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…from the Human Rights Instruments

Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international cooperation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

(Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 22)

25.(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.

(Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25)

11.(1) The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing…the essential importance of international cooperation based on free consent..

11.(2) The States Parties to the present Covenant, recognizing the fundamental right of everyone to be free from hunger, shall take, individually and through international cooperation, the measures, including specific programs, which are needed... (International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Part III, Article 11)

14.(1) States Parties shall take into account the particular problems faced by rural women and the significant roles which rural women and the significant roles which rural women play in the economic survival of their families, including their work in the non-monetarized sectors of the economy…

(Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, Part III, Article 14)

Women contribute to the economy and to combating poverty through both remunerated and unremunerated work at home, in the community and in the workplace. The empowerment of women is a critical factor in the eradication of poverty.

(Beijing Platform for Action, Chap. IV, para. 49)

While poverty affects households as a whole, because of the gender division of labour and responsibilities for household welfare, women bear a disproportionate burden, attempting to manage household consumption and production under conditions of increasing scarcity. Poverty is particularly acute for women living in rural households.

(Beijing Platform for Action, Chap. IV, para. 50)



How would you define and describe social security?

What do you personally need to feel secure?

Do you have a human right to have these things?

Who should bear responsibility for assuring social security as you define it?

If responsibility rests in several sectors, identify the sectors and the aspects each should assure.

Describe how each might fulfill their respective responsibilities.

How would you define dignity?

Is there a relationship between financial security and dignity?

Are there different requirements for men and women?

How can a society assure the human dignity of all its members?

How does the standard of living vary from one sector of the population to another? What causes these variations in living standards?

What groups in your country tend to be more vulnerable to poverty?

Does your government and/or civil society respond adequately and appropriately to the needs of the poor?

How do women in your country and community cope with poverty?


The face of poverty is female

(...) I, as a lower middle class woman, ... find that these problems present themselves to me in a way very differently from the way they do to other classes of women. Women from the shantytowns or from isolated rural areas will see things quite differently from a woman like myself, who lives in a town and who has more access to food and to education for my children.

Being a woman at the level of the masses in Haiti, like the women in the shantytowns and those who are in the informal sector, means living sometimes without shelter and in sub-human conditions. One does not have access to education; one does not have the right to affection; and it goes on like this for women who live in poor neighborhoods and in isolated rural areas. The only rights one has are the rights to be hungry, to be sick, and to have many extremely difficult problems every day. This is what is to be a woman in Haiti.

To be a woman in Haiti is to run the risk of getting AIDS and to approach the level of having to prostitute one's self because the State is not willing to take responsibility for the welfare of its people. The State seems to have no concern in having a social politics that could make women feel secure. To be a woman in Haiti is to take the risk of being beaten by men. A woman exists in order to be harassed, as on all the radio stations and in the commercials. Above all, this is what it is to be a woman in Haiti.

To be a woman here is also to play the wholesale game. In the markets, the female vendors are there, mixed in with and on top of the heaps of garbage and refuse, in order to sell the products of wholesalers. They must sell the dirty and worn products thrown away by the United States. To be a woman in Haiti is to be familiar with all these things. So, it's complicated and difficult... women have been completely reduced to being prostitutes and second hand or third hand retailers.

(...) You must battle against the problem of sexism. You must battle against the socio-economic situation and its set of problems. You must battle against the absence of respect for the fundamental rights of the human person. You must fight for the right of all to good health care, to housing, and the right to eat. You must also fight against the absence of emotional security and safety. This last component does not exist for Haitian women. Even if a woman has a companion to protect her she cannot feel emotionally secure because the logic of the society does not permit her mate to ensure her safety. It is all very complicated.

(Interview with Rosanne Auguste, founder of SOFA-Haiti in PBI Newsletter October 1999)


Poverty is a Human Rights Violation.

Despite extensive formal commitments by governments to eradicate poverty, it is actually on the increase in every country of the world, even in those countries that enjoy a high rate of growth. More than 1 billion people in the world today, the great majority of whom are women, live in unacceptable conditions of poverty. In the past decade the number of women living in poverty has increased disproportionately to the number of men, particularly in the developing countries. Their access to economic and other resources is considerably less than that of men. They manage household consumption under increasing scarcity, often having to make adjustments that are largely invisible. The number of female-headed households with dependents is also on the rise. These factors related to poverty cannot be separated from the BPFA’s Critical Area of Concern addressing the global economic system. The increase in the numbers of women living in poverty is due largely to the nature of the global economy, including structural adjustments (the stringent measures imposed by world financial institutions to exact payment of the interest on the debts of the poor countries).

The increase is also linked to the fact that development schemes run by national and international agencies do not recognize or support viable economic activities that have successfully supported large numbers of peoples in dignity: subsistence farming which may provide 90% of the daily consumption of an area, small businesses, small factories for the local market, clothes-making, crafts, etc. Unless economic activities can be directly plugged into the global economy, they are lumped together under the heading of ‘informal’, or considered part of the ‘grey economy’ which must disappear to give way to the ‘more profitable’ ventures tied to large scale world trade circuits, which are the only ones the global market recognizes. Macroeconomic policies focus almost exclusively on the formal sector of the economy, whereas millions of women work outside of it. These policies also tend to impede the economic initiatives of women and fail to consider the differential impact of economic structures and policies on women and men. In the process, gainful employment and dignified work slip further and further out of range of families at the lower end of the scale. The poor are pushed further and further to the edges of society.

Another contributing factor has been the erosion, under the combined stress of centralized government, migration, and ‘modernization’, of familial support systems that provided at least a minimal safety net. Family solidarity is often considered doomed even in parts of the world where it is held in great respect. Technology itself makes it seem easier to remove oneself from the family’s intense closeness. Traditional rules about inheritance and land-tenure have been skewed by patriarchal colonial authorities in ways that make them useful tools for greedy males. As result, women have often become more dependent on husbands, and receive potentially less support from brothers and fathers. Cooperation between women is complicated by diminishing natural resources and geographic dispersal. To the extent that rural areas have often been neglected in development policies directed toward industrialization, rural women are among the poorest. The numbers of the poor in rural areas have nearly doubled over the past 20 years, and women constitute at least 60 percent of the world's one billion rural poor.

Experts concur that extreme poverty, combined – as it frequently is– with discrimination, causes the deaths of millions of girls and women. While poverty affects households as a whole, because of the gender division of labor and responsibilities for household welfare; attempting to manage household consumption and production under conditions of increasing scarcity places the greater stress on women. The risk of falling into poverty is greater for women than for men, particularly in old age, where social security systems are based on the principle of continuous remunerated employment.

The feminization of poverty has become a significant problem in countries with economies in transition, due to a general rise in male migration as well as overall unemployment trends. Poverty increases in parallel to the proportion of female-headed households: about one fifth of all households worldwide; in rural areas of Africa and the Caribbean, the proportion is higher still. The application of gender analysis to a wide range of policies and programs is therefore critical to ‘poverty reduction’ strategies.

Gender disparities in decision-making power are another contributory factor to the poverty of women. ‘Antipoverty programs’ alone will not ‘eradicate poverty’. This will require democratic changes in economic structures and political participation, in order to increase access for all women to resources, opportunities and public services.


Identifying and combating poverty

While the poor are not invisible, little attention is given to what the condition of poverty comprises nor to the indicators that reveal it in families and communities. Pramila Patten offers the following list of indicators of circumstance suffered by millions of women throughout the world

• Lack of income and productive resources sufficient to ensure a sustainable livelihood;

• Hunger and malnutrition;

• Ill health;

• Limited or lack of access to education and other basic services;

• Increasing morbidity and mortality from illness;

• Homelessness and inadequate housing;

• Unsafe environments;

• Social discrimination and exclusion.

The world’s development planners have designated sustainable development as the major response to the problem of poverty. For decades it has been recognized that women’s full involvement in development at all levels of the process is essential. Women have been the main voices in the discourse on defining sustainability. Poverty, the economy, and the environment are integrated into the general problem of human security in the sense of maintaining human well being and the well being of the planet. All three issues call for the full economic empowerment of women. Sustainable development and economic growth that is both sustained and sustainable are possible only through the improvement of the economic, social, political, legal, and cultural status of women. Equitable social development that recognizes empowering the poor, particularly women, to utilize environmental resources sustainably is a necessary foundation for sustainable development.

The release of women’s productive potential is pivotal to breaking the cycle of poverty so that women can share fully in the benefits of development and in the products of their own labor. Here are Patten’s suggestions for doing so:

• Increase the productive capacity of women particularly in developing countries;

• Increase women’s access to capital, resources, credit, land;

• Increase women’s access to technology, information, technical assistance and training;

• Raise women’s income;

•Improve women’s access to nutrition, education, health care and status within the household.

(Based on Pramila Patten 1999 Women and Poverty unpublished report to PDHRE)

World Financial Policies: Obstacles To Women’s Economic Rights

It is widely acknowledged that the feminization of poverty over recent decades has been exacerbated by the way in which global financial institutions have dealt with the Debt Crisis. Poor countries are unable to repay loans; interest payments alone may exceed national resources. When financial institutions impose currency devaluation as a way to decrease consumption and spending and theoretically thereby to decrease the indebtedness of the nation, this often increases the burden shouldered by women. Women activists such as Pramila Patten are working to bring to policy makers’ attention the actual experience of women dealing with the impacts of the policies in their daily lives. Here she reports this account from Mrs. Bintou Diop, an elementary school teacher in Guediawaye, Dakar:

Even before devaluation took place, the very mention of the word caused great fear among the Senegalese population. When finally the measure was implemented, the situation it created was beyond people’s worst expectations. We could not imagine the crises and disequilibrium it would create in families. I consider myself a head of household because I am the breadwinner of the family. My husband has been among the group of civil servants sent on early retirement with the budget cuts. He now brings in a marginal income to the family. Our purchasing power, which was already low, has fallen dangerously with the skyrocketing of prices of basic necessary goods. The major impact is regular food shortage within our family; we no longer think about a balanced diet. As a schoolteacher, I teach my students about the need to have a nutritionally balanced diet, but I am unable to practice it in my home. Protein consumption, meat and eggs, are a luxury to people who used to have them twice a week. Many people are obliged to buy fat or meat bones or fish bones or meat fat to boil in order to have a meat flavor in their meal. As a schoolteacher and civil servant I saw my salary decrease after the devaluation.

We teach under very difficult conditions. Our schools lack the basic infrastructure such as running water and toilets for teachers and students. If one needs to use the toiled one has to go all the way home for it. Even basic teaching materials such as chalk, books, desks and tables are unavailable. At least three pupils share a desk that is made for two. Teachers are obliged to buy chalk with their own meager salaries. Our children, who used to perform well in math, are now lagging behind because of lack of the supply needed to study math, in particular geometry. I was told that in America students receive all books free of charge in the public schools. How can the IMF expect Senegal to build the knowledge base of its population when it expects it to undertake cuts in the education sector that the United States does not do? Despite the financial contribution of the Parents' Association, who make up for much of the budget shortfall, and without whose action the situation could be much worse, the situation is still very bad.

(Pramila Patten, Women and Poverty, see above)

The aggravated and compounded problems of thousands of stories like Mrs. Diop’s, led Patten and others to challenge the commitments the financial institutions have made to poor women.

Where is the World Banks commitment to women? African women cannot follow the assertion that the Bank has changed, when such violation of their rights to information, participation and choice of the type of economic sustainable investment they want is being orchestrated. What right does the World Bank have to organize this new disguised economic colonization with no respect of people's priorities? To the World Bank Senior Investment Officer, Avi Hoffman, who is reported to have said: We have to take risk if we want a positive outcome, African women respond: You do not speak for us because your positive outcome means the aggravation of our poverty and destruction of our environment and increased corruption of our leaders!

What about the World Bank’s promise, to invest in women’s priority areas, made by Mr. Wolfensohn in Beijing to thousands of women? Why do we need to generate growth through Exxon/Shell/ELF’s oil exploitation in order to see it trickle-down to alleviate poverty when we know that growth has not created trickle-down results anywhere? What would women and the poor gain after being expelled from their communities and losing their forests and land for cultivation, after seeing their biodiversity severely damaged, and their drinking water, most valuable resource for women farmers, polluted? According to the women in Chad, Mr. Wolfensohn will come back in ten years and recognize that mistakes have been made, but after the oil companies have had enough time to extract a lot of profit.

How about Mr. Wolfensohns commitment in Beijing to set poverty alleviation as the top World Bank priority and to ensure that IDA money gets into the hands of women? All the statistics generated by the Bank show that feminization of poverty has been aggravated. Empowering the transnational corporations against women's rights is no solution. If poverty were a serious concern to the Bank, it would tackle poverty in a direct fashion. By excluding the people from the conception of this project, the World Bank contributes in postponing democratic rights, good governance and encourages corruption. This tends to confirm what many women believe, that the World Bank is only concerned with the promotion of the world market economy.

(Pramila Patten, Women and Poverty, a report to PDHRE, 1999)


Irrigation and New Wells = Water Shortages for Women...

In many cases, women’s livelihoods are endangered through a combination of prejudice and ignorance about women’s economic activities as farmers and heads of households, and about the division of labor between men and women in the family and in the community . The result is a catastrophic degradation of women’s lives. In the following section, we find a description of the unintended effects of well-meaning schemes for water distribution and irrigation.

In Burkina Faso, villages with severe shortage of water were selected for a well-digging project aiming to provide clean drinking water for rural communities. ... Traditionally, women had been collecting water daily sometimes from a considerable distance, often from sources that were seasonally unreliable. Traditionally, men were responsible for identifying springs, building well-structures to withstand use over a number of seasons, and maintaining them as needed. Any one individual did not own water points, rather all the users of a water point would contribute labor to its maintenance.

Women on the other hand were responsible for managing the well. They would consult with each other to decide when a well needed to be used less, when it needed maintenance or new construction, or if it needed to be abandoned because the water was no longer good.

When new, permanent shallow wells were constructed, construction training was provided and the villagers were asked to form water point management committees. A prerequisite for membership was literacy, and it was difficult to staff the committees for that reason. Adding insult to injury, since female literacy rates were

generally low, the women were effectively sidelined from the water-management which had traditionally been

their responsibility and in which they had a fair amount of expertise.

A year into the project, a new policy was introduced : everyone now had to pay for water drawn from the new wells. The water point management committees were to collect the funds and monitor the use the new wells. The women felt helpless but had no obvious means available to them to protest against the policy.

Their particular concern was that, in order to pay for the water, they needed access to cash income, which they lacked, and they became therefore dependent on their husbands for the necessary cash. Many of the men worked in the cities, visiting their rural homes only once or twice a year and it was difficult to get the cash from them. In any case, the men felt outraged at being asked to pay for something that had always been the women’s responsibility. In the absence of economic growth, the financial contributions needed to maintain the system become too burdensome for communities after donor support has ended, and systems may remain in disrepair for long periods. Even when local expertise is available, parts to maintain the system may not be. And so, women who could not afford to pay for the water were now reduced to walking even longer distances to draw water from old water holes...!


For the most part, women have been omitted from both large- and small-scale irrigation schemes in Africa, often because of land-tenure issues. Baseline information about the prevailing gender division of labor in agriculture, farming practices, and land-tenure systems has rarely been collected and analyzed before irrigation systems are established.


Faulty assumptions on the part of irrigation planners have repeatedly resulted in the dispossession of women farmers. In the Blue Nile Irrigation Scheme, established by the British in Sudan, women traditionally had the right to own land in the affected region. When the irrigation scheme was established, land was taken away from existing farmers, including women. But it was reallocated exclusively to men. There was a decline in female farming as the irrigation schemes became widespread.


Similarly, when irrigated rice farming was introduced in the Jahaly Pacbarr Project, in Gambia, resource and access rights of women declined. Although some women benefited from the increased economic prosperity of the area, they became more dependent on senior male heads of households, and were forced to labor on their land, whereas in the past women had usufructuary rights to their own land.


An irrigated rice project in Cameroon could not pay for itself because women were not assigned land but were expected to work in their husbands’ fields. Partly in protest, and partly out of need for survival, the women withheld their labor in order to grow sorghum for family subsistence outside the irrigation scheme. In Kenya, the Mwea Irrigation Scheme appropriated all available land, investing its control in the hands of the scheme managers, who were men. Women lost rights to land they had traditionally used to grow food crops for subsistence. Consequently, women were forced to turn to their husbands for cash to buy food and became more dependent on men than they had ever been in the past.


The Lesotho Highlands Water Project provides a large-scale example. The project includes four large dams, water-transfer works, and a hydroelectric power plant. Funded by the World Bank, the European Economic Community, the European Investment Bank, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), several bilateral agencies, and the Government of South Africa, the project's objective is to divert water from the Orange and Senqu rivers in Lesotho to service South African industry The project will destroy arable land, in an area where there is already an overall shortage of arable land, and substantial grazing land will also be appropriated. It would appear that the needs of South African industry prevailed over those of local farmers, and since Lesotho has a very high proportion of female-headed households, women will be disproportionately affected.

(Eglal Rached in Water Management in Africa and the Middle East Challenges and Opportunities, chapter 3 edited by Eglal Rached, Eva Rathgeber, David B. Brooks IDRC 1996

http:// www.idrc.ca/books/focus/804/chap3.html )



What is the situation in your country and community with regard to poverty? Are there many poor? Where do the poor live?

Which form does poverty take in this country/community?

What are the biggest problems the poor encounter?

Has the experience of poverty changed over time?

What is the official percentage of poor people? What proportion of the poor are women?

Do you know in your country/community of situations similar to those described here?

How do you think the experience of poverty varies from country to country?

Does this society recognize poverty as a violation of human rights? What is the stand of the government about poverty and the poor?

What resources are available to a poor person in our country?

What resources are available to poor women in particular?

Have any new resources been created as a result of the BPFA?


Women help themselves

Against sometimes overwhelming odds, many women pull themselves and their families out of poverty by initiating communal and cooperative projects that have enabled large groups of women to become economically self-sufficient. They also demonstrate by practice that their full participation in the economy is a great force for the constructive development of healthy economies and a fundamental necessity to the fulfillment of the goals of the Platform for Action. Below is one woman’s story of self-help and community development.

Fatima Bi, India

Until three years ago, Fatima Bi’s view of the world was limited to her traditional Muslim family. She was born and raised in Kalva village in the Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh, one of India’s poorest and least developed states. Kalva comprises 500 families, 90 per cent of whom are Muslims. Men are considered the sole breadwinners in this society, relying on fruit-vending as the main source of income. Women wear the purdah and are prevented from working outside the home to contribute to household incomes. Few girls are ever allowed to attend school, and many are married off long before adulthood.

Fatima was no exception. When she was 16, her parents arranged for her to be married to Syed Mohiuddin Basha, a 26-year old trader in Kalva. Fatima bore him seven children, four of whom died before their first birthday. Battling the hardship of poverty, Fatima put her heart and soul into raising her surviving sons, now 14, 12 and eight.

In Kalva, the village committee had always been led by land-owning male farmers until three years ago when the state government decreed that one third of all seats in local authorities should be reserved for women. In 1995, at age 33, Fatima became the first woman village council leader or sarpanch of Kalva village. Thus began Fatima's transformation--from a purdah-covered wife and mother, to an activist for poor women in Kalva village.

The road to Fatima social activism was far from smooth. Even though Fatima had been elected, her husband started attended council meetings in her place, and other male farmers refused to turn over local land and revenue records.

Then in 1996, Fatima joined one of 20 self-help groups in Kalva, created under the South Asia Poverty Alleviation Program (SAPAP), supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Self-help groups established under the program meet once a week: experts working for UNDP train members in group management, group dynamics and bookkeeping. The groups are also a forum for women to discuss their personal problems with one another. Members have pooled their own savings and use the money to provide loans to the needy to help them set up small businesses, buy or lease farm equipment, or raise livestock. Fatima attended training programs in community organizing and worked selflessly to nurture additional self-help groups.

Along the way, she gained confidence in her leadership capabilities and finally wrested control of the village land and revenue records and insisted on chairing Kalva council meetings herself. She secured access to clean drinking water for all poor households and helped them install low-cost sanitation units and initiated soil and water conservation works in villages often affected by drought.

As sarpanch, Fatima today campaigns to withdraw young girls from child labor in Kalva prevent child marriages and send their daughters to school. She also raises public awareness about the problems of poor women, setting the stage for a greater role for them in decision-making. "In the past, I could not even open my mouth when other men were around, let alone talk to officials," she says. "Now, I sometimes go alone to talk to them." Fatima has stopped wearing her purdah to meetings. Last August, in recognition for her efforts, the government of Andhra Pradesh conferred Fatima with the "best woman sarpanch" award in Kurnool district. Fatima invites women from other villages to learn from her colleagues. Her message to them: if you don’t come together to help yourselves, no one will.

(UNDP Race against Poverty Awards,1998 www.undp.org.in/News/PRESS/press118.htm)


Facing Poverty in Lima — Soup Kitchens and Cooperative Banks

Lima’s population doubled during the 1990’s, with the largest growth in the slums of San Juan de Lurigancho, on the outskirts of the capital. Encarnacion Huamán, the president of one of the largest mothers’ clubs in the community, is a familiar figure there.

Encarnacion emigrated from the mountain city of Cuzco 12 years ago, at a time when Sendero Luminoso was starting a campaign which would take the lives of 30000 people in Peru. The Senderoso’s were a terrorist response to a deep economic crisis made worse by structural adjustment. Tourism was dead, the factories were closed, and Encarnacion and her husband had two children to feed. They did like everybody else in Lurigancho: they mixed mud with stones, they hung a rush cover for a roof and moved in. There was no water, no electricity, and no sewerage. Encarnacion’s husband tried to find a job as a gardener or a security guard, but no one hired him. There was nothing to do and nothing to eat.

Encarnacion and a group of 13 women had head that women from other slums had started community soup kitchens to feed themselves and their neighbors. So they joined together, sharing food and utensils, and started a soup kitchen in the community, feeding all who came to the door. Once organized, the kitchens received food donations from NGOs of various types– Peruvian, ecclesiastical, foreign- alongside the soup-kitchen other cooperative ventures were formed: small home businesses, mutual savings banks. In a country where 70% of the population lives below the poverty line, and 50% in extreme poverty, these autonomous initiatives represented a glimmer of hope, a survival strategy in the face of structural poverty and systematic exclusion.

In 1983, when Encarnacion bought her first potatoes to her meeting in Lurigancho, there were 100 soup kitchens around Lima; five years later, there were 1500 in full operation. In 1990, Maria Elena Moyano, delegate mayoress and leader of the activists of the soup kitchens in the district Villa El Salvador, was murdered by Senderoso Luminos while walking along a park with her 14-year old son. But the work continued in the soup kitchens. (In 1996 they provided 5 million rations a day for the poor of Peru.

Magda Vilches, head of ten local mutual banks in Villa El Salvador, recounts

"There were several women in town in need of money and willing to work. We knew we could cook, knit, sew, grow vegetables, but we couldn’t get the elements, such as thread, fabric, and seeds. So we had the idea of pooling everything we had, forming a cooperative bank and helping each other. " Each bank is made up of thirty-six women. To be eligible for membership, a woman needs to be recommended by her neighbors. Each member contributes a weekly amount of approximately 2 dollars and the 72 dollars collected is given to the member who needs it the most at the time. Her product: bread, sweets, shirts, dresses or vegetables are put on the open market. If and when profits are made, the women gather and decide how to reinvest it. Vilches keeps precise records of payments. Infrequently, she has to fine women who do not repay on time. The general effect of these micro-banks has been virtually immediate: as one business progresses, another one is started.

While the national government still has to devise effective strategies to overcome poverty, women from the slums, anchored in a culture of community and cooperation have demonstrated creative leadership. They have displayed imagination when faced with catastrophe; they have looked for solutions for unemployment; they have found hope in the most desolate communities.

The institution of the communal kitchens has been around for a long time in Latin America. Every time there is one of the economic crises upon which the capitalist system is predicated, they reappear. As in previous incarnations, they represent profoundly educative experiences for the women involved in them. They have not all been able to transfer the success they experience there into the context of their home life, where they may still remain in subordinate positions. Only a few of them have projected themselves as political leaders. Maria Elena Montayo was one of them: she had emerged from the struggles of the 1970’s, where she had risen through the ranks of soup-kitchens and building-occupations by squatters. She had paid her dues to social change.

Many of the women, are still immersed in a situation of structural poverty and exclusion. Clearly, women’s efforts must address the task of changing the economic structures that perpetuate poverty. Women must be equally represented in the national leadership.

(Susana Chiarotti Poverty and the Human Rights of Women and Girls Report to PDHRE 1999)

Aiding Those Shunned by Society

When she was only six months old, Edith Wakumire lost her mother. By the time she was 12, her father died too, and Edith was taken in by an aunt.

Throughout her adolescence, Edith watched her aunt fall into a vicious cycle of domestic violence: marrying, suffering abuse, divorcing , remarrying. The pattern continued for years. Horrified by her aunt’s experience and frustrated by her own deprivation as an orphan, Edith made up her mind to devote her life to others.

Born in Mbale in 1950 to a man believed "cursed" because he had no sons, Edith was the last of five daughters. After her parents were gone, she and her sisters were thrust into a society that did not believe in educating girls, particularly orphans. Nevertheless she was accepted into a missionary-run school, where she graduated in 1971.

Committed to giving children opportunities that her sister barely had, she studied to be a primary school teacher and then taught for four years. She later enrolled at Makarere University where she obtained a degree in education, and taught for 10 years as the highest ranking teacher of female students, at Teachers’ College.

Her lifetime goal took a new direction when she joined the country’s fight against HIV/AIDS ...was offered an unusual opportunity to attend a leadership course for women from developing countries at the Haggai Institute in Singapore. The course focused on a number of issues, including HIV/AIDS, and motivated her to start a new program for Ugandan women: it would give them the information and support they needed to reduce their vulnerability to AIDS and to poverty. Working with a group of women from Mbale District, she helped start the Uganda Women’s Concern Ministry.

The vision of her new organization is one of empowerment: to give the skills needed to make informed choices, raise their quality of life and bolster their self-confidence. The group focuses on such common problems as lack of land-tenure, inability to buy property due to low income, and a range of practices that result in women’s exploitation.

Under Edith’s direction, the group helped launch seven community groups, each buoyed by new income-generating projects. About 500 HIV-Aids affected families have received counseling, home care and income-generating support. The organizations pays school fees for about 400 orphans and needy children. Another 30 youngsters have received help to start their own business. A centre for unemployed youth was set up in nearby Bungokho. Initially Edith financed the work out of her own resources, but as the work expanded she was able to receive funding from UNDP, the Ugandan Ministry of Health, humanitarian charity in the U.K.

(UNDP Race against Poverty Awards,1998 www.undp.org.in/News/PRESS/press118.htm)

Including the Excluded

At age 40, metal-worker Nicole Rouvet suddenly found herself among the ranks of France’s chronically unemployed in the 1980s. Her unrelenting search for work yielded no results in several years. She became discouraged, neglected her personal affairs, fell deep into debt, nearly lost her home. One day, she heard about the Secours Populaire Français, which assists the poor and the deprived. With their help, she regained her self-confidence. The experience taught her the importance of helping others. With additional help from friends and family, she was able to pick up the pieces of her life, and became a social activist.

Born to a poor family that had moved to Paris from the countryside (she says her parents were short on money, but long on kindness), Nicole eventually began working the organization that helped her get back on her feet. Her clients were some of France’s poorest-- people on the verge of total exclusion. " A person can slide quickly into this state" she says, "It is essential that we prevent people who are stuck from becoming totally destroyed."

As a paid employee and head of a departmental federation, Nicole now carries out her mission, launching initiatives to support people in helping themselves. In 1990 she created a program to provide skills and employment for women with little or no education. Approximately 150 women receive on-the-job training to work in small shops run by the organization for one or two years. Nicole also runs a bandwagon to distribute hot beverages, clothes and food to the homeless in winter. She seeks them out because they will probably never come to find her. "It isn’t easy to re-enter society once one has fallen into a bad situation... So many have created their own societies underground."

Most recently she convinced her organization to purchase a house in a small mountain village where they send 200 children each year for vacations. Not only has the presence of the home summer camp improved the children’s lives; it also has revived commerce in the nearly abandoned town.

This year, at French People’s Aid fundraising bookfair 70 writers came to dedicate their works. Ticket sales enabled the organizers to set up a theater troupe, with all the actors coming from difficult circumstances. Performers split their time between acting and ‘real’ jobs.

Nicole sees her role as a double one: to help people in need while preventing setbacks —an average of 300 at any given time— and to pressure public officials to support efforts that benefit the poor. Today she is seeking additional support from the European Union.

(UNDP Race against Poverty Awards,1998 www.undp.org.in/News/PRESS/press118.htm)

Training of Women Entrepreneurs

From a small Ugandan NGO dealing with women's development at the community level, Ms Cissy Nyarwa has spent the first part of 1996 in India updating her training skills at the reputable International Centre for Entrepreneurship and Career Development (ICECD).

She was chosen to participate in one of the ICECD's short training courses, Training of Facilitators for Women Entrepreneurship. The course is designed so that the new skills and knowledge she gains will be immediately applicable to her own community.

Her organization, based in Kampala, is called Ntulume Village Women's Development. This community based group involves local women in a range of small scale enterprises. They have made crafts, sold plants and shrubs, as well as home-baked bread and cakes. In addition, they hit upon the imaginative idea of making sanitary towels which had been in short supply in Kampala and were expensive if imported. They earned enough money from this successful venture to enable them to pay for the construction of a small centre for their association.

As chairperson of the association, Ms. Nyarwa committed herself to use the knowledge gained in the course to train women entrepreneurs to more effectively manage their business activities.

Another woman, Ms. Nyakorera, who spends much of her time helping other women generate income from growing mushrooms received funding to host an international course on Mushroom Cultivation for African Countries...

(Pramila Patten, Women and Poverty, a report to PDHRE, 1999.)

Changing Laws and Customs

Inheritance and property rights laws, important human rights issues, are a significant factor of poverty among women. In many parts of the world widows are especially affected. The accounts below from Asia and Africa are examples of women working to change ‘legal’ discrimination.

Bangladesh Changing Property Laws

When it comes to property, both majority Muslims and minority Hindus in Bangladesh discriminate against women. Under the Muslim law of inheritance, a daughter is eligible to only half the share of property given to a son while Hinduism does not specify her share.

Women’s rights groups have been demanding equal rights to property, and also a uniform family code in Bangladesh to give women rights to property, marriage, divorce, guardianship of children, and other things.

The Constitution treats each citizen fairly. It declares the state shall not discriminate against any citizen on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Prominent lawyer Salma Khan, chairperson of the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Committee believes women in patriarchal Bangladesh suffer injustices from birth.

Islamic laws, she argues, are not the only obstacle to equality before the law, because inheritance has been made a subject of civil courts in other Muslim countries like Egypt, Tunisia and Nigeria. There is no doubt that in doing so some obstacles must be faced, but the government and all concerned have to move forward with firm determination, she said.

But Bangladesh Law Minister Abdul Matin Khasru said his government is committed to affirmative action for women, but it is impossible for a democratic government to take step that might hurt the religious faith of the people. Asked if this meant that inheritance laws would never change in women’s favor, he skillfully side-stepped the question by saying that first people have to be prepared to accept change before a decision is taken.

Discrimination against women is ingrained in society. When a son is born, ëazaní or blessings are called out by the mullahs in the mosques, while the family mourns the birth of a daughter. A girl is taught from childhood that virtue lies in sacrifice. She is taught to be subservient, and to endure all oppression in silence. Self-esteem is not deemed a virtue. A woman who eats last and least and quietly takes all the abuse from her husband is considered an ideal woman, particularly in rural Bangladesh.

Women in the villages work longer and harder than menfolk, caring for domestic animals in the fields, tending children, and cooking. All the boiling, drying and husking of paddy are exclusively women work. Hours spent in household activities like caring for elderly relatives and the sick are not seen as work since they do not earn money for the family.

As farm labor, women get roughly 40 percent of a man's wage, according to researchers. Dr. Atiar Rahman, a research fellow of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), has calculated in a recent study that women work 21 hours more in a week than men. Similarly, the U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, estimates that boys who do not go to school spend only 12 minutes on house work daily, while girls who have dropped out shoulder five hours of work around the work.

As a result of her work load and child bearing responsibilities, women age much faster than men, and suffer from anemia and other problems related to nutrition deficiency. Take Mariam who works as a domestic in a home in the capital city. She is worn out after having three children in four years, but her husband and his family refuse to consider family planning options because they want a boy.

Human rights activists feel that equal property rights for daughters would go a long way in raising their social status. Lawyer Sigma Huda of the Bangladesh Society for Implementation of Human Rights refuses to believe the discrimination between men and women is sanctioned by religion. Reforming the Muslim inheritance laws would not clash with personal laws, she insists. It must be remembered that the Muslim Family Laws ordinance of 1961 established a number of statutes that are incorrectly, implied to be supported by the Holy Koran she says. Also, points out Farida Akhter, another well-known rights activist also points out that the Bangladesh Constitution of 1972, which assures women equality has coexisted with the Shar'ia Laws, even though they contradict each other, Ensuring daughters ‘’legal right to an equal share of parental property would conform with the fundamental rights of the Constitution, which the government has an obligation to fulfill," she said.

(Tabibul Islam, Women in Bangladesh Demand Equal Rights to Property, Inter Press Service, Dhaka, June 14, 1999; emailto CEDAW-In-Action@edc-cit.org. July 2, 1999 by Frank Elbers)

Tanzania: Land Act Gives Women And Food Security A Boost

Dar es Salaam, 9 September, 1999. Women's role in enhancing food security in Tanzania cannot be over-emphasized and this has been given a further boost with a recently passed law that gives women an equal say in the distribution and inheritance of land.

There were ululations and cheering from women members of parliament when 275 parliamentarians passed the Land Bill into the Act in early February of 1999

The law is the result of a combined campaign by a number of civil groups to promote women's rights. According to Member of Parliament Tabitha Siwale: "Parliament has heeded women's voice and the new law vividly denounces customary laws that discriminate against women in the use and ownership of land." Says Dr. Fauz Twalib, a legal expert in Dar es Salaam, "This is the first law on the books that clearly recognizes women's status."

According to a report on Women in Tanzania by the Southern African Research and documentation Centre, SARDC, women farmers are often allocated less fertile, marginal lands which make it difficult to produce enough crops. Tanzania has a serious food-security problem. An estimated 6.6 million Tanzanians face chronic food insecurity. Those most affected are the elderly poor, women and children, especially pregnant and lactating mothers.

The report says women are the custodians of both production and management in general since they are the cooks and distributors of food. "However, women own fewer and smaller farms, get less access to education, agricultural credit and extension services, no access to new technology and are unable to hire labor. Their incomes and decision-making powers are less than that of men."

Tanzanian agriculture is predominantly small-scale subsistence farming with 46,000 sq. km (93.4 percent) of the farms cultivated by the small-scale farmers and only 6.6 percent managed by male dominated commercial farmers. There are 730 large farms covering more than 2 million ha.About 46 percent of these farms, covering 78 percent of the total area of large farms belong to government-owned parastatals.

Most farmers, especially women, use only physical labor and the hand hoe. Only percent of cultivated land is worked by animal power and six percent use mechanical power. Of the 10,501,000 economically active people in Tanzania, 78.5 percent are in crop production, the majority of who (56 percent) are women. Mixed farming is performed by 761,000 people, 44 percent of who are women.

One of the most important provisions made by the law is that a wife and dependents must be informed and approve when the husband decides to mortgage, lease or dispute the land.

The new law gives equal representation to women on land committees, which deals with applications and disputes. Most rural women live on and use land that they get through family ties, and as a result they can use the land but cannot own it. Hence, under customary laws, women are never the beneficiaries of this type of acquisition.

Rights of occupancy are through family transfers, direct allocation from central government or local government and ordinary commercial selling. Constitutionally, the land is owned by the state but individuals can acquire land through rights of occupancy for a number of years.

Acquisition and ownership is the monopoly of men. As a result, women, who account for 85 per cent of all land users, are deprived of their rights. About 95 percent of the rural population acquire land under customary laws.

Women Advancement Trust in collaboration with a coalition of Non Governmental non profit Organizations called "Gender Land Task Force" has started a national awareness campaign aimed at educating people on the new law. This will be done through radio, television, plays, newspapers and public meetings with community leaders.

The trust also uses a cartoon series, aimed at children, to portray the daily life of women and publicize their rights. This is to ensure that the notion of equal rights is developed at an early age.

The struggle to get the law passed in the first place concentrated on Mbeya and Kilimanjaro Regions. Tumaini Silaa, the campaign co-ordinator, says: "We selected these two regions, as these are areas where women are most affected by customary laws. Their inputs helped us to come up with a strategy...." Although the government plans to translate the law into the local vernacular languages, the trust will also translate key sections, aimed at educating people on their rights. Women are the victims when it comes to equal rights of access to land," says Tabitha Siwale.

(Lucy Tesha Tanzania: Land Act Gives Women And Food Security A Boost in- Africa Information Afrique, 09/09/99)

Human Rights Activists Campaign To Assure Women’s Inheritance Rights

On July 29, 1999, a Day of Action for Women’s Inheritance Rights occurred simultaneously in eight West African countries. Activists in Burkina, Faso, Cameroon, the Gambia, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, and Togo coordinated this effort with the collaboration of the International Human Rights Law Group, based in Washington, D.C. Women ‘s organizations in the eight countries (coordinated) a program of preparatory activities, such as developing drafts of an ideal inheritance law from a women’s perspective.

Activities throughout the above countries included: A march from a central point to a prominent institution such as the Parliament Building, the Ministry of Justice, or the Supreme Court in the capital city of each country; presentation of draft model legislation on women’s inheritance rights to an appropriate member of the government, legislature, or judiciary, along with a memorandum urging adoption of the model legislation; a press conference at the local press center.

The Day of Action was part of a long-term campaign to bring national, regional, and international attention to customary inheritance practices that deny women their right to inherit land and other property. These inheritance practices have devastating direct repercussions on the lives of women and children, the most significant of which is the loss of rights to shared property, leading to destitution and pauperization. Yet these practices persist, by virtue of tradition, religion and lack of information despite the presence of statutory laws in most countries that provide at least limited protection of women’ rights to inherit. The question of women‘ s inheritance rights has become particularly urgent in recent years for a number of reasons, including the high incidence of HIV infection and AIDS and the widespread civil strife that has engulfed many countries throughout Africa. The result is that large numbers of women are being widowed at a younger age, at a time when their access to productive resources are essential if they are to continue providing for themselves and for their dependents. The negative impact on countries ‘ macroeconomic development is also staggering, given that, in their most productive years, half of the population are denied their means of production.

‘The Preamble to the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women states that violence against women is a manifestation of historically unequal power relations between men and women. Economic discrimination is an important aspect of these power relations, since, as you have noted, economically disadvantaged women are more vulnerable to violence and exploitation. In your Preliminary Report on Violence Against Women, its Causes and Consequences in 1995, you stated that denying women economic power and economic independence is a major cause of violence against women because it prolongs their vulnerability and independence... (Par. 53)

‘Because the denial of women’s inheritance rights is a form of economic discrimination , and a proven major cause of violence against women, we urge you, as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, to use your mandate to recommend measures at the national, regional, and international levels to eliminate this significant cause of violence against women. We request that you undertake a regional visit to research and to report upon this issue. We further urge you to contact and collaborate with the OAU Special Rapporteur on Women‘ s Rights, Julienne Ondziel, whose mandate also includes reporting on women‘ s inheritance rights. She can be reached at ondziel@cafe.tg. We congratulate you on your successful efforts to date and hope that you will be able to include this important issue in your work.

(Mailing from Marie-Elena John Smith <Marieelena@hrlawgroup.org-- circulated by jcanet-women-vaww@jca.ax.apc.org)

Child Labour and Poverty

In a patriarchal cultures that accords sub-ordinate status to women, the position of the girl child is indeed vulnerable. Frequently, the girl child’s education is sacrificed for her to manage the household, take care of the younger children at home, maybe help her mother carry on some small trade. A girl child-laborer is frequently subject to abuse and may be forced to take on additional burdens of domestic work for her employers.

In many communities, the fate of the girl child is determined at an age when she is powerless to alter the decisions being made about her life. Even the right to life continues to be denied to girl children in many areas that practice female infanticide.

The dowry system deeply rooted in the culture and customs of many communities has been getting harsher and more exploitative. In India, young women’s’ in-laws use the dowry system as a way to supplement stressed family finances in otherwise failing economies. Many case of bride-burning have been attributed to the impact of growing poverty. In Africa, bridewealth iis received by the girl’s family, and in societies disrupts by drought or warfare or both, girl children may be treated as transient guests in their own home until the daythey marry.

Extreme poverty has also led to the prevalence of child labour in (many areas) ... The children are employed under inhuman working conditions, often bonded to the employer for an advance of loan.

In areas of India where bonded child-labour is endemic, women activists have tried to find workable solutions to tackle this problem without jeopardising the survival of the families. They have strived to relieve the children from bonded contract labour by extending credit to famklies to allow them to redeem the children from their employers. Strengthening adult employment, removing the specter of hunger eases the pressure on children to earn for their families. At the same time they have taken social action against employers who abuse the children who work under them. Night schools for working children provide basic education along with the much needed nutritious meal in the evenings.


Paraguayan Domestics Form Union

Domestic service has often been the only employment opportunity for poor young women and girls. In the developing countries the problem is especially acute when domestic servants are enlisted to work abroad. Women are often eager to take these opportunities to provide some income for their families at home. In very sever cases of poverty, girl children are given or sold into domestic service as they are into prostitution.

Domestic servants in foreign countries have frequently been without means of return, having not been paid and having surrendered their passports to their employers. While Susanna Chiarotti’s account of the plight of criaditas is particular to Paraguay, aspects of their condition are found even in industrialized countries. She also tells of how, in forming a labor syndicate, they have begun to work their way out of this particular turn in the labyrinth of poverty.

In Paraguay, paid domestic servants constitute 25.3% of the working female population, but only .4% of the working male population. Acute troubles are associated to these domestics. Most of them are internal migrants. They are confronted with forced prostitution, since many masters, or patrones, consider sexual relations as one of the domestics services. In other cases, they are forced to provide sexual initiations to the sons of the families for whom they work. They often live in unsanitary conditions, survive on leftovers, bear ill-treatment, and sometimes endure situations of semi-slavery.

Very few families allow these women to live with their own children, so they leave them with relatives or with other families, generating a chain of criaditos and criaditas. Handing over sons and daughters to wealthy families is a survival strategy employed by poor Paraguayan families. The daughters are educated, dressed and fed in exchange for domestic service. They are frequently exploited, ill-treated or not given proper care. They do not earn a salary; usually wear the masters’ daughters’ worn clothes; and in many cases are victims of sexual abuse from the men in the house. It is estimated that in Asuncion there are 11,449 criaditas, poor women aged between 5 and 18, that is to say, 9.1% of the total female population of that age. Besides being a survival strategy, the institutionalized practice of giving girls into domestic service is an alternative to abandonment or to terrible living conditions of street children.

The criaditas are typical members of the household unit, though they are not recognized as members of the family. Girls and adolescents, estranged from their original family, do housework without being classified as domestics. Theirs is a socially ambiguous role. They have no kind of protection and they suffer discrimination for being young, female, and poor.

Because of the total lack of human rights protection, domestics in Paraguay organized. In July 1989, the SINDICATO DE TRABAJADORAS DOMESTICAS DE PARAGUAY or SINTRADOP became affiliated with the Workers National Union (CNT). Although the union has approximately 500 members - scarcely 1% of the total number of women working in domestic service, it exercises a fundamental role in the struggle for the recognition of the workers’ rights.

SINTRADOP has a headquarters with a nursery for 15 children. It also organizes lectures on family planning. Their members can report abusive treatment, sexual harassment and other work-related problems. The women leaders of SINTRADOP believe that, compared to the former situation, there has been a decrease in abusive treatment and that there are almost no situations of semi-slavery. The members, however, recognize that they still suffer discrimination and that many are still living in appalling conditions and are not aware of their rights and the need to organize. Thus, only comparatively few women join the union.

Some advances have been achieved in the legislation on domestic work in Paraguay, but there is still a great deal to do. Domestic service is included in the Labor Code of Paraguay in the chapter dealing with Special Contracts. Labor conditions for female and male domestic workers differ from those for other workers as regards holidays, wages, working hours, and benefits. For instance, the Code establishes that the wages earned by domestics cannot be below 40% of the minimum wage. According to the law a domestic’s working day can last up to 12 hours, four hours more than all other workers.

The history of present protective legislation reflects the continued obstacle to the basic economic rights of domestics. In 1995, an act of Congress introduced some reforms to the domestic service labor regulations. This law had been approved and passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives in 1994. President Wasmosy vetoed 17 articles, including 6 referring to women, 2 of which were in relation to domestic service: obligations of the employer and end of contract. Thanks to the pressure exercised by various women groups, and especially by the Women's’ Formation and Study Service (SEFEM) and their counseling of members of Congress, the bill became a law a year later. Again, women’s organized political action brought about constructive change.

Among the modifications were some which mean an important change in domestic service labor regulations such as right to Christmas bonus, to maternity leave, to indemnity if made redundant without notice, and the elimination of ‘lack of uprightness and morality’ as a legitimate cause for dismissal. Particular dispositions for women were also introduced, among them the inclusion of sexual harassment as a justified cause for terminating a contract at the will of the worker, a very important protection for female domestics.

(Adapted from Susana Chiarotti, Poverty and Girls, a report to PDHRE, 1999)

Guatemala : Women’s Empowerment

Guatemalans have suffered through civil war for over 35 years. Much of the conflict in Guatemala was the result of land disputes and poverty. Guatemala is an agricultural country with fertile and productive land, but these lands are in the hands a few, wealthy Guatemalan families and are worked by poor Guatemalans with no lands of their own. When the conflict intensified in1982-83, over 1 million people were displaced and more than 45,000 Guatemalans became refugees in Mexico. The lands they left were in both ancestral indigenous regions in the area known as the western highlands and in the recently colonized lowlands. Some of this land was of marginal quality and insufficient size but some was productive, supporting cash crops. Generally speaking, widowed women (and other single women with dependents) nominally controlled land when they inherited it from a father or husband who had the original claim. All other women generally depended on husbands or male partners for access to land. Generally lands were divided among siblings, either giving more land to sons than daughters, or giving no land at all to daughters. In turn, land issues were a key component of the 1996 Peace Accords and as a result of the empowerment of Guatemalan refugee women, women’s rights to land and property were duly considered. Although for most women refugee camps are hardly a site of empowerment, the civil war in Guatemala proved to be an opportunity for refugees to improve their social position both within the camps and then upon their return to Guatemala.

(...) The barriers to women’s empowerment were numerous. Not only were women necessarily preoccupied with everyday survival, but they could hardly communicate with each other as they did not share a lingua franca, most had only limited education and lacked self-confidence. Moreover, all of the representatives elected by the refugee population to run the camps were men. Despite these obstacles, however, camp life provided women with an opportunity to undertake new roles which eventually led women to become involved in small projects such as vegetable gardening, production of handicrafts to sell and bread production, all of which were n order to satisfy certain basic needs. With the assistance of UNHCR the women refugees engaged in a number of other activities and projects including literacy campaigns, the establishment of reproductive health services, training in radio and other communication skills, and human rights education. In 1990 women refugees had formed their own organization, Mama Maquin, the primary objective of which is to raise consciousness about discrimination against women.

(...) When the Permanent Commission of Guatemalan Refugees, the primary NGO representing Guatemalan refugees, had successfully negotiated with the Guatemalan government and ensured that land rights for the landless were included in the Peace Accords, Guatemalan women were in a good position to analyze the new Peace Accords from a gender perspective.

After the accords were signed Mama Maquin held various meetings and workshops with its leaders and members in order to analyse the content of the accords, and upon doing so, they realised that married women and those living in common law unions were not taken into account in terms of the right to land. Only men, widows, and single mothers were, the latter two groups being considered as vulnerable groups and as women-heads-of-households respectively. In turn, Mama Maquin decided to fight for women’s right to be co-owners of the land as a means of protecting women from homelessness and landlessness and to validate women’s work in the house and fields.

Mama Maquin campaigned to grant women the right to participate in the whole process of land purchase, from visiting lands for possible settlement, to participating in the negotiation of land purchase, to having the right to sign the documents necessary to solicit credit for land purchase, to becoming members of the co-operatives. On this last point Mama Maquin was clear that women must have the right to be co-op members, with voice, voting rights and the right to elect people and be elected to leadership positions in the co-operative and community structures (...) Mama Maquin was able to ground their demands in law by demonstrating that the Guatemalan Constitution in no way precludes women from co-owning land and property. Eventually, with continued efforts, campaigning, negotiating and lobbying, Mama Maquin was successful in its bid to grant married women and those living in common law unions the right to be co-owners of land and property.

(...) The legal recognition of women’s rights to co-own land and property is only the very beginning of the struggle and that upon return to Guatemala there are many things that must be accomplished before married women and those living in common law will actually enjoy their new legal rights (...) This situation means great challenges to and internal changes in ourselves too (...) Since land is the basis of life, economic well-being and community development, women must fight to make (their) participation real in all facets of community life and society; we must also fight for the reformulation of laws in order to guarantee equality between women and men.

The Guatemalan refugee and returnee women are clear about the fact that land is the only and most important family possession. According to Maria Hernandez. "Land is an integral space for the development of campesino and indigenous women and men, a space where we can live and work, defend our rights and pass on our culture, customs and languages to our daughters and sons. The task we have set ourselves is not easy because even with our consciousness and determination there are situations that limit or complicate our participation, among which the fact that we are responsible for childcare, for our families, housework; there is also lack of experience in travelling outside our communities and take part in negotiations. Furthermore, many of us cannot read or write. But in spite of all this, bit by bit we have been opening and occupying new opportunities of participation in order to achieve a society where women and men truly live harmoniously between them and with nature --as held in our world view that has been passed down to us from our Mayan ancestors.

[Based on: Maria Garcia Hernandez [1],The Implementation of the Guatemalan Peace Accord with Special Reference to Women Returnees from Mexico,; and Paula Worby Organising for a Change: Guatemalan Refugee Women Assert their Rights to be Co-Owners of Land Allocated to Returnee Communities, papers prepared for the Inter-Regional Consultation on Women’s Rights to Land and Property During Conflict and Reconstruction, Rwanda, 1998) www.unchs.org/tenure/Publication/Womrights/Guatemal.htm.]


Is your government fulfilling the responsibilities it undertook as a result of signing international human rights instruments? What obligations has your government taken? Which instruments did it sign? Which did it ratify?

What kind of housing and food programs are currently in existence in your country and community? Are they equally available to all including women?

What are the main obstacles to women’s economic security in your society?

What changes in the legal codes of your country could help keep more women from falling into poverty? (these might include property and inheritance rights, divorce settlements, unemployment benefits, childcare benefits etc. Are any of these issues before the legislature?

Do you know of particular laws that contribute to women’s poverty? what are they? what would be needed to change them?

Have each person research the current status in court and in the legislature of one issue related to poverty.

How could your group help educate the public ?

Consider writing to or interviewing a legislator who is active on issues of poverty.

Make a list of actions you could take to make your voice heard by your governments and corporations in your country. Which ones might you be prepared to take?

List other groups and NGOs in your area who might cooperate with you.

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