There is not just one story for rural women—whether they are farmers, miners, mothers, or daughters. On October 15th it was the International Day of Rural Women, a day to reflect on the diversity of rural women, and to shine a spotlight on women who are part of the agrarian community.
Talking with female miners in Uganda recently, I learned how the lives of women who live in rural areas are impacted by so many different factors beyond their control—climate, weather, health, men, local markets, outside investors and speculators, laws, and government programs. These women, facing insecurity in their rights and their lives, must be resilient and inventive to survive.
In Mubende, for example, women were traveling great distances with their partners, their children, and their belongings to do petty trading in a gold rush town, offering local beer and food to the small scale miners that flooded the area in their thousands to benefit from the minerals in the soil. However, they were soon evicted, along with their families, by the landowners who had made a deal with a mining company giving them exclusive rights.
In Busiya, women were panning for gold where the takings were so slight that the landholders did not mind when the women came with their “pans,” because they knew that it would be no threat to their profit. Though these women were thankful for the gold because it allowed them to pay for school fees and clothing for their children, it came at a price. Some lost their rights to use land for cultivation because once gold was found their husbands, who were customary land owners, believed the potential of a lucrative gold find to have more value than what the women were earning by selling produces. To strengthen their rights, these women formed an association so that they could try to pool their funds and their labor to try to get by financially.
There were also the women who were from the semi-nomadic Karamoja region who were leading teams of laborers to break marble and limestone and fill huge trucks. They fed the workers, gave them refreshments, took care of their children, made deals with the buyers, and negotiated with truck drivers. Then these same women had to navigate a home situation in order to try and retain a share of their earnings from mining so they could pay for their family’s food, schooling, and healthcare.
We’ve written on the links between land, gender, and extractives and we have written about the importance of land rights for rural women who rely on agriculture to survive and meet their responsibilities as a mother, wife, sister, or head of household. In all of this, it can be easy to lose sight of the industry, the strategic thinking, the endurance, and strength that rural women draw from every day to make their life work. As shown elsewhere, there is no one story for rural women; perhaps the greatest tribute we can make to rural women every day is to truly recognize their ability to overcome endless obstacles and their daily struggles, and to learn from them.