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Embracing Grassroots Feminism

Feminism is inherently political and must not be viewed in isolation from other structural inequalities, including race, generation, and class

Around the world, women are taking the patriarchy to task, while healing the environment – all the time building the movement for grassroots feminism. "Today, International Women's Day," writes Tramel, "is a time for protest, organizing, and celebration." (Photo: La Via Campesina)

Women’s rights are at a tipping point. Rural and urban women workers on the frontlines of climate chaos experience the most acute violations of their rights to land, food, and territory at this time of escalating hunger and malnutrition, and steady erosion of democracies.

Around the world, these women are taking the patriarchy to task, while healing the environment – all the time building the movement for grassroots feminism. Today, International Women’s Day, is a time for protest, organizing, and celebration.

Feminist movements are using this opportunity to honor the memories of leaders recently fallen in the struggle for liberation. In Honduras, Berta Cáceres was murdered in her home three years ago for organizing for Indigenous rights to water and territory by protesting the massive Agua Zarca dam complex. And last year in Brazil, Marielle Franco, an elected official who took on the establishment through her commitment to Black and Queer justice, was also assassinated. 

Grassroots organizations and social justice movements are embodying the struggles of feminist leaders like Cáceres and Franco in their collective visions. In the U.S., Grassroots Global Justice Alliance insists that feminism is inherently political, and that it must not be viewed in isolation from other structural inequalities, including race, generation, and class.

In other words, those most targeted by patriarchal and colonial neoliberal policies must be the ones who outline their replacements. Grassroots feminism does just that by lifting up Black and Indigenous women, and also by spotlighting the unique struggles of femmes and gender variant people in the fight for self-determination and resistance to the patriarchy.

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La Vía Campesina, a transnational peasant movement, is weaving feminist principles into the fabric of its vision of food sovereignty through agroecology. The movement calls this popular peasant feminism, a way of guaranteeing the rights of women and ensuring their participation in political decision-making.

But how do these practices get translated into policy? La Vía Campesina and other social justice movements are taking homegrown agroecological projects – that are unapologetically political – all the way to the United Nations. The idea is that by working with global governance mechanisms, states can be held accountable to the basic needs of their citizens, and especially to those of working women.

The past year has been a key moment for those processes; today it is cause for celebration. Last December, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas, a piece of human-rights based legislation pushed forward by La Vía Campesina’s members for nearly two decades.

And in Rome, La Vía Campesina and other movements of small-scale food providers and consumers are putting together guidelines for states outlining their obligations to ensuring the basic food and nutritional needs for all of their citizens. This work takes place through the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples' Mechanism for relations with the UN Committee on World Food Security. Such a process is ground breaking in that it is the only truly participatory space for women workers and their larger movements to insert their concerns and solutions into transnational human rights-based policy instruments.

All in all, feminist movements are at an important juncture, with the potential to continue contributing to systemic policy change, while national governments have shifted further away from human rights. The systemic change they seek is rooted in agroecology, food sovereignty, and climate justice – and it starts with working women.

Salena Tramel

Salena Tramel is a journalist, international policy and development consultant, and PhD researcher.

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