Last month I wrapped up my manuscript of “Women Who Dig – Female Farmers Struggling to Feed the World”, stories from 143 women from eight countries on three different continents. Over three years, I traveled to rural communities in the Americas, East Africa, and Southeast Asia, and met with women in their gardens and community gathering spaces. Their narratives were too many to include in just one book.
On March 8, 2016, International Women’s Day, I wanted to share a few of the narratives from Uganda, India, and Nicaragua.
Rural and indigenous women around the world continue to grow food, raise livestock, and forage for wild foods — feeding their communities — often defending land and lifestyle from visible and invisible forms of oppression. The forms of oppression facing female farmers, worldwide, range from economic injustice to the impingement of large-scale development projects, including dams, mining operations and corporate agriculture, to domestic abuse and gender-based violence in the home, fields and gardens, and wider communities.
In the room where I’m writing, editing, drafting and, admittedly, doubting, the last pages of my book before it’s sent to my agent for review, there hangs a little piece of my great-grandmother, Eleanor. It’s her daily egg tally: Eleanor’s writing in pencil on two whitewashed wooden planks, long columns of numbers, calculations of her gains and losses. It’s the only physical evidence I have of Eleanor’s work as a farmer.
The quarter acre of prairie land outside Woseley, Saskatchewan, where she and her husband, David, built a little house from sod, a barn and a chicken house, has grown fallow. Where they grew maize and potatoes, where Eleanor kept a garden of carrots, cabbage, beans and peas, where they raised their two sons, Desmond and John, the land, the farm, the story is no longer visible. The physical evidence of their existence on the land has disappeared to a prairie that’s remembering how to be a prairie again. No longer under cultivation, the fine thick mane of prairie grasses grows so tall that the stalk heads tickle my belly and I can literally wade through the land as though walking into a lake. The house is long gone, the barn rotted, dismantled. And all that remains is Eleanor’s egg tally on the wall of the room where I write from Peace River, a small northern Canadian town positioned at the 56th parallel.