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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Sun Aug 13 15:17:07 2000
Date: Sat, 12 Aug 2000 00:03:56 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: RIGHTS-BRAZIL: Rural Women March to Demand a Better Life
Article: 102463
To: undisclosed-recipients:;

Rural Women March to Demand a Better Life

By Mario Osava, IPS, 11 August 2000

RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 10 (IPS) - More than half of Brazil's rural women begin working before they reach age 10, they toil as long as 18 hours each day and many of their rights are ignored, denounced the leaders of a protest march in Brasilia Thursday.

The March of the 'Margaridas' mobilised some 15,000 women in protest against the economic policy, poverty and violence in rural areas. They staged demonstrations outside the Central Bank, the Ministry of Justice and the National Congress in the Brazilian capital.

The National Confederation of Agricultural Workers (CONTAG), comprised of 3,600 rural unions representing 25 million workers, organises this march on a yearly basis in order to underscore the specific demands of rural women.

The date of the annual event is in honour of Margarida Alves, a unionist from the northern state of Paraiba who was assassinated 17 years ago on the order of powerful local ranchers.

The rural women workers face the worst situation of any group in the country, as they suffer sexual discrimination on top of the harsh conditions of life in the countryside.

Women represent nearly a third of the rural labour force and of the nation's food producers, but 85 percent work without any sort of contract and thus do not have the labour rights or social security provided by law, stressed Raimunda de Mascena, co- ordinator of women's programmes at CONTAG.

They do not have access to pensions or paid maternity leave. In the agrarian reform process they are generally prevented from holding land titles or from obtaining credits, which are given to the husband instead of being granted to the couple jointly.

In addition, 56 percent of rural women are sent to work before they reach their tenth birthday, in most cases forced to drop out of school, and 60 percent have their first child before age 21, said Mascena.

There are 2.2 million women in rural Brazil working without payment, enduring a sort of slavery, says economist Hildete Pereira de Melo, a specialist in women's labour issues at the Institute of Applied Economic Research, a division of the Ministry of Planning.

Exclusion and discrimination leave peasant women more vulnerable to domestic and social violence because they lack the protective mechanisms available to women in many cities, such as police stations specialising in assisting the female population.

Economic globalisation, with its neo-liberal policies imposed on the nations of the development South, has aggravated the conditions in which rural women workers live, charged activists at the protest in front of the Central Bank, an institution perceived as an instrument of the international integration process.

The participants in the March of the Margaridas called on the Ministry of Justice to halt the impunity that feeds violence in the countryside, especially the frequent assassinations of union activists and peasant farmers.

The marchers then presented parliamentary leaders with a document listing the principle demands of the rural women's movement, outlining legislation and measures to ensure recognition of their constitutional rights.

The women's protest coincided with another by the 'Movimento dos Sem Terra (MST - landless movement), which began its fourth national congress Monday in Brasilia, attracting 10,538 delegates from 23 of Brazil's 26 states.

The MST activists joined forces with others from labour unions, social movements and leftist parties outside the National Congress to protest corruption in the government, accusing politicians, judges, bankers and business leaders.

The demonstrators specifically called for a legislative investigation into the scandal unleashed by the discovery that 169 million 'reais' (94 million dollars) had been illegally diverted from the Regional Labour Court construction project in Sao Paulo.

The case has already led to the impeachment of national senator Luis Est‚vao, but investigators have yet to identify all the beneficiaries and responsible parties involved in illegally transferring the money in the period 1992 to 1998.

The MST also demands that Senate president Antonio Carlos Magalhaes speed up approval of a bill that would transfer cases of human rights crimes to federal courts, a measure considered essential for bringing the perpetrators of peasant massacres to justice.

The most infamous massacre occurred four years ago in Eldorado de Caraj s, in northern Brazil, where 19 rural workers were assassinated. Of the 155 police officers accused of the crime, none has faced trial.

Local courts are subject to pressure from powerful landowners and police authorities, according to the MST leadership.

The MST national congress, with the theme of Agrarian Reform: A Brazil Free of Large Landownership, concludes Friday, when delegates are to approve the organisation's working agenda for the next five years.

In addition to fighting for extensive redistribution of land, the MST says it is essential to change the current agrarian model, which is based on production for export, and to prevent cultivation of genetically modified grains because it fosters dependence on the transnational seed corporations.