By KATHLEEN T. OKUBO
BAGUIO CITY — On the 5th International Day of Rural Women in 2012, the Asian Rural Women’s Coalition (ARWC) highlights the critical roles rural women play in transforming the world into a just and sustainable society. This year, ARWC honours exceptional rural women and advocates from several countries across Asia who have continuously fought for survival, justice and freedom.
Innabuyog, a founding member and steering committee member of the ARWC has chosen four Cordillera women to stand among other Asian women receiving recognition on this 5th International Day of Rural Women.
They are Maria Galong of Conner, Apayao; Leticia Bulaat of Kalinga; Endena Cogasi of Agawa, Besao, Mountain Province and Petra “Tannaw” Macliing of Bontoc, Mountain Province. The many other women leaders who had similar contributions will be given honour as well in their respective organizations.
The Cordillera awardees:
PETRA MACILING, 77, children 10 of Mainit, Bontoc, Mountain Province; Activist, Campaigner, Organiser, Elder-Adviser of Innabuyog, Cordillera People’s Alliance (CPA). Issues working on: Human Rights, Land Rights, Indigenous Women And Children’s Rights, Women’s Empowerment, Environment.
Mother Petra is a leading figure for the defense of land, life, resources, and for self-determination. In her advanced age, she is still very active in the campaign against destructive projects affecting the indigenous peoples of the Cordillera Region. She has never wavered in her understanding that the identity and life of the indigenous peoples are intrinsically tied to the protection and conservation of the land. She is a living representation of the role of how rural women protect land and culture. For her, land is the source of life. For her, ensuring life is the role of every woman. Her simple logic is to defend the land in order to ensure life. Her life’s work led to the formation of the Montanosa Women’s Federation (now Binnadang-Innabuyog), and the Cordillera People’s Alliance of which she is a founding member.
LETICIA BULA-AT, 42, from Dupag, Tomiangan, Tabuk, Kalinga; Campaigner, Organiwer, Member of the Council of Leaders of Innabuyog, Traditional Village Tribal Leader, Organisation: Innabuyog, Cordillera People’s Alliance; Issues working on: Conflict Resolution, Environment, Human Rights, Land Rights, Indigenous Women and Children’s Rights, Women Empowerment.
“Although we have no money, we have food, good and simple ones on our tables.”
Born in a family of farmers, Leticia knew how hard the job of a farmer is. But despite its back-breaking repetitious movement, she experienced how rewarding it is to till her land. She came to realise that one can live without money as long as one has a land from which to plant and cultivate food. This is the reason for her courage to strong stance against big institutions like the World Bank (WB) and the government when she, together with her people, were once threatened of being displaced in the guise of projects such as the Chico Dam. It was a time when their rice fields were being targeted to be transformed into flower fields and their sub-terrains where being targeted for their gold.
Leticia, along with other communities, stood collectively against the construction of development projects in their lands. From simple dialogues to protest actions and literally blocking the road and trucks with their bodies, they were able to make a strong statement how valuable their land is, and stop the machines from reaching the project site. For twenty (20) years, she did this, along with the communities, until they won. It was a monumental feat since it was the first time in history when a project of the WB and the IMF was shelved. Today, she continues to remain vigilant and campaign for their rights to land, resources and self-determination.
ENDENA COGASI, of Sabiyan, Agawa, Besao, Mountain Province; Organiser, Campaigner, Activist; Cordillera Peoples Alliance. Issues working on: Indigenous Peoples Rights, Human Rights, Women’s Empowerment.
Endena Cogasi raised a family on her own and lived a simple life. But despite her simplicity, she chose to raise her voice and became an invincible icon of the Cordillera region, who continue to struggle for justice. When conflicts arose in the Cordillera area between the armed forces and the community, she rose to become one of the strong leaders of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance. She advocated for peace and courageously defended the human rights of poor indigenous peoples and women despite the harassment and threats she received from the military. She did not yield to military harassment. She even joined delegations for a dialogue with the military. Her presence during the peace rallies in the Mountain Province was even acknowledged by a former senator.
She inspired a number of Cordillera women, young and old, to follow her footsteps of courage and dedication to serve the women and people. On 9 December 2010, Endena Cogasi was one of the awardees of the Gawad Tanggol Karapatan or Awards for Cordillera Human Rights Defenders during the observance of the International Human Rights Day.
MARIA GALONG, 58, from Conner, Kalinga-Apayao, Agriculturalist (Backyard Farmer), Organiser, Campaigner, Activist. Organisation: Save the Apayao People’s Organization (SAPO), Innabuyog. Issues working on: Environment, Agriculture, Human Rights, Indigenous Peoples Issues, Women’s Empowerment.
“I invite you to be active in progressive women’s organisations. Our mission is to defend our ancestral land, our rights and resources. Let us defend our natural resources for future generations! Until such social inequities exist, we should not give up.”
In the growing conflict between her people and the military, Maria rose to fight the oppression and harassment that the women in her community were experiencing. Since her first involvement in a leadership training conducted by CWEARC in the 1980s, her mind was broadened and learned about empowerment processes undergone by other women’s organisations and leaders. Now, she hosts trainings herself, and continues to campaign for the rights of the indigenous peoples. With her track record of unceasing militancy, she became one of the founding members of SAPO, a local group set up to combat large mining projects. She is an indefatigable volunteer for SAPO, a member of various women, peasant and indigenous people’s alliances, and simultaneously, working on her farm.
Her friends always chide her with, “Maria should be rich by now if not for her commitment to serve people’s organisations”. But Maria will always say with a laugh, “My wealth is living my value of serving fellow poor people”. Indeed, Maria is woman with fire in her heart.
The 15th of October is observed as World Rural Women’s Day (WRWD) as resolved in the UN Conference for Women in Beijing in September 1995 in recognition of rural women who comprise a quarter of the world’s population and their multiple roles as farmers and food producers.
It was also resolved that the WRWD was to highlight the role played by rural women in food production and food security before the October 16 World Food Day. It was first observed the following year. Since then, annual events were conducted by rural women’s organizations and support groups to raise the profile of rural women and bring them out of obscurity, to sensitize governments and the public to their crucial role, and promote action to their support.
On December 18, 2007, the United Nations General Assembly acknowledged World Rural Women’s Day recognizing the “critical role and contribution of rural women, including indigenous women in enhancing agriculture and rural development, improving food security and eradicating rural poverty”.
World Food Day was proclaimed in 1979 by the Conference of the Food and Agriculture Organizations (FAO), aimed at heightening public awareness of the world food problem and strengthening solidarity in the struggle against hunger, malnutrition and poverty. Farmers, rural and indigenous women’s movements labelled the occasion as World FoodLESS Day to highlight the growing hunger and food crisis arising from neo-liberal policies that stole the food resources and facilitated inaccessibility of these resources from main producers, the peasants and indigenous peoples.
In the Cordillera, the annual observance of World Rural Women’s Day and World FoodLESS Day began in 2002 through the CWEARC, Innabuyog-Gabriela and APIT TAKO, the alliance of peasants in the Cordillera region. It created a forum to raise issues faced by peasant and rural indigenous women on the increasing hunger and poverty amidst abundance of natural resources in the Cordillera and the threats rising from commercial agricultural production, extractive industries such as mining and energy projects.
The annual events convinced government agencies to also celebrate it as well.
On this year’s occasion of World Rural Women’s Day and World FoodLESS Day, Innabuyog-Gabriela and CWEARC with their respective members, partners and organizations of indigenous peasant women and food producers will gather in an occasion to honour indigenous peasant women leaders who have contributed significantly in building the strength of rural and indigenous women’s assertion to their land, food and rights. They have dedicated their voluntary service, stood their ground against state repression and militarization, and led exemplary actions for upholding the common good and selflessness.
All over Asia, similar occasions will also be conducted which will be coordinated by ARWC, a formation of rural and indigenous women to celebrate the leadership, strength, creativity and commitment in pushing for gender equality while improving the lives of the general rural populace. # nordis.net