100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day: Honoring the words of food justice activist, Rosalinda Guillén
by Renée MacKillop
Women in food and agriculture are at the core of the struggle for food sovereignty. On March 8th, 2011, in celebration of the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day, Oxfam is hosting an event in Berkeley, CA, entitled, “Ending Hunger Starts with Women.” Women make up the majority of farmers in developing countries and produce most of the world’s food. Of the nearly one billion people enduring chronic hunger in the world, 3 out of 5 work in food production. As caregivers and providers of sustenance, women are disproportionately hurt by the injustices of the global food system.
“Food Sovereignty is about an end to all forms of violence against women,” says Raj Patel. “La Via Campesina, in its very practical struggle to transform the food system - to bring democracy to the food system - have realized at every level the inequalities of power that accompany gender.” When we think about food sovereignty, we need to think about women’s work because the capitalist patriarchal food system demands enormous subsidies from women as well as the environment. Women’s work is often unpaid yet contributes to more than half of the world’s 17 trillion dollar economy. In developing countries, women produce between 60 and 80 percent of the food, yet own less than two percent of the land.
The Color of Food by the Applied Research Center reports that white women working in the U.S. food industry earned 63 cents to every dollar that a white man made on average. Women of color are further disadvantaged: Asian women made 86 cents, Black women made 53 cents and Latina women made 50 cents.
International Women’s Day is a time for celebration but it is also an opportunity for the food justice movement to reflect on the discrimination and oppression of women in our food systems. In reference to the women’s movement, bell hooks writes, “Before women could change patriarchy we had to change ourselves; we had to raise our consciousness” (7). Similarly, the food justice movement must transform itself in order to be truly transformative. As food activists and as a movement, we must be self-reflexive and push beyond demands for local food and consumer rights to also fight for human rights, women’s rights, and labor rights. This is how we will transform our food systems and end poverty and hunger.
In the spirit of International Women’s Day, we honor the words of farmworker and rural justice leader, Rosalinda Guillén.
Food sovereignty is about human dignity
- Rosalinda Guillén on a transformative food justice movement
“We think that [food justice] reform is putting a dent in the structure we’re being held in. We’re banging our head and scratching it a little bit and thinking “victory, victory!” I think there is a way out of that box but we don’t see it because we believe in the box. It’s going to be hard to break through that consciousness that’s been created through several generations in this country now. So, new laws and the enforcement of existing laws are important, but it is not enough if we want to transform our food systems.
Food sovereignty demands that we move out of that box and think as a human being and our own personal dignity and the dignity of our communities in a deeper, transformative way. What is it that I need to do to ensure my communities liberation not just from the effects of oppression—like bad treatment of workers and food insecurity—but from the structures of oppression.”
“Everything we put into our mouth makes a difference. We don’t seem to have the sense or willingness to sacrifice to make the difference. It’s difficult to pull people out of their comfort zone. We used to pull people out of their physical comfort zone by showing them how farmworkers were living in the labor camps like people did in the 60’s, but now it’s the emotional comfort zone: “Don’t call me racist, don’t call me privileged, don’t call me insensitive,” because then you’re moving into my comfort zone of who I believe I am as a good person. Even that is becoming a problem: to really tell people the truth we have to speak truth to power. The power of the corporation to influence the emotional being of people is becoming a barrier to us as food justice activists.”
“One of the things we talk about in terms of eco-feminism is building power—and I don’t even know if power is the right word. A lot of organizations and a lot of organizers talk about power, how we’re going to ‘get the power.’ They talk about shifting power. It’s like, somebody’s got power, I want it, our people need the power that that person has or that group has. I don’t think our organizing work should be about that. We don’t want to take somebody’s power. We don’t want to be in that place of power. We want to transform what power is. What is power? We need to claim that and act on it, regardless of who is claiming it in that other way. So, a transformation of what power is should be the ultimate goal of community organizing today.”
“We really need to rethink all of our relationships when it comes to the food movement.”
“If anything requires great sacrifice from all of us, it is the food movement; because every day each one of us puts into our mouth something that has hurt somebody, has poisoned the Earth and continues to create that kind of damage to Mother Earth and we are eating it. At some point we are going to have to say, “No more. We have to stop that. We have to stop eating food that is hurting another person or is hurting the Earth.” And that, to me, is going to be the greatest sacrifice that we all can make and when will we get to that point? Hopefully it won’t be too late.”
Rosalinda Guillén is a widely recognized farm worker and rural justice leader. The oldest of eight she was born in Texas and spent her first decade in Coahuila Mexico. Her family emigrated to LaConner, Washington in 1960 and she began working as a farm worker in the fields in Skagit County at the age of ten. Ms. Guillen has worked within the labor movement with Caesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers of America and has represented farm workers in ongoing dialogues of immigration issues, labor rights, trade agreements, and strengthening the food sovereignty movement. She works to build a broader base of support for rural communities and sustainable agriculture policies that ensure equity and healthy communities for farm workers. Rosalinda is a contributor to the upcoming Food First book, Food Movements Unite: Strategies to Transform Our Food Systems. Her testimony, along with that of other food activists can be viewed/read here.
hooks, bell. Feminism is for everybody: Passionate Politics. South End Press: Cambridge, 2000.