“When we started documenting the impact of pesticide use on women farmers, we were shocked to find that no one was paying attention to the welfare of these women. Women plantation workers were spraying some of the worst pesticides almost everyday and no one was concerned of the impact this would have on their health!” — Sarojeni Rengam, executive director of Pesticide Action Network-Asia Pacific (PAN AP)
That was nearly 15 years ago, when PAN AP started its work. At the historic Beijing conference in 1995, PAN AP was one of the few organizations that pushed for food and sustainable agriculture on the women’s rights agenda.
The group now promotes the health and labor rights of women in the agricultural sector in 18 Asian countries in South and East Asia and the Pacific and does so by addressing issues and concerns of the most marginalized – women farmers in the developing countries of Asia.
PAN AP provides a strong gender framework in addressing issues of pesticide use, food sovereignty and genetic patenting of indigenous crop varieties by transnational corporations. To further strengthen links with Asian women workers, PAN AP is a leading contributor at regional consultations on discourses around impact of globalization on women workers.
As a regional arm of PAN, PAN AP addresses the challenges faced by rural women workers in Asia, against a context of increasing corporatization of agriculture. The group produces a variety of publications such as “Speak Out,” which documents the urgent community issues that require immendiate international action. The group also produces the Pesticide Monograph, a database of technical and scientific information on specific pesticides, their environmental and health effects, and cases of pesticide poisoning. This research and documentation is used by policymakers, farmers and other organizations in the agricultural sector.
Sarojeni explains that addressing the rights of women in the farming sector is automatically addressing the rights of the most marginalized – migrant workers and indigenous women. She says that “The struggle for the rights of women in the rural sector goes beyond the struggle for recognition of their role and contribution in agriculture or for safer working conditions, better living conditions, or better wages. It is a struggle against entrenched patriarchy, and it is a struggle for women’s empowerment and liberation as farmers, workers and as women.” In this way, the group makes larger connections between issues that are generally not associated with women’s rights – such as economic self-sufficiency, food price regulation, fertilizer and pesticide use.
Last year, PAN AP, with a grant of $15,000 from the Global Fund, organized an Asian Rural Women’s Conference in India, with nearly 1000 women from ten countries in Asia.
The conference brought together marginalized women in different Asian societies including Dalit women in India, indigenous women, women farmers, fisher folk and migrant laborers.
Visit the Asian Rural Women's conference web site.