Dona Maria do Socorro, member of the Interstate Movement of Babassu Coconut Breakers (Movimento Interestadual das Quebradeiras de Coco Babaçu: MIQCB) is one of those women who, when they talk about the things they vehemently believe in, endows every word she says with different feelings – affection, rage, strength, love, resistance, experience. A desire to defend and attack at the same time. To protect. This is how she talks about the Cerrado, her land.
“Every time we go into the land, the forest, to our reserves, wherever it is: we come out with fruit for our children to eat, a fish to feed them, pure, clean water for them to drink. We don’t have money but we have the riches of the forest.” This was one of her powerful speeches during the “Discussions between Networks: Gender and Race in the Cerrado”, which CESE ran in partnership with HEKS-Eper.
The activities aim to boost the political and organizational work of women’s coalitions in the Cerrado, to foster the exchange of experiences between these groups and mixed women’s movements; to push for greater visibility for their actions; and to provide continuity to the debate about how relationships between class, race/ethnicity and sex/gender shape the social situation of women in the Cerrado.
During the meeting, Maria do Socorro also denounced the contrast between the women coconut breakers’ knowledge about the palm – the importance of the tree for their lives – and the invisibility they experience at moments when the future of the Cerrado as a whole, its means of survival, is decided – an invisibility imposed by the patriarchy and big business.
“We protect the palm because it strengthens us. It excites us, it brings us the air we breathe, it is the beauty of the forest, it ensures the waters flow and, above all, it sustains us: from the dung in the flowerbeds, to the vegetable garden, to the oil that seasons our food, to the soap for washing our clothes, to the food we eat, to the rooves we live under. Even so, are we listened to? No,” she declared.
She added, “And then this so-called MATOPIBA arrives. It is capitalist development driving a government that needs money. It’s the large projects that have the money, the large-scale investment, tearing everything down and destroying our riches. We are the ones who are rich! Not these big companies, which have capital to invest, for development, which dismantles, which tears down, which kills people.”
And just like Dona Socorro, other powerful women uttered other powerful words at the meeting. Carmem Silva, from SOS Corpo Feminist Institute for Democracy (SOS Corpo – Instituto Feminista para Democracia), was invited to talk about the intersections between sex/gender, race/ethnicity and social class, to focus on the problems experienced by women in the biome, and to look at inequalities between women.
She noted that all the challenges raised during the dialogue refer to the women’s living situation and the inequalities that the women, including working class women, experience in relation to men. “And this is also related to the inequalities experienced in the Cerrado by women who have other identities, beyond that of being a woman, which also makes them the object of inequality – being black or indigenous.”
She used an example raised by a member of the circle which referred to the difference between wage inequality in the city and in the countryside. “When men are contracted, families are contracted. But the women aren’t paid, only the men. This example sums up the severity of the situation as a whole. Because it demonstrates how, even within the class in which they work, inequalities in relation to women are socially established. They are given. And if we don’t get organized to confront them, they remain.”
Carmem also questioned the mistaken notion that some agendas are for everyone and others are only for women, and how this mechanism militates against feminist struggles. “The issue of the regularization of territories, the struggle for land itself, confronting agri-business. It’s interesting how everyone works on these issues, but violence against women, or giving credit to these female leaders, are seen as ‘women’s’ struggles. If these agendas weren’t put forward by women, they often wouldn’t enter the debate. And even when they do put them forward, sometimes it’s a battle to be heard.”
Diversity of agendas and denunciations
The meeting was attended by women from several sectors and, because of this, various agendas and denunciations came up during the conversations. Maryellen Crisóstomo, member of the National Commission for the Coordination of Black Rural Quilombola Communities (Coordenação Nacional de Articulação das Comunidades Negras Rurais Quilombolas: CONAQ), talked about the demarcation of territories, her organization’s flagship concern.
“We understand that the violence that occurs against quilombola people starts from not having full access to their territory. For example: in Tocantins, only two quilombos have had their lands demarcated and we have 38 quilombos in the state. We are not fully recognized by the Brazilian state, we have never undergone a census as a population group, and keep coming up against a lack of demographic data,” she pointed out.
Flávia Guarani, from Kunhangue Aty Guasu, described how the network was set up in 2006 and how the women were guided by their elders to create the Assembly of Guarani Kaiowá Women because, previously, they participated in meetings but weren’t able to talk. “Today Guarani Kaiowá women have their autonomy, and ways of debating. Today, our main work as Guarani women is to construct medicine houses. We’ve been able to construct these houses through this project,” she explained.
“We are also working in food sovereignty, making community farms. We have held meetings about native seeds. We are mapping violence against women, which is happening in the whole state. We, women on the front line, suffer so much persecution,” she added.
The discussion also touched on the autonomy of women, the need for specific arenas for them within their own networks and coalitions, the importance of forging new leadership, some of the difficulties in the field of internal collaboration, confronting agri- and water businesses and the daily struggles against large-scale enterprises that try to destroy the land, water and homes.
Gender and Race in the Cerrado
CESE has invested in a series of activities with groups from the Cerrado, expanding the debate to a recognition of how the oppression experienced in the territory, due to the power and strength of big business, has an intricate relationship with the intersections of gender and race. This time, two workshops will be held. The first took place on 03/11 and 04/11; the second will be held on 16 and 17 November.
The two first days were marked by moments of exchange. Debates about the challenges that the women face to get organized in the Cerrado, the main agendas and forms of struggle that they take forward in the biome, and other agendas. Now they have been set the task of bringing to the next meetings two elements of communications work undertaken by their coalitions.
Representatives from the following organizations took part in the first meeting: the Cerrado Network (Rede Cerrado); the Coalition of Women from the Cerrado (Articulação de Mulheres do Cerrado); the Coalition of Black and Quilombola Women from Tocantins (Articulação de Mulheres Negras e Quilombolas do Tocantins, known as ALAGBARA); the Women’s Collective for the Cerrado/West of Bahia (Coletivo de Mulheres pelo Cerrado/Oeste da Bahia); the Agro-ecology Network of Maranhão (Rede de Agroecologia do Maranhão: RAMA); Kunhangue Aty Guasu; Takiná; the Interstate Movement of Babassu Coconut Breakers (Movimento Interestadual das Quebradeiras de Coco Babaçu: MIQCB); the Peasant Women’s Movement (Movimento de Mulheres Camponesas: MCC); and the Coordination of Black Rural Quilombola Communities (Coordenação Nacional de Articulação das Comunidades Negras Rurais Quilombolas: CONAQ).