ActionAid is a global movement of people working together to further human rights and defeat poverty for all.

Time to flex our rights muscles

Tuesday, November 1, 2011 - 14:06

Anything you can do I can…also do. Not necessarily better, but I will certainly have a crack!

This was the message I gave the long suffering Bruce early in our blissful marriage, when the suffering was still short and the bliss still full!

In the dawn of my farming days there was no way this woman farmer was going to stay home, keep house and burn muffins if she could be out working cattle or driving the tractor.

I was determined to do all the things my farm man could do as the idealism of my 20’s still coursed through my veins. In my headstrong opinion I was as physically able and mentally adept as my fellow farmer.

Beneath this bravado was the simple conviction that these were... my rights. I had grown up knowing that women and men are equal, that I could achieve whatever I wanted and that I had the right to choose. This was not an issue under discussion, but a fact.

There are people in this world however that do not have the same right to choose – like the women farmers of Olilim in Eastern Uganda. Recently I was fortunate enough to visit these women farmers with ActionAid Australia through their Fertile Ground campaign.

Spending time with them, I learned that while I was busy flexing my ‘rights muscles’ to choose what I wanted to do, these women were learning to read so they could exercise the most basic of rights.

This was not the right to make a choice, but the right that enabled them to access medical help for their children. Able to read the word “clinic”, mothers now know where to take their babies with raging malarial fevers.

Gathering as a group these women form the Reflect Circle and are now beginning to take strength from knowledge of their rights. They started their meetings ten years ago, as a group focussing on literacy and numeracy, according to Angela, one of the group’s members.

Now these women farmers are also learning simple and effective commerce methods and age old agricultural norms we take for granted; the security of seed banks and grain storage, the power in cooperatives for sale of crops and the value of quality water.

More recently they have begun to identify and explore the roots of the problems they face and how gender inequality affects their everyday lives.

In Uganda, women smallholder farmers produce 80% of the food and represent 70% of the farming labour yet they own only 20% of the land. The right of women to own land and to access affordable credit has long been limited.

Until their fundamental rights are addressed and gender norms change, the struggle to be productive on the land will continue.

As women farmers in a developed country we need to flex our ‘rights muscles’ to help our fellow women farmers in the developing world on their journey towards having the right to choose.

Start your muscle flexing by visiting The Last Famine website to add your support to a campaign to make this the last famine the world will ever know.