to the Irrigation Board.


Despite threats of eviction, tenants have held firm ... Women farmers (succeeded) in the production and marketing of tomatoes and other vegetables. Behind the decline in quantities of rice actually delivered to the state, the sole legal buyer, is a burgeoning independent trade. Mwea women sell the rice on the parallel market and repudiate the debts which the Irrigation Board has levied against them for water and inputs.... Led by women, Mwea farmers have, to a significant extent, appropriated the land, water and their own labour and have organized these resources in their own interests. Some women are getting much more support from their menfolk than in the past. Other women have at least been able to hold at bay some of the male violence.


The male deal in Mwea is much more pervasive and rigid than in Maragua. The state's various agentsrequire husbands to discipline family labour in very precise tasks such asthe operation of the scheme-wide gravity flow irrigation system. To be "good farmers" husbands are forced to behave almost as plantation overseers. Violence is omnipresent. It is very difficult for Mwea men to break out of these deals with the state since to do so brooks explusion from the land.... husbands may not be readily available for an alliance with wives against the state. Rather it would appear that sons are joining their mothers, grandmothers and sisters in a gendered class alliance in Mwea. Younger men frequently do not have tenancy rights which means they have not formally contracted a male deal and they have few prospects for a livelihood (and hence marriage) within the parameters of the rice scheme. They witness their mothers and grandmothers securing an income through illicit tomato and rice sales. They are ready to challenge the police and corrupt elements who are laying false claim to land which the youth desperately need. Young men see battered women fleeing or taking refuge in the community. They see a few husbands cooperating with their wives in smuggling, sustenance cultivation and other survival strategies in opposition to the rules of the scheme.


(In both cases), these women took command of their own labor and other resources by spurning their husbands’ ... discipline, defying state policies and resisting their own incorporation into global markets on capital's terms. As the Maragua and Mwea cases suggest, the pivotal struggle in East and Central Africa today is one of commodities versus sustenance. In resisting export crop agriculture, women are expanding the terrain for a much more sustainable, ecologically sound, sustenance agriculture.


Women are at the forefront of the many forms of resistance to structural adjustment. They are joined by those men who decline to be overseers of their wives' production on behalf of the state and globalizing capital.

(source: Terisa Turner, Wahu Kaara and Leigh Brownhill Social Reconstruction in Rural Africa: A Gendered Class Analysis of Women's Resistance to Export Crop Production in Kenya

Canadian Jal of Devpt Studies Vol. XVII, no.2, 1997, p. 213-238


Globalized Women-- Why Women become Migrants

In the following extract from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission’s report on the consequences of globalization , we see a process described that is not unique to rural women.. For urban women like for rural women, ‘monetization’, the fact that everything requires cash is one of the big factors in the decision to move, sometimes quite far, in hopes of raising the cash that will make it possible for a woman’s family to acquire goods, a house, school-fees for a child, medical treatment for a relative...


13. Thus, to the extent that cash and wage income has become central to household food security in the rural areas of developing countries, the crucial factor in rural economies is monetization. Access to cash is a major bottleneck for the poor and the landless when acquiring other productive resources and inputs necessary for survival.

14. Rural households are responding to the uncertainties and opportunities created by the increased dependence on the market by diversifying their household resource base by

restructuring the division of labour within the household. In this restructuring, some

members of the household remain on the land, freeing others to seek work elsewhere.

Therefore, instead of permanent out-migration, as was the case during earlier periods of

modernization of agriculture, a temporary/seasonal, short-term movement of labour seems to be on the rise. This phenomenon has been referred to in the literature as "circular migration", or as a land-based/free-floating labour force. The actual adaptive patterns vary significantly across the globe. Depending upon the prevailing norms and patterns of gender relations and the opportunities, household strategies may favour either male or female migration. In the Middle East and Africa, women have generally taken over the work on the land, freeing male members of the household to migrate in search of work elsewhere, while in Latin America and Asia, women for a long time have been the principal labour migrants, internally and internationally.

15. Such strategies at the household level are clearly a response to the process of

globalization which favours the free movement of capital and restricts the movement of

labour. Both the available data and the existing tools of analysis are insufficient for

understanding these processes of change in rural communities. There is need for further

comparative research to depict the diverse yet common aspects of the way in which rural people, particularly rural women, have responded, and are responding, to change.

(Improvement of the situation of women in rural areas Report of the Secretary-General

Economic and Social Council see above)

Migrant Women Workers

A few years ago, there were many stories about Asian women’s hardships in the Middle East. Almost without exception, the women spoke of non-payment of salary, passport deprivation confinement in their employers' homes. physical and sexual abuse in some cases death or serious injury. To human rights groups, the abuse of migrant women reported from the Middle East merely conformed to a general pattern of violation of women's rights in the region. ''Some governments in the Middle East have said they will put women's rights on their agenda, but nowhere in the region have women been accorded the full rights and protection they are entitled to under international law,'' charged Amnesty.

Gulf governments dimissed these criticisms as anti-Arab propaganda, yet the Philippines embassy in Kuwait at one stage repatriated several hundred Filipina maids who fled their employers after alleged abuse.

Some states took action against abusive employers. Kuwait denied that abuse was widespread but was the first Gulf state to imprison a local woman for abusing her domestic worker. On one occasion, an airport official stopped an Arab family from the Emirate of Sharjah from sending back their maid on the grounds that she was too ill to travel. When examined, the young Sri Lankan girl was found to have 72 injury marks on her body. The family was prosecuted.

Worldwide, the number of women who migrate for employment purposes has dramatically risen in the last two decades. Contrary to popular perceptions, seven out of ten women move in search of work rather than for familial reasons. The most likely trend for migration is predicted to be growing feminization of international labor migration flows.

Female migrants, especially those who do not enter a country through legal channels, are highly vulnerable to exploitation. One reason for their greater vulnerability is that they often go into individualized situations (such as domestic workers and homeworkers) where there is greater isolation and a lower likelihood of establishing networks of information and support

Migrant women are still seen are a cheap and flexible source of labor and they continue to be over-represented in jobs that are characterized by low pay, low status, and little opportunity for advancement They are unlikely to organize for themselves and traditional unions have often been unwilling to represent them. With a growing pool of exploitabler labor, there is a continually shifting wave of migration, ‘favoring ‘at any given time those groups which are the most desperate.. The migration of unskilled, ill-educated, financially constrained and therefore most vulnerable workers increases with trade liberalization.

While the sensational stories focused on Saudi Arabia, they could equally have come out of Israel, Europe or North America where domestic work and child- and elderly care is performed by immigrant women. Even when the women are legal immigrants, which is not always the case, they are often invisible and the abuse remains undenounced. In Europe and the Middle East most immigrants come from South East Asia, Latin America and Central Europe and the Balkans. Working conditions , even when they are not murderous as in the Saudi case, are bad, wages inadequate, living conditions poor. Furthermore, many of the women reported physical and sexual abuse, passport confiscation, virtual confinement in their employers’ house. Starting in the mid-1990s the RESPECT network became active in Europe, and has been lobbying the European Union to protect domestic workers regardless of their legal status or origin, among other things by imposing a charter of domestic work.

Training seminars were held in eight countries for domestic workers to learn of their rights. In 1999, a seminar took place in Paris. Simultaneously organizations in the migrants’ countries of origin, organizations belonging to the network conduct intensive preventive and advocacy work. Kalayaan (Philippines) and Tenaganita (Malaysia) conduct intensive educational work with migrants, sex workers, and seasonal plantation laborers focusing on HIV/AIDS education, contract negotiating training, pre-embarkment counseling, for women migrants as well as wives of men migrants.

One of the fruit of Kalayaan’s research has been a realization of the need to work, not only with migrants but with their families. KALAYAAN's studies have shown that most of the migrant workers consult their families about their decision to work abroad. Likewise, a migrant worker is encouraged to work overseas because of the experience of another family member who has worked or works abroad or because of the presence of a family member in the country of destination.

On the other hand, working overseas creates expectations on the part of the families left behind that their financial future is secured by a family member's income as a migrant worker. This creates undue pressures on migrant workers to earn more and to continuously remit money back home to the waiting hands of their families.

These pressures force the migrant workers to endure oppressive working conditions, and sometimes, to engage in part-time prostitution not only to pay off pre-departure debts at home but also to meet their family's high expectations. A stark example is the case of a domestic worker in Hong Kong who hopped from employer to employer in quest of better working conditions. At one time when she was out of work and racking her brains on how to survive in Hong Kong without a job, she called her mother to tell her of her difficulties - no clear accommodations, inadequate food, verbal abuse from her employer, among others. Instead of receiving the emotional support she needed, she was told that she was much better off because at least she was in a foreign country while the family had to suffer essentially the same difficulties while remaining in the Philippines. Since the primary reason for leaving is to economically help the family, the expectation is to achieve this at all cost.

( http://www.gn.apc.org/caramasia/tn_page0.html. http://www.gn.apc.org/caramasia/kalayaan/)

A number of women’s groups work for the economic rights of migrant workers in solidarity with the exploited women. The material below comes from a report written by Japanese activists

During the process of Japanese modernization in the 1870s, the government took up a policy called Fukoku-kyoheî which means rich country, military strength. After the World War II the government encouraged the nation with the slogan Shotoku baizo-ron, a policy to double the income of Japanese and make Japan one of the biggest economic powers in the world. We can say that the wealth accumulated in Japan depended upon exploitation of women in Japan and abroad. In other words, women’s contribution was based upon the sexist ideology that they should support men.

In Japan, men imposed domestic work on women, and cheap labor in industry for exports. Though some forms of labor have changed, these burdens continue.

The opportunities of women living in this men-first society, are the scraps which men do not want. Women were categorized into types: those who raise children and maintain the household, and women who are prostitutes, the objects of men’s sexual pleasure and domination. Men demanded chastity from their wives and tied them up with house work. But then they bought women for sex while despising those women as impure and immoral.This double standard remains today and now the multi-ethnic sex industry makes huge profits in Japan for men. So today, the double standard more than ever is not just sexist, but racist as well.

The Migrant Women Research & Action Committee has tried to provide information about the situation of the migrant women in Japan as discrimination against women workers is severe and prostitution is part of popular culture. We have emphasized especially undocumented migrant workers who if they simply overstay their visas, are made into illegal workers.

Japan has ratified numerous documents designed to improve conditions, including International Covenants, International Conventions on the Economic and Social Rights,and International Convention on the Civil, Political Cultural Rights. Also there are progressive labor laws of which foreign nationals in Japan can make use. In spite of those laws however, the right to work and human rights of migrant women are violated when they do not have current visas. The Immigration Control Act has priority over all other laws and the international instruments are subordinated.

We are trying to change Japanese society, with the goal that some day, women will be treated equally with men. This goal directly links our work with migrant women. We desperately need a society where migrant women can live with dignity.

Our strategies, summarized during the process of making this report are as follows:

1. Support and help migrant women to organize their own organizations.

2. Link migrant women organizations related with local NGOs especially women’s NGOs which focus on the common problems all migrants face.

3. Demand the proper application of laws to migrant women.

4. Demand that the Japanese labor unions acknowledge that they and migrant workers have common goals and solidarity.

We hope that will benefit from exchange information and experiences with the people concerned with migrant issues around the world.

The number of migrants all over the world will continue to grow, and their plight will worsen. It is important to expand our activities and strengthen our networks. We hope that the UNs Fourth International Women Conference will be the beginning of change.

[Toshiko Kadokawa, The Forum on Asian Immigrant Workers, August 15, 1995. NGOs Report on the Situation of Foreign Migrant Women in Japan and Strategies for Improvement, for the Fourth World Conference on Women, September 1995, Beijing. Edited by The Migrant Women Workers Research & Action Committee.)


Pramila Patten advocates additional standards to protect the economic rights of women.

Thinking of concrete examples of your own life and surroundings,what might these additional standards be?

How has globalization affected the women in your country and community? Are there similarities between some of the situations described here and situations in your own country/community?

What is the status of women’s work in your environment? has it changed in your lifetime?

How are changes affecting schedules? levels of pay? benefits? work safety?

cite both positives and negatives.

Are there big corporations operating in your area? what are their employment practices?

What is the status of women working for big corporations in your area?

How big is the average wage differential between men and women in your country? in your local community? how do industries differ in this respect?

Are labor unions active in your area? do they pursue the economic rights of women vigorously?

Are women active in the unions? How else do women defend their economic rights?

Do people migrate out of your area? mostly men? mostly women? where do they go?

Do migrants move to your area? are they men or women? what kinds of work do the women do? what are their conditions of work and life?

What is being done in your country or community to assure adequate housing for all families?

Do women have equal access to occupy such housing?

Where do you have to go to get to get a loan to purchase housing?

Do women receive equal treatment from banks and lending institutions?

After reading the following stories with examples of women’s organizing to deal with their problems, consider whether there are similar situations in your environment. (It could be on a smaller scale, but using a similar approach)

Widows at the Center of Self-Help Movements

Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA)

Women in India working under the most difficult conditions as vegetable sellers, makers of small cigars, brick carriers, and ultimately many other jobs, organized into the Self Employed Women’s Association in Hyderabad, India. Under the inspired leadership of Ela Bhatt, SEWA has become a national organization exercising considerable force in empowering women to secure economic rights and other benefits such as health and education.

India celebrated fifty years of Independence in 1997. And SEWA celebrated 25 years of organizing poor women. From a handful of members meeting under a neem tree with its founder, Elaben Bhatt, in Victoria Garden, Ahmedabad, SEWA has become the largest women’s union in India. It has also become a movement - the SEWA Movement.


In 1947, India obtained political freedom after a long struggle. But the second freedom, freedom from poverty and hunger, the economic freedom of our people, is yet to be attained...

SEWA registered as a trade union in 1972. It is organization for poor, self-employed women workers who earn a living through their own labor or small businesses. They do not obtain regular salaried employment with welfare benefits like workers in the organized sector. Constituting 93% of the labor force, these are workers of the unorganized sector, the unprotected labor force of our country. Of the female labor force in India, more than 94% are in the unorganized sector. However, their work is not counted and hence remains invisible. Women workers themselves remain uncounted, undercounted and invisible.

SEWA’s main goals are to organize women workers for full employment and self reliance. Full employment means employment whereby workers obtain work security, income security, food security and social security (at least health care, child care and shelter). SEWA organizes women to ensure that every family obtains full employment. By self-reliance we mean that women should be autonomous and self-reliant, individually and collectively, both economically and in terms of their decision-making ability.

‘At SEWA we organize workers to achieve their goals of full employment and self-reliance through the strategy of struggle and development. The struggle is against the many constraints and limitations imposed on them by society and the economy, while development activities strengthen women’s bargaining power and offer them new alternatives. Practically, the strategy is carried out through the joint action of union and cooperatives. Gandhian thinking is the guiding force for SEWA's poor, self-employed members in organizing for social change. We follow the principles of satya (truth), ahimsa (non-violence), sarvadharma (integrating all faiths, all people) and khadi (propagation of local employment and self-reliance).

‘SEWA is both an organization and a movement. The SEWA movement is enhanced by its being a sangram or confluence of three movements: the labor movement, the cooperative movement and the women’s movement. But it is also a movement of self-employed workers, their own, home-grown movement with women as the leaders.Through their own movement women become strong and visible. Their tremendous economic and social contribution becomes recognized...

SEWA believes that the basis of development and progress is organization. Self-employed women must organize themselves into sustainable organizations so that they can collectively promote their own development.

These organizations (the women’s own organizations), have many different purposes. They can be trade organizations which promote employment, increase income or link the women workers/ producers with the market. They can be organizations which build assets through savings and credit, such as the Bank. They can be organizations which provide social security, such as health care or child care. They can be organizations which promote the cause of, and advocate for, poor women.

They can be organizations at the village level, at the district level, at the state level, at the national or international level. They can be registered as Co-operatives, Societies, Producer Associations or even remain unregistered. a ‘member’ may be a self-employed individual or a primary organization of self-employed women...


Like all major accomplishments in the advancement of women, SEWA’s success is the consequence of the daily work of individual women. Only a few are ever recognized:

15th October 1997 was celebrated as International Women’s Day. Geneva-based World Women Summit Foundation honored a hundred selected women by presenting awards to those who had done constructive work in village development. Out of these 100, a total of 6 women were selected from India, and out of these, five were members of SEWA. The honoring of Gujarat's village women is an inspiration for all rural women. These women from very small villages situated on the rim of the desert now occupy a prominent place on the development map of the world!

Shantaben Laxmanbhai Koli is a worker in a salt farm in the desert of the little Rann of Kutch. When SEWA started its work in Surendranagar, Shantaben was first from her village to initiate the Balwadi (child care centre). She herself had to walk five to six kilometers to her workplace leaving her children behind. When the government stopped its child care scheme, Shantaben took the leadership of her local organization. She continuously fought their case for child care, forced the district officer to start her Balwadi again. In this way, she organized child care for the children of salt farmers like herself.

Manchaba Kheraji Rathod lives in Abdasa Taluka in Kutch district. With Sewa help, she organized the handicraft workers. She herself is a good craftswoman. Through organizing she harnessed the creativity of embroidery workers. It became their main source of income. Five hundred women joined her. Due to caste restrictions they were not allowed to go out of their houses, but the source of income in their hands developed their self-confidence and the caste restriction. They feel their strength comes from organizing.

Savihen Debhabhai Ayer hails from Datrana village situated adjacent to the desert in Banaskantha. Every year she had to migrate with her family in search of work and every year at that time, she had to mortgage her house, land and cattle, etc. Since last five years, Savihen has taken initiative and organized women of five village. She was a talented traditional embroidery worker. She developed the skills further in five more village to get more work. Thus, 600 families were saved from having to migrate for work.

Puriben Vaghabhai Ahir is the resident of Vauwa village of Santalpur taluka. Women have to spend hours to get water in this district area. Puriben was the first to organize the villages for water. With the help of SEWA, she started water-related programs in villages and also health care and education. Though illiterate herself with the support of women, she approached taluka and district offices and presented before them the fundamental problems of her village people like water, lack of nutrition food and health care. When the Sarpanch (head of village council) of her village and other male members refused to include any women in watershed committee, she dared to get registered in her opposition and said, "Women must be in the committee."

Menaben resides in Lodra village near the desert. This village was constantly under the fear of becoming a desert itself. But the same village has now stopped the advance of the desert. How has this happened? Six years ago, under the leadership of Menaben, programs such as nursery and rearing of trees were undertaken to improve their village environment. Menaben received technical training in this field and involved the women of neighboring villages in an eco-regeneration programme to improve the village environment of her region. As a result, not only was desertification stopped, but also a stable source of income was created for many villagers.

Out of SEWA’s work has emerged the Kheda District Women's Saving and Credit Program, the coordinating body for 307 new self-help groups with 10,010 members. Together, these groups have managed to save Rs. 2,747,014 (AUD $110,000) which has funded self-employment initiatives such as vegetable and clothes vending, small shops, nurseries and flour mills. These enterprises would never have been started without the Savings and Credit Program.

By December 1999, the Kheda co-op had mobilised 42,000 women in 400 villages across the two districts. The women had won themselves higher wages, along with government-sanctioned ID cards that gave them formal employee status for the first time. The co-op had also set up a number of self-help organisations, giving women access to childcare, health care, medical insurance, education medical insurance scheme covering 3000 members, who would previously have faced extreme financial hardship in the event of serious injury or disease. The credit program has opened up new areas of training for many women, including as nurses in government hospitals. It has also become critical to disaster relief: when floods hit the region in 1995, the co-op loaned 600 families the funds to buy food grains.

One result of this was the creation of a union of (bidi) cigar workers. The women who work in the bidi industry come predominately from landless and land-poor communities who were previously forced to sell or mortgage their land or other productive assets at times of financial difficulty. Kheda District Women's Saving and Credit Program has given its participants financial security and unprecedented control over their lives, and improved the overall position of women in their communities.

The Kutch Craft Association (KCA) began life as a handicraft co-operative. Today it is one of the main groups advocating for poor communities in the arid, drought-prone region of Kutch, in western Gujarat. Much of Kutch's population are members of the "lower" castes: they live with high rates of unemployment, low literacy, low wages, poor health and high rates of migration.

SEWA's primary concern was to promote self-employment for the women. A possible solution was the production of traditional embroidery, yet industry was then controlled primarily by middlemen, with the local women who actually produced the embroidery being paid very poorly. SEWA decided to organise the women into a cooperative, so they could fight for better incomes and access to social security. In 1994 it established the Kutch Craft Association (KCA) to actively campaign for the improvement of pay and working conditions for the women artisans.

(SEWA Silver Jubilee Year, 25 Years of SEWA Movement-1972-1997, pp. 3,5,20.)


Widows Association Of Canlaon (WAC)

In the Philippines, Victoria (Vicvic) Justiniani, a veteran of the struggles against the Marcos dictatorship started a self- herlp organization for elderly widows, which became the focus around which a larger movement gathered to defend human rights.

In 1993, the year after the presidential elections, fundraising activities were going on. Someone close to a Congressman with porkbarrel funds designated for people's organizations (women being the specific target) got access to some money. This person had gotten some women together, but then decided to drop the project to turn to something else more profitable. I happened to be around at the time, so this project got passed on to me. It involves poor, old widows—you know, "grassroots" women. In the beginning we just talked and shared our common experiences.

These are women of peasant background with little education. Most of them got married after WWII. They are older women without pensions who need to work. I assumed that they were supported by their children, but it was the other way around. I thought they'd have graduated from their reproductive roles, but that was not true. I discovered that for these women there's no end to reproductive and productive work.


We just talked. I had no set ideas because all I wanted was to facilitate whatever it was they wanted to do. My approach was to organize them collectively in a way that would enable them to sort out their problems, then to raise their consciousness about these personal problems, their community, and the larger society. I had no specific agenda beyond that. I did believe, however, that if I could facilitate discussions among them, they could themselves come up with a program.

At first we just identified problems. We did a "needs assessment"—that's what I learned from NGO work. [Laughs] We talked about their needs in the households, in the community, their economic and health problems, and so on.

Then we decided to prioritize these needs and to think of collective solutions. We asked, who are the people who can help us? In the process, we built our organization and identified our objectives.

The main issue that turned up was economic, one of livelihood. The women had

different ways of eking out a living; some were farmers, some cooked food to sell, some were vendors, still others raised chickens or pigs.... Some have sari-sari [variety] stores in their homes because they're old and have to stay home. Some have farms, so funding pays for their children to work in the farm.

We decided that our project should be that of getting credit to augment the widows' incomes. We began to conceptualize a credit program for elderly widows, then we talked about what policies would work for them.


I had no idea what these might be since my only experience was in the countryside. So we studied existing credit programs with the view of shaping one that suited these women's particular situations and capacities...The women meet for training and for seminars. Beginning in 1994 until today they've had monthly meetings to discuss their activities.


We have a structure now, we also have a budget officer. Ours is actually a joint undertaking between WAC and UBAN (an organization for the elderly). There are three in the credit committee of WAC who read project applications. I am always there to assist, and we have a staff for the bookkeeping part.


We were awarded a ... revolving fund. The test was the first year. The old women had to prove that they could handle the project effectively, that they could manage the conflict between sustainability in microfinance at one end, and empowerment at the other.

My own emphasis is on empowering people, but in microfinance the guidelines are collection and repayment. By this time you must attain at the very least a 95% repayment rate in order to be sustainable. You can just imagine that the first two years were a struggle. What if someone got sick and couldn't repay? What if there was a calamity? So you'll abandon us then? You'll stop supporting us if these things happen? If so, go to the rich peasants and the middle class! But poor old women can't be sustainable for the simple reason that no one provides for them in their old age.


In our view, success is equated with empowerment. As individuals they've gained self-confidence because they now have support. In the past they've had to beg usurers, the rich, to lend them money. Now they have access to funds of their own and no longer have to go begging.

They have economic undertakings that they can now sustain. They don't have to run to their children or to others to say, "Please give me rice or give me medicine because now I'm old and helpless." Now they don't have to use their old age to evoke pity from others. In spite of their age, they can still be productive and can carry on.

They have an organization not only to address their economic problems but also for

interpersonal support. They have developed a social and political awareness from sharing each other's personal problems.

That's why eventually they were fighting not on their own behalf, but over the plight of OCWs (overseas contract workers) and of Flor Contemplacion (migrant domestic helper executed in Singapore in 1995), or over the environmental degradation of Canlaon and other broader community concerns. In this way they're developing a critical consciousness of societal issues and can speak about these with confidence.


In spite of the fact that we're only a small community of widows in Canlaon, we're caught in a fiefdom, a feudal system. The Mayor controls the whole town. Even when you consciously avoid political confrontation, you can't.

So even small projects are affected. The old women were asked to move their livelihood projects kilometers away from where they reside. That would destroy their projects. So as we kept on, the human rights issue became prominent. In our interaction with other sectors, we learned that others also experienced forms of repression. Our small office that was previously just a fun place became a refuge for people to bring their complaints.


they started coming to the office and bringing in their problems. One would say to me, "Inday, I wasn't given medicine because I was tagged as opposition. "The word spread that WAC people fight back if you push their members around.

Soon people came to us to ask how they could form their own organizations. They'd say, "We're not women, we're not widows, but we need to organize on the basis of human rights." They witnessed how WAC can fight back, participate in rallies, celebrate Women's Day, raise placards, and they wanted to learn from us—such a departure from the beginning when all these old women could draw was their amusement.

Later when they saw WAC join in the protest against logging activities, their interest was piqued and they wanted to do something similar. We'd tell them, "Go and organize yourselves." Soon there were over twenty people's organizations all over Canlaon. Then we formed the Canlaon People's Rights Movement that serves as the multisectoral alliance of different people's organizations.


Once I stopped at one barangay. According to the farmers, the Mayor wanted to grab their land. Do you have an organization? I asked. Yes, they said. Okay, so how will you fight? We just need support, they replied. That's it? Yes! Would you like the media's help? Yes! And that's how they pushed their issue in the media. I facilitated their contact with progressive journalists in Bacolod, and Canlaon broke into the news.


Then there were the vendors who were ejected from their place of work, who were refused business permits; they, too, came to our office and asked what to do. Okay, form your organization and let's expose your problem to the public, I advised them.

So there was formed a vendors' organization, then one of farmers, until more and more. Almost all sectors of Canlaon are now organized: youth, motorcycle drivers, all come to our office. The office of WAC and UBAN has become the main office of these organizations....

( Delia D. Aguilar Revisiting Vicvic: Of Widows and Revolution in Against the Current http://www.igc.org/solidarity/atc/01/aguilarhtml)

Challenging the Corporations

Made in Korea, Made in the Philippines, Made in Mexico...in the 1970's U.S. consumers started seeing that stamp on item after item--clothing, batteries, shoes and toys--a sign of rapid economic growth in countries of what was then called the Third World. Hardly anyone stopped to consider the conditions under which these goods were produced, or the larger phenomenon that those labels represent. However, there were stirrings in the developed countries, where human rights activists attempted to create a swell of resistance among shareholders and consumers. Some campaigns have become well-known, like the campaign against Nike or the Gap. In the mind of the organizers there was a hope that boycotts and disinvestment campaigns would induce substantial changes in the companies, and to a certain extent. they were successful, but in limited ways, one company at a time. The system itself, based on long chains of contracting and subcontracting is very hard to control, and the current nature of economic organization is such that it is very difficult to pin down responsibilities, both because of the complex webs between companies and their subsidiaries, because of the ways the workers themselves try to make the systemwork for them by ‘hiring’ others under them, and becauee of the built-in anonymity of the corporate legal status..

The global factory is the tool of multinational corporations that are the engine of globalization. Women’s economic rights under these conditions cannot be fulfilled until the corporate giants become more responsible in the fulfillment of the rights women are guaranteed by the international standards.


Possible strategies for promoting women’s rights inside global corporations might involve affirmative action and pay equity programs; anti sexual harassment initiatives; improved working conditions and occupational health and safety; production and marketing of products which do not reduce women well-being or reproductive or productive choices; and progressive policies and practices with respect to pregnancy and parental leave, retraining and child care. Outside corporations, change may be promoted through corporate donations to community education, and social projects; responsible environmental practices; appropriate housing for workers and their families; family support programs in counseling and education; and socially responsible corporate relations with national and local governments. Corporations may also be influenced to change their practices related to women’s rights through consumer activism (i.e. boycotts), shareholder activism and disinvestment campaigns.

(Source: a draft proposal, Women’s Rights and Global Corporations, a Study of Worst Practices, Best Practices and Effective Change Strategies, South House Exchange (SHE), Ottawa, March 1997.)

Hong Kong Street Cleaners and the Global System

Modern industrial systems work by way of many invisible cogs, wheels and switches. So too does the global economic system. The subcontracting system which made it so difficult for the street cleaners in Hong Kong to fight their oppression is the same system which operates in the large companies that were identified with the Asian economic miracle,in the maquiladoras of Mexico and in the sweatshops of Brooklyn, Los Angeles or Dusseldorf.

Confronted with the impact of economic restructuring, many women workers displaced from the manufacturing sector ended up in cleaning jobs. The job nature is generally unpleasant, labour-intensive and lowly-paid, and associated with low status. Out of the six million people in Hong Kong, more than 2 million are living in public housing estates. There are about 166 public housing estates, employing over 15,000 cleaners. With the privatisation of public services, all of this cleaning work is subcontracted to private cleaning companies which in turn subcontract the work of each housing block to individual cleaners or the next line of subcontractors.

Cleaners are unscrupulously exploited under the subcontracting system. Normally companies which offer the lowest bid can get the contract from the Housing Authority, a government-subsidised statutory body that is virtually the landlord. To ensure a high profit mark-up, cleaning companies often employ the following management tactics: Except supervisors, all cleaners are employed as casual part-time workers with minimal pay and no employment benefits like sick leave, annual leave and injury compensation;

Subcontracting eac housing block, with a minimal fixed amount of work, to the cleaner or several blocks/shopping arcade/wet market to a subcontractor known to the cleaners as 'supervisor'. Cleaners have to collect and clear the garbage from each household one or two times a day as well as cleaning the corridors, elevators and staircases. Each block accommodates several hundred households.

It is unlikely for the women cleaners to finish such heavy workload on her own. To get the work done, she will either share the work AND THE PAY with another cleaner and turns herself into a subcontractor, or mobilise her children and husband to finish the work in the evening Thus some cleaners are not directly employed by the cleaning companies, and they are not protected under the labour ordinance. In case of work injury, they are not entitled to any compensation. This is critical as the cleaners have to work under hazardous conditions: they are often hurt by glass splinters, broken housewares, light bulbs and bulky furniture. In have to collect garbage poured down through a giant channel. Dust, sewage, and broken pieces very often fly out, hurting their eyes. There are also all the toxic chemicals in various household items. The disgusting fact is that to save money, many cleaning companies do not supply any gloves nor masks, not even the cheapest type.

Women Cleaners Under the Exploitation of Subcontracting in Hong Kong in- Asian Women Workers Newsletter Vol. 17 No. 2 April 1998 http://www.freeway.org.hk/~cawhk/9804/9804art2.htm

Organizing Women Workers

Often enthusiastically referred to as the Miracle of the Had River, South Korea’s growth used to be touted as a model of economic development. But at what cost? In the days of the Asian economic miracle, few people elsewhere realized that economic gains were made at the expense of workers’ health and safety, and that systematic, often repressive, measures were used to quell dissent...

In 1987, the South Korean government entered a new phase of industrial restructuring, allegedly to increase competitiveness with Japan and the United States. The Sixth Economic Plan is rife with measures that assist companies to expand and invest as desired, but that exacerbate the job insecurity and safety risks that workers have faced during Korea’s economic miracle...

In addition, this Plan encourages overseas investment and relocation of shops to lower wage areas in Asia or Latin and Central America to set up labor-intensive industries such as shoes, toys, textiles, garments and certain electronic household items. Those companies which fail to heed government policy will be weeded out to ensure the success of this industrial restructuring.

Women workers in textile and clothing industries have been especially hard hit. These industries in 1988 employed 597,000, or a reduction of 16 percent. Second, women tend to be employed by medium and small-sized companies, which face greater financial insecurity than their bigger competitors. When these companies close, relocate or reduce the size of their work force, women are usually let go before the male workers...

Wage discrimination is pervasive even among male and female workers who perform work of comparable worth. In addition to a smaller base wage, women workers are not paid the multiple allowance related to living expenses that their male counterparts receive because women are presumed to be earning income merely to supplement their husbands’ or families' income. The Korean Women Workers Association (KWWA), an organization of women workers connected to the independent union movement, considers Korean society's acceptance of women’s lesser pay as menacing as the wage discrimination itself.

Apart from its inequity, this presumption totally ignores the reality that some women are heads of their households and are the sole source of income for their families. Even if there is a working husband, household income may fall short of meeting their needs.

The above is by no means an exhaustive list of discrimination and difficulties faced by South Korea’s women workers...to cope with at least these problems, unions and women groups in Korea continue to call for revisions in labor-related laws in order to provide for greater employment security during the process of industrial restructuring. They also call for stiffer penalties of violators of the Gender-Equal Employment Law. Amendment of civil laws are also deemed necessary to enable women to bring civil suits against employers and to empower courts to order changes in workplace practices that systematically discriminate against women. But even the administrative process to file these claims is discouraging--let alone actual enforcement--and women are organizing public support, direct services and international networks to continue to struggle.

The KWWA aids in the struggle to overcome repression by management, the government regime, and male domination of both old and new democratic unions which women have been key to forming...They engage in actions ranging from strike support, to fund-raising to public demonstrations.

While KWWA stresses the necessity of organizing women sections within the unions it is not itself up to engage in direct negotiations between management and workers. They pursue a creative triple strategy for women workers’ education that focuses simultaneously on work problems, women’s problems, society’s problems. KWWA concludes that this total approach also leads to more equality within families and to links between workplace and neighborhood-based struggles such as for housing, clean water, ecology and children’s education. KWWA maintains strong connections to women organizing through Asia and beyond through affiliation with the Committee for Asian Women in Hong Kong.

( Source : Anna Y.M. Park and Ji Won Park, Who Pays for Korea’s Miracle? News of Women’s Liberation Worldwide, Listen Real Loud, American Friends Service Committee, Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 15-16.)

The maquiladora project

In the Maquiladora Project, international solidarity and coalition building have proved to be effective strategies in the struggle for the economic rights of women workers in the global factory.

For nearly twelve years, the Maquiladora Project of the American Friends Service Committee has worked with women workers to organize for improved wages and working conditions in the maquiladoras--the approximately 2,000 primarily US-owned factories operating along the US-Mexico border, which employ some 500,000 workers, the majority of whom are young women. The Maquiladora Project also works through education and outreach to increase US public awareness about the maquiladoras negative impact on workers in both countries. One of the primary educational tools used in this work is the book. The Global Factory: Analysis and Action for a New Economic Era, jointly developed by the AFSC's Maquiladora Project and the Women and Global Corporations Project. The Global Factory was written for labor unions, universities, community and religious groups and individual activists as a guide to understanding and acting in response to the challenge which globalization of the economy poses to working people everywhere...

As organizations learn about the conditions endured by workers in the maquiladoras, they are seeking ways to become actively involved in doing something about them. One way is by joining the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, which was formed to pressure US transnational corporations to adopt socially responsible practices within the maquiladora industry through a variety of corporate and community campaigns...The Coalition has developed Maquiladora Standards of Conduct which provide guidelines for responsible corporate behavior regarding environmental and health and safety standards, fair employment practices and community impact considerations. Women maquiladora workers were involved in the Coalition’s initial formation, and their unique perspectives are listened to most carefully and fully by its member groups.

The Coalition for Justice is also working for the inclusion of the Standards of Conduct in any Free Trade Agreement negotiated between the US and Mexico. Coalition members have literally been all over the map in this effort. Recently, when US and Mexican trade negotiators met in Seattle, several Coalition members held a press conference showing footage of workers at a maquiladora dumping hazardous waste. Members of the Coalition also testified on the workplace and environmental hazards posed by the maquiladoras at many of the recently held joint EPA-SEDUE (the Mexican equivalent of the EPA) hearings along the US-Mexican border seeking community reaction to a draft integrated environment plan developed by the two agencies to address long-term border environmental management and protection.

( Source Phoebe Mckinney, Justice in the Maquiladoras, News of Women’s Liberation Worldwide, Listen Real Loud, American Friends Service Committee, Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 17-18.)

War and Militarism Threaten Economic Well-being

Two women have brought world-wide attention to the fallacies and follies of the male dominated world economic system and its integral relationship to the war system. New Zealand’s Marilyn Waring and India’s Vandana Shiva, activists in movements to promote environmentally sound development and a more human-based system of economic evaluation and planning, are among the leaders who have demonstrated how the forces of the globalization of capital, capital intensive development, and military spending run roughshod over the economic rights of women and wreak deadly damage to the environment.

Marilyn Waring, a farmer and sheep raiser, began her career as an economic analyst when as the youngest member of the New Zealand parliament, her committee assignment required knowledge of economics she did not have. As she educated herself in a journey that ultimately took her to the United Nations, the world financial institutions and many of the poorest areas of the world, she learned the realities of the global economy. In this journey of self education, she learned some economic facts that shed light on the disastrous effects of the globalized economy on women.

The first was the problem of women’s ‘invisible’ work. Increasingly, she came to see the connection between the invisibility of ‘social’ work (and of course men’s work of that nature comes under the same burden), and the orientation toward war of entire economic systems, whether national or international.

While women, children and the environment are counted as nothing, the entire national economic system calls war productive and valuable. The men who rule us are willing to cause and perpetrate wars and mass destruction. The policy propaganda of national income accounting generates a belief that many economic problems -- unemployment, underutilisation of capital, lack of growth -- are susceptible to improvement through military spending.

This is in spite of the fact that military spending allocates resources to unproductive endeavors. Military spending does not add to an economy' s productive capital stock. A stockpile of nuclear weapons is not worth anything to anybody.

The economic position of war is still measured ... in terms of profit, production, capital, and manpower. Nowhere is there an account for death, poverty, homelessness, refugee populations, ruined food sources, the enormous waste in investment in armaments, and an increasingly fragile and exploited environment..

Militarization can be measured nationally as the share of GDP devoted to the production of military goods and services or as a military share of the nation's budget. Globally it can be judged by the military share of the global product and the arms share of international trade...(p. 136)

More than seventy million people are estimated to be directly or indirectly engaged in military activities worldwide.This figure includes some twenty-five million persons in the world's regular armed forces. When paramilitaries, militarists, and reservists are added to this, we are able to conclude that there is one soldier for every forty-three people on earth. There are probably four million civilians employed in defence departments worldwide, over three million scientists and engineers engaged in military research and development work, and at least five million workers directly engaged in the production of weapons and other specialized military equipment.

(Marilyn Waring,1988 Counting for Nothing, What Men Value and What Women are Worth p.135 ff)

In conclusion, it is helpful to consider Cecile Sabourin’s description of the tasks of the future.

Access to paid work is ... not enough; it must be accompanied by a critique of the neoliberal model that is now increasing the disparity between the value of capital versus that of labour. A thorough reappraisal is...needed of the division that has heretofore been maintained between the economic and social spheres, (between) capital/labor, economic/social...These dichotomies conceal some complex realities, given that there is an economic dimension in every sphere of life.

[...] It is important that we pay particular attention to the [impressive array of socio-economic initiatives that women] have developed at the center and forefront of many constructive actions to resist the negative impacts of globalization.


[...] Confronted with the deterioration of their living conditions, persistent unemployment and deepening inequality, they are grouping together locally to take control of their situations and stand up to an economic and institutional environment that is unable or no longer able to take their needs into account.


In the current context of market globalization and abandonment of many activities deemed non-productive, we view these initiatives as the economic and social foundation of many societies. Whether they are organized by men or women, they all share the fundamental values that women have been primarily involved in maintaining over the centuries.


Our aim is to discover the potential for transformation inherent in women's initiatives. Termed "solidarity economy," these economic practices are based on the values of solidarity, reciprocity and cooperation; they are conducted in a local context independent of traditional market structures, and they are creating new models for management.

In what way does the solidarity economy question the basic structure of market economies? What is the impact of these women-led micro-economic initiatives on macro-economic rules? What is their capacity to change the rules of the conventional economy?

Women involved in the solidarity economy are faced with at least two socio-economic challenges: the creation of economic activity and employment.


In terms of employment, how do we ensure that these new activities allow women to gain access to fixed employment and contribute to the creation of new social and economic relationships that will not be used to reinforce the deregulation and disintegration of the labour market?


We cannot separate the economy from the whole range of human and social relations, which is why we attach importance to participative democracy, access to education at an early age, particularly for little girls, interdependence, volunteer and social awareness work and responsibility.

In conclusion, we want to highlight the extent to which our societies' existing structures and concepts -the origins of which are rarely questioned- are in fact responsible for the profound imbalances between individuals, groups, ethnic groups and countries. The most eloquent example of this is property, and stemming from this, access to resources. Other than the "market," which is quickly becoming the principal vehicle for control of resources, wars, compensation to the victors, speculation, underground negotiations, smuggling, and illegal trafficking have been, and still are, avenues to wealth and control of resources. What is women's place in these activities? Whether it concerns material or non-material (knowledge) resources, women's contributions and rewards must not be overlooked...in the process of analyzing economic problems and discovering paths to transformation.

(source: Cécile Sabourin Introduction to Women and Economy Workshop Socio-economy of Solidarity Workgroup of the Alliance for a Responsible,Plural and United World Montreal 7/2000



Reviewing the various kinds of economic strategies described in this chapter, make a list of economic strategies used in your own society. Talk to women activists in unions, cooperatives, alternative institutions about their responses to the current economic challenges.

At various times, there has been talk of holding ‘Tribunals’ on the economic rights of women. What issues would you present to such a tribunal?

Who would be called to accountability?

Who would you call to testify?

Who would preside as judges? What form would the judgement take?

If you were to address a list of recommendations and demands to economic policy makers, corporations, and relevant employers, what would you include?

Try your hand at drafting an Economic Bill of Rights for Women.

List the obstacles to such a Bill of Rights?

What actions and/or campaigns are women undertaking to overcome these obstacles?

What present actions can you and your group support? What additional actions could be undertaken? Can you initiate and/or facilitate some of these additional actions?

Could your group initiate such a process?

Has the government dealt with the negative effects of globalization? What actions or programs would you and your group call upon your government to initiate? In what ways can your group support and facilitate such initiatives.


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