Working Towards Convergences of Struggles: ARROW at the Global Network on the Right to Food and Nutrition

March 26, 2016 Working Towards

ARROW was at the annual meeting of the Global Network on the Right to Food and Nutrition (GNRtFN), that was held in Dakar, Senegal from 18-22 March 2016. GNRtFN is an initiative of civil society organisations and international social movements that opens a space for dialogue and mobilization of its members to hold States accountable for their obligation to realize the right to food and nutrition.

Dakar Declaration of the Global Network on the Right to Food and Nutrition 2016 was finalized during this meeting. Click here to read it.

ARROW Senior Programme Officer Malyn Ando was part of a panel with farmers, fisherfolk, pastoralists, and consumer rights groups to discuss convergences of struggles. She presented our intersectional and cross-movement building work on women’s rights, sexuality, and sexual and reproductive health and rights, and their intersections with the right to food and nutrition. Read below her intervention.

Working Towards Convergences of Struggles

Let me start by explaining why my organisation, the Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW), believes in the importance of convergences of struggles on food sovereignty, nutrition, land, water, seeds, women’s rights, and sexual and reproductive health and rights:

1.     As a feminist organization, our work does not stop at addressing gender equality, but aims towards transforming social relations that oppress, exploit, or marginalise any set of people on the basis of their age, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, ability, race, caste, ethnicity, religion, location, socio-economic status, occupation, and migration or citizenship status, amongst other variables that serve as axes of privilege and discrimination.

2.     Patriarchy and the neoliberal capitalist system are the root causes of gender inequality and unequal access to the world’s resources and wealth.

3.     All human rights are indivisible and interconnected and no one right is more/less important than the other. The right to adequate food and nutrition is intrinsically linked to all other human rights, including the rights to health, water, housing, education, property, decent work and living wage, livelihood, and social security and protection, and the right to development.

4.     Similarly, the right to adequate food and nutrition, cannot be separated from rights to self-determination, autonomy, and bodily rights. Women must be able to control our own bodies, sexualities, and fertility, for us to meaningfully exercise our other civil, political, economic, social or cultural rights.

What do I mean by these? Here are some examples of violations of these rights from Asia, where I come from:

·      A woman in India has been undernourished all her life because men and boys are privileged in the dinner table, and thus puts her life at risk during childbirth. (Postpartum haemorrhage is the most common cause of maternal death in developing countries; Women’s lack of nourishment also results in babies of low-birth weight.)

·      Before a national law mandating provision of reproductive health services was enacted, a woman in Manila, Philippines who already has nine children cannot access contraceptives in the public health system because her local government is influenced by religious fundamentalsits;

·      A girl in Indonesia is married without her choice at the age of 12 to a man so much older than her, which puts her at risk of violence and pregnancy when her body is not ready for it;

·      A plantation worker in Sri Lanka receives low wages; does not have access to adequate food, housing, clean water, and to health care; and exposure to pesticides puts her at risk of miscarriages, infertility, birth defects, and cancers;

·      A woman is forcibly raped with the orchestration of her father to cure her for being a lesbian;

·      A rural woman in Nepal traditionally has to be segregated and live in a cowshed whenever she has menstruation for being unclean (chaupadi), or during birth;

·      An adolescent girl in Malaysia becomes pregnant due to lack of comprehensive sexuality education, and because talking about sex (especially for girls) is a taboo, and is kicked out of school in the process (while the boy is not);

·      A Burmese migrant factory worker in Thailand loses her job for getting pregnant;

·      Rohingyas in Burma/ Myanmar (a Muslim minority who are not recognised as citizens by the government) are mandated to only have two children and no more because of a perceived threat to Buddhists who are growing at a slower rate;

·      Women with disability across the region are seen as ‘defective’ and ‘unfit’ to get married and become mothers, while men with disability are only seen as having a problem; and

·      Female community health workers in Pakistan are targeted and killed by militants for providing contraception and polio vaccinations and ostensibly “promoting Western interests.”

The lives of these women are of course more complex than what are outlined, but these examples are indicative of deep injustices and of the ways that patriarchy intersects with our conceptions of sexuality and other structural factors.

The stories above also do not reflect that women themselves have agency and they–individually or as part of collectives and struggles–resist and work to change these situations. It should also be stressed that women play a pivotal role in farming, fishing, pastoralism and ensuring food sovereignty, despite having no ownership and control of land and assets, little access to resources, and being made invisible in public policies in many countries.

State obligations play a crucial and substantive role in ensuring that these rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.

We use an intersectionality approach in analyzing development issues, and building alliances across movements is a key strategy. In this regard, some of the ways that ARROW has been working towards convergence are as follows:

·      Perspective-building, conceptualization, and analysis on how these issues are interlinked. I think we particularly help in strengthening and deepening the gender and women’s rights analysis in food and nutrition discussions, with particular emphasis on how these link with issues such as maternal health, universal access to health care, and sexuality as going beyond a health-based and violence-prevention approach but also having an affirmative aspect. We also have ongoing work on climate change.

·      Related to these, we have developed resources that explore these interlinkages. These are mainly in English, with a few available in South Asian languages of Bangla, Hindi, and Tamil. We are also developing easy-to-digest materials that communicate these linkages, including infographics.

·      We have brought together representatives of various organisations and networks working on poverty, food sovereignty, food security, women’s rights, Dalit rights, gender justice, sexuality, and SRHR issues in and across Asia. This was one of the first efforts in the region to do so, and to break down the tendency to work in silos within and across sectors and movements despite having overall the similar visions of development justice. We deliberated on the intersectionalities of these movements and issues to find common grounds, and jointly developed a cross-movement, intersectional analysis and approach and a call that respects human rights, gender justice, and environmental sustainability.

·      We work with national partners across Asia who organize women and young people to claim their rights and hold governments accountable with regards to their rights including to health.

·      ARROW with our partners and as members of various networks[1] have been participating in the global and regional processes related to the new sustainable development framework, mainly on the health (3), education (4), and gender (5) goals but also contributing to analysis of women’s rights and Global South activists on other goals including on “SDG 2 on End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.” We also support partners to engage at the national level on the post-2015 process. We have engaged in international processes on food and nutrition by engaging in the ICN2 and follow-up and through membership with the Global Network on the Right to Food and Nutrition.

·      Monitoring of international commitments related to women’s rights and SRHR is another key strategy, and one of our teams is engaged with developing rights-based indicators related to health and gender.

Lastly, we have a strong communications strategy in place that brings out our issues through various mechanisms, including social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter. This is a strategy that we often forget about, but is necessary to be able to communicate our agendas and action calls to a broader audience.

[1] We are members of several key networks in the Asia Pacific—Asia Rural Women’s Coalition (ARWC), Asia Pacific Women’s Watch, and a very interesting body formed only three years ago, the Asia Pacific CSO Regional Coordinating Mechanism, a platform for CSOs in Asia Pacific to engage with intergovernmental process in regional and global levels, and which is composed of 17 constituencies, including women, farmers, fisher folks, trade and union workers, and indigenous peoples. Globally we are part of the Women’s Major Group, the Post-2015 Women’s Coalition for Sustainable Development.